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Nebraska Wheat Groups to Merge

Nebraska Wheat Growers Association and Nebraska Wheat Board plan a merger.

The Nebraska Wheat Growers Association, formed in 1954 and based in Ogallala, plans to move its office to Lincoln, as part of a proposed merger with the Nebraska Wheat Board.

"The proposal, under discussion for about a year now, is aimed at improving the efficiency of both groups and making promotion of wheat more effective," says Mike Sullivan, NAWG president and producer from Wallace. "It will also make lobbying efforts on behalf of wheat growers more effective with NAWG being based in Lincoln near the Legislature."

The Nebraska Wheat Growers Association is a dues-paying, voluntary membership organization that represents the state's producers, including lobbying for them on state and national policy issues. It sets membership policy on such matters as the farm program, crop insurance, soil and water conservation, transportation, and environmental issues.

The Wheat Board, on the other hand, consists of a seven-member board, appointed by the governor, that administers the 1-1/4-cent-per-bushel wheat checkoff fee paid by all Nebraska wheat growers. The checkoff was created under state law and as such the board is prohibited from lobbying on state issues, although it can do so on national issues. The board's responsibilities are allocating checkoff dollars for research, promotion, education and market development, says Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Wheat Board.

The state lobbying distinction between the two groups and the fact the Wheat Board is in effect a state agency with an office in the State Office Building present a hurdle to complete a merger, at least as far the two groups physically uniting. For one thing, NAWG is as a private entity and as such is unable to move into the board's office.

NAWG's only staffer, an executive director, resigned this spring, so the growers opted not to immediately fill that position and instead gave more serious consideration to the office move, Sullivan says.

Both organizations, which at presstime had given oral approval for the merger, are working with state officials on several options.

One plan on the table would have the growers association and checkoff board sharing the time and costs of a full-time staffer who would work approximately 25 to 30% for the growers and the remaining time for the board. When handling grower responsibilities, the staff person would work out of his or her home, but in the board office when working for the board.

"We do some of the same things, including wheat promotion and education," says Schaneman. "That's a big part the reason were considering merging. The efficiencies we desire can still be achieved even if we're not technically in the same office."

There is concern among some growers that the association leaving western Nebraska, but Sullivan says the move would benefit NAWG policy development by being near the Legislature. "There also are many other commodity and farm organizations in Lincoln that we can collaborate with."

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