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The wheat and barley checkoff

Well, this is new,” you might be saying, if you weren’t really paying attention last year, and suddenly notice there are two deductions instead of just one on the sales ticket for your durum.

Well, yes it is. Sort of. You always paid levies to the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), to the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) and to the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre. Before, the Canadian Wheat Board collected them. Now, these levies come straight off your cheque. (The Alberta Barley Commission does the actual collection work.)

This checkoff was set off as a transitional fund — it’s only in place until July 31, 2017. Garth Patterson, executive director of the Western Grains Research Foundation, doesn’t yet know exactly how the WGRF, CIFI and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre will be funded after that.

One possibility is that the newly funded wheat and barley commissions may decide to increase their levies after mid-2017, and pass funds on to these organizations. “Our understanding is that commissions are looking at their options and considering this,” Patterson said, “but there’s been no commitments made or decisions made.” The commissions aren’t obligated to do this, they may decide to fund the public breeding institutions themselves, leaving the WGRF out of the funding loop.

Ether way, Patterson says, the WGRF’s funding for public breeding research will continue. “We have enough reserve built up that we can fund the public programs past July 31, 2017,” he says. “We anticipate being able to make commitments to 2019 or 2020.”

wheat-barley-checkoff

The WGRF has an endowment fund valued at over $100M. Farmers will remember that a large portion of this fund came from the railways after the 2007-08 crop year, when final freight rates came in above the revenue cap. The railways paid a penalty of $67M to the WGRF. In mid-December, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that CN over-charged farmers during the 2013-14 crop year. CN will add another $4.98 million to the WGRF’s endowment fund. Now, this endowment fund is used to fund a wide variety of research (“over 200 projects,” says Patterson), into a wide range of crops. They’ll consider projects not only for wheat and barley research, but for any crop that is or could potentially be grown on the Prairies.

“There’s been about 193 public varieties that have come out over 20 years that have been supported by farmers’ checkoff funds,” Patterson says. These varieties have been marketed by seed companies like SeCan, Canterra and FP Genetics. Without farmers’ funding, Patterson says, “I don’t believe we’d have wheat and barley varieties as good as are out there right now.”

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