Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Check Off: Farmers Fund Research & Education

A couple weeks ago, I got to participate in my first "funding" meeting of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board. I was appointed to the board in 2012 as a Director At Large and proud to say I am the first female farmer to serve on their board of directors!

The funding meeting was fascinating in that we had grant proposals to review every 15-20 minutes for an entire day and a half! We had nearly 65 proposals submitted for consideration and 18 hours to hear the presenters pitch why we should fund their project. On the 3rd day of our meeting, we awarded the funds based on their merit. It was quite a learning experience for me to see all that our check off dollars get spent on.

For those of you who do not know: "Check off" dollars are essentially a farmer-funded research and promotion account where farmers contribute a half of a percent of the net value of their grain at the time of sale. This money is pooled together and is administered by volunteer farmers who serve on commodity boards such as the Maryland Grain Producers.  There is also soybean check off administered by Maryland soybean farmers and the famous "Got Milk" program is the dairy farmer funded program for dairy research and promotion. 

The benefit of the check off program is that by pooling our money together, we can fund a lot more research and do more outreach and promotion than farmers could ever do on their own. Our Maryland Check off dollars help fund research that is Maryland specific and has a direct benefit to Maryland farmers and Maryland consumers. These funds went not only to University research projects like irrigation studies, nitrogen and phosphorus utilization improvements, groundwater quality projects and other agronomic research, but also to 4H and FFA programs, tractor school training, farm emergency training, and oyster recovery. Check Off dollars show what farmers can do working together for the future of agriculture and the benefits consumers receive from farmers funding their own research and promotion of the healthy foods we grow!

Below is the press release from the Maryland Grain Producers about our recent funding meeting.

Maryland Grain Farmers Award $1 Million in Grants and Elects New Officers to Board

The Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board (MGPUB) has awarded over $1 million to organizations across the state to increase the profitability and viability of Maryland grain production, expand the utilization of grain, and to improve the understanding of agriculture.  Grant funding is made possible through the Maryland grain checkoff program, whereby grain farmers contribute funds to support market development, education, and research.

“The checkoff program is all about farmers helping their own industry and those consumers that benefit from our products,” stated Marion Wilson, grain farmer and immediate past-president of MGPUB.  “Funding projects for our region’s grain farmers means we get answers to address issues specific to Maryland, whether it be protecting crops from pests such as the stink bug, or finding the best farm management systems to improve our environment. This year we funded research projects that address both those areas, as well as ways to better market our products and educate consumers about Maryland-grown products.”

Funds for the 2013 grant period were allocated to projects in the areas of education ($312,675), research ($309,305), and market development ($420,272).  Funding for projects that scientifically assess management practices and improve stewardship have always carried a priority.  “Even though Maryland agriculture accounts for just 5% of the land use in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and contributes only 7.75% of the total nitrogen load, we want to do all we can to make as little impact as possible, while still providing for the food and fiber our consumers need,” comments Wilson.

At the annual funding meeting, Board members elected Tom Gannon as President of MGPUB.  Gannon has been a farmer all his life and currently raises corn, wheat, soybeans and hay in Queen Anne’s County.  Paul Spies of Cordova was elected Vice-President; Allen Davis of Galena was elected Treasurer; and Steve Ernst of Clear Spring was elected Secretary.

Maryland’s checkoff program has been in effect since 1991 and collects a half a percent of the net value of grain sold.  The MGPUB administers the funds through a board consisting of regional grain farmer representatives and advisory members representing the University of Maryland, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and agribusinesses in the state. Funds are spent in the same proportion on each crop as they are received, and are specific to the needs of Maryland's grain farmers. 
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