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Putting your checkoff dollars to good use

Feeling tired? Maybe a little overwhelmed?

I’m not surprised. You’re a member of so many associations and organizations, I don’t know how you have time to keep your truck filled with gas, what with all that driving to meetings.

What’s that you say? Just the Elks?

Count again.

Through checkoffs deducted from your grain cheques, grain farmers are members of all kinds of research and development organizations. In Saskatchewan alone, there are 10 different organizations collecting checkoffs from the sales of crops. That’s right, 10. And this doesn’t include groups that deal with livestock and forage crops, or farm policy groups like the Western Canadian Wheat Growers or the National Farmers Union.

Since you’re a member of these organizations, I’m sure you read all of the magazines, pamphlets and glossy brochures that they send to your mailbox. But just in case you need a quick refresher, here are some things to consider when you’re eyeing those deduction lines on your grain cheques this winter.

Get the information

You don’t have to sign a membership card, or pay a fee, or even show up at a meeting. If they’ve taken your checkoff, you’re automatically a member of the organization. Go to the information meetings. Read the newsletters. As well as funding research, most of these associations have great extension programs.

Wondering if you should buy micronutrients for your canaryseed crop? Ag Canada researcher Bill May will be speaking about that at the Saskatchewan Canaryseed Development Commission’s AGM in Saskatoon in January.

Not quite sure when will be the best time to sell your fababeans? Alberta Pulse has current market outlooks right on its website for anyone to read.

The most recent issue of the Winter Cereals Canada newsletter has an interesting article about the 2014 fusarium head blight survey of winter wheat in Manitoba. If you didn’t keep your mailed copy, you can find it online.

You’re paying for this research and development. Make the most of it. Surely there’s something here that will be useful for your business.

Get involved

Maybe you read that last paragraph and muttered, “Bah. None of that research is any use on my farm. They’ve got the wrong location. Wrong crop. Wrong technique.”

You can change that. This is not one of those cases where a bunch of people in suits from Ottawa or Toronto are telling us what to research. This is our money. The decisions about which research projects get the funding dollars are made by a bunch of Prairie farmers sitting around tables, drinking lukewarm coffee. With a little interest and effort, you could get a chair at that table. They’d probably even let you bring the doughnuts.

With so many organizations out there, there is almost no limit to the number of leadership opportunities open to you. Not ready to commit to being a board member? Lots of these groups have subcommittees. Start by volunteering to sit in on conference calls and add your voice to the discussion about that one issue that’s keeping you awake at night. Maybe your idea can make a difference.

Take pride in your work

You’re funding some pretty impressive research. In fact, it’s so impressive that the Canadian Revenue Agency will give you an investment tax credit! (Through the Scientific Research and Experimental Development [SR&ED] Program.)

Every year, the federal government takes a look at the organizations that are doing active research. The CRA has a list of criteria. Spending has to meet their conditions to count as “research spending.” For example, money spent on flying in a guest speaker for a meeting doesn’t count; funding to develop a new barley variety does. For 2013, the CRA decided that 25 per cent of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ spending met their criteria for SR&ED — that means you can write 25 per cent of your pulse levy into the SR&ED line of your tax form, and your taxes will be lower. Alberta canola growers can use 19.47 per cent of their canola levy (the CRA is very precise.)

I suspect that not all farmers are using this tax deduction. Almost every year, after we submit our taxes, I get a confused call from the CRA. They start off with: “I see you’ve claimed a research and development tax credit.” I agree. Then they say something like, “But you can’t possibly be doing actual, creditable research on a family grain farm in Saskatchewan.” (He’s probably picturing me wearing an apron, churning fresh butter and chasing live chickens at my end of the line.) I’m always proud to tell the CRA agent that, “Yes, we are funding real research,” before I turn the whole confusion over to our accountant.

You don’t have to play

You can pack up your toys and go home. With the exception of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, each of these levies is refundable. You are free to phone in and ask for your money back. There will be some rigamarole (forms, application periods), but it’s not something you can’t figure out. But, will cashing your refund cheque for $0.50 per tonne of oats be as much fun as telling the CRA agent he’s wrong? And, do you really want to leave the important job of funding development of the next chickpea variety up to your neighbour?

Funding research is a good investment. Garth Patterson, executive director of the Western Grains Research Foundation, says that as well as directly funding research, when farmers invest their own money, it’s easier to convince governments and other research funders to invest more of their dollars. “It’s a different voice at the table,” he says.

Before he moved to the WGRF, Garth Patterson was the executive director of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. Since I had him on the phone, I asked him if he noticed a difference when he moved from an organization with a non-refundable levy to one where farmers can ask for their money back. “From a staff and a board perspective you treat farmers the same whether it’s refundable or not,” he said. “You have to be just as diligent in either case.”

Maybe you spent your Christmas vacation catching up on your bookkeeping, tracking your levies, and now you have “levy fatigue” and think your deductions are too high. Garth suggests taking a look Down Under. “We have a lot in common with Australia, but they’re also one of our major competitors.” And they’re investing a lot in research specific to their climate. When it comes to wheat, Garth says, “It’s pretty safe to say the Australian farmers are investing about four times more per tonne than we are.”

So, now that you’re thinking about it, have a look at a complete list of levy-collecting organizations, their telephone numbers, their websites and the amount of the levy you’re paying. You’re a member. Get involved.

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