BILLINGS – A bill that will double the maximum cap on how much Montana farmers can be charged for the wheat and barley checkoff has been signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ross Fitzgerald of Fairfield says House Bill 151 gives the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee more flexibility with checkoff proceeds.
“It is a voluntary assessment but primarily it is for survival,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s imperative to improve upon your product from a genetic standpoint-especially with weather conditions and soil types- so you have a better yield and better net profit. The other side of it is marketing which when we went to a global market, you have to develop relationships across the ocean. That’s been our key success story in how to use wheat and also the trust in the countries we do business with.”
Montana’s agricultural organizations like the Montana Grain Growers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Montana Farmers Union agree. Lola Raska is the MGGA’s executive vice president.
“Up to 80 percent of our wheat in particular is exported out of the state,” said Raska. “So, the market development funds that are used for that area specifically are to educate our consumers in foreign countries on what we provide and ask them what their consumers need. We want to match that up. So, the research plays into that too so that the varieties that were growing here meet what our consumers need.”
House Bill 151 only increases the cap – which has only happened in 1983 and 2003 – not the actual assessment. Since 2009, the checkoff has been at its ceiling: 2 cents per bushel of wheat and 3 cents per hundredweight of barley.
The wheat and barley checkoff was created by the Montana legislature in 1967 at the direction of farmers who wanted to spend their own money developing new markets around the world.
By Russell Nemetz – Montana Ag Network