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Checkoff Programs Benefit Both Ways
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Handing over a portion of profits may seem like bad business, but Mississippi farmers use checkoff programs to promote success in the future.
Checkoff programs are a form of self-tax that require producers by law to set aside a certain portion from each unit sold. This money is collected by the governing board and distributed for industry research and promotion.
MSU received $1.68 million in 1999 from checkoff funds earmarked for research and $1.70 million in 2000 from soybean, rice and cotton producers. These funds allow leveraging of the state's investment in research and extension programs through the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the MSU Extension Service.
John Lee, head of ag economics at Mississippi State University, said in Mississippi, soybeans, rice, cotton, sweet potatoes, catfish, beef, pork and dairy all have checkoff programs.
"Checkoff programs are a great system that allows the group to do more to control their own destiny than they can individually," Lee said. "Rather than hope that someone will do the research they need, they can direct the program to their needs and priorities."
The Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board is one example of a checkoff program having tremendous impact in the state. Much MSU research on soybeans is funded through grants from this board, although rice, cotton, beef and pork checkoff money also fund in- state research.
"These programs are highly complementary to the land-grant mission because they're both using public funds," Lee said. "The farmers tax themselves and put their money together to fund a common cause, allowing researchers to work for the growers. The money doesn't come with any strings attached, so researchers have no pressures that may bias their work."
For example, Mississippi farmers wanted to know if it is economical to grow Roundup Ready soybeans. The Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board provided a grant that allowed MSU researchers to compare the economics of these modified soybeans with conventional soybeans.
"With Soybean Promotion Board funds, we were able to conduct this analysis and provide results back to farmers about whether they are economical to plant and under what circumstances," Lee said.
Jim Robertson, chairman of the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board, said the farmers' investment in the soybean checkoff program benefits them by offering better varieties, increased disease resistance and marketing information.
"I think farmers receive two-fold more than the investment they put into the promotion board," Robertson said.
Half of the soybean checkoff money collected in Mississippi stays in state while the other half is combined with monies from the rest of the states and used to fund larger, regional research projects and promotion efforts.
In Mississippi, a 12-member board determines what funding requests are granted each year for research. Robertson said each proposal is studied and the priorities and needs of the farmers are weighed before each decision is made.
Alan Blaine, soybean specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said recent Soybean Promotion Board emphasis has been on improving the growers' bottom lines.
"They felt they needed to make some vast improvements in the profitability of soybeans so they placed high priority on short- term solutions," Blaine said.
This research has led to the increased use of earlier planting and earlier maturing varieties, improved management techniques and better variety trial information. They have also funded the Soybean Management by Application of Research and Technology, or SMART, program.
"Those funds have been a tremendous shot in the arm to MSU and research nationwide," Blaine said. "When the checkoff became law several years ago, it finally made more money available to do some projects of magnitude."
Under the checkoff system, everyone participates where in the past, some states benefitted from research their growers did not fund. Blaine said the success of the program can be seen in increased yields. In the 1970s and 80s, Mississippi averaged 21.1 bushels of soybeans per acre. In the 1990s, the state average yield was 26.6, an increase Blaine directly attributed to grower- funded research.
Contact: Dr. John Lee, (662) 325-2752