With the increase in pulse crop production in Nebraska over the past few years, is it time for pulse crop growers to have their own checkoff?
As of 2017, the combined acreage of yellow field peas, lentils and chickpeas in Nebraska reached an estimated 80,000 acres. Meanwhile, the state has seen a growth in processors handling field peas and other pulse crops.
Strahinja Stepanovic, Nebraska Extension educator, has pointed out that a pulse crop checkoff could be one way to keep the industry moving forward. Last year, Stepanovic sent out a survey to gauge support for a possible pulse crop checkoff in the state.
This year, he followed up with another survey, and he notes the results were virtually identical.
"Over two-thirds of the farmers surveyed supported the checkoff," Stepanovic says. "However, there are areas where growers disagree on how to move forward."
Perhaps the biggest point of debate is whether the state checkoff would join the National Pulse Growers Coalition, a group administrated by the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council/American Pulse Association.
This also would provide major benefits, giving growers access to revenue protection insurance, which includes projected prices set for each pulse crop — for both organic and conventional — by the national program. However, the debate lies in how assessments are made — joining the national coalition requires assessments be made on a percentage basis.
"If you want to join the national coalition, the state checkoff must pay a percentage-based assessment, and it has to be at least 1% [of net pulse crop sales from first purchasers in the state] in order to get revenue insurance," Stepanovic says.
In addition, the state checkoff would have to pay an annual membership fee — a minimum of $10,000. If the state checkoff decides to remain independent, it can choose to set the assessment at a lower percentage, base it on the number of bushels sold or use another form of funding.
"That's where most of the growers disagree," Stepanovic adds. "The growers that want to have revenue insurance, they support a percentage-based assessment, but some growers want to go with a weight-based system [an assessment based on pounds of product sold] because it's more familiar, and in many cases means a lower payment. But in that case, you can't join the national coalition."
"I think growers do want to join the national coalition for revenue protection," says Rol Rushman, who grows field peas on his farm near Gurley, Neb. "The only thing that's really changed is overall enthusiasm for peas in general right now, because the price has gone down to about $4.80 per bushel in North Dakota markets. Right now, overall, farmer sentiment is pretty low."
However, he notes, a big step was taken recently when the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission agreed to allow chickpea growers, which historically have been a part of the Dry Bean Commission, to be included in the pulse crop checkoff.
"I thought that was a pretty big step in getting them on board with chickpeas," Rushman says. "It will definitely help better represent the number of pea acres in Nebraska."
Currently, pulse growers are working with Nebraska state senators on drafting legislation to establish the pulse crop checkoff. They also are reaching out to the national coalition for help in drafting the language of the bill.
While the bill ideally will be ready by the start of the 2020 legislative session in January, Rushman also is hoping to give additional growers a chance to offer input.
"I think it should be brought to the legislature at the start of the session in January," Rushman says. "That's the goal at the moment — to draft legislation properly. All the pieces are in place now."
Rushman encourages growers interested in creating a pulse crop checkoff to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or suggestions for the checkoff.