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Key legislation finally wriggles free in Indiana House.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

April 3, 2007

3 Min Read

Backers of the corn check-off legislation in the Indiana General Assembly this winter and spring have been on one of the wildest roller-coaster rides ever. There isn't a monetary charge for the ride, but it's been an emotionally draining process.

Now there's another twist and turn. The legislation passed the Senate easily, but then was locked away in a rules committee in the House for weeks, before going to the House ag committee just recently. One year ago similar legislation sailed through the House but never saw the light of day in the Senate when the ag committee chairman refused to hear the bill.

Just before noon on Tuesday, April 3, the House Ag Committee voted 11-0 in favor of corn checkoff legislation, meaning it will now go before the full House. However, it didn't escape unchanged from the Senate version.

Reliable sources say the House version calls for a one-fourth cent check-off, compared to the one-half cent per bushel check-off approved by the Senate. The one-half cent level, even after refunds, would probably generate more than $3 million dollars per year for research and promotion, officials of the Indiana Corn Growers Association reported earlier this year.

The current House version also introduces a monitoring concept. If refunds are greater than 25% during a one-year period after three years of the check-off, the law would cease to exist, sources report. There would be no need for a referendum.

Don Villwock, Edwardsport, president of Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., says the legislation coming out of the House ag committee today is about 90% of what's needed. He's still hoping the one-half cent rate can be restored, either during second reading of the bill in the House, or during Conference Committee. When bills with varying language are passed by both Houses, they're referred to a Conference committee, made up of key leaders from each chamber, to work out differences.

Villwock is aware that while delegates at the date Farm Bureau level have endorsed the corn check-off, some individual counties still have policies against it. That's not unusual in a state where farmers have been historically conservative, and slow to adopt checkoffs, despite track records of success.

Checkoff dollars invested by Illinois and Iowa corn growers are thought by many to be partially responsible for the ethanol explosion. The Illinois Corn Growers were instrumental in convincing the Indy Racing League to convert to all ethanol fuel, which it has done for '07. That's publicity that's difficult to measure and assign a dollar value to.

Indiana's current 'voluntary' checkoff legislation, adopted just within the last five years, is an 'opt-in' system where corn producers must jump through hoops to contribute. The new system would still be voluntary, but would be a more typical 'opt-out' system; with checkoff money collected at point of first sale and refunds available upon request. The current system has collected about $40,000 per year for use by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council. That's 100 times less than what's collected in Illinois! Even more is collected annually in Iowa. Even Wisconsin, not a premier corn producing state, collects more than four times what Indiana collects.

Wisconsin farmers continue to reject attempts to modernize their checkoff. However, Michigan farmers have continued to approve their state checkoff program in referendums held every five years.

Stay tuned for more details on the progress of new checkoff legislation in Indiana.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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