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Column: Minnesota’s corn check-off makes positive impact beyond the farm

By GERALD TUMBLESON, Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council

SHERBURN — Part of what I enjoy about farming is a sense of independence. It’s up to my family and I to make the best decisions possible for both our farm’s bottom line and the health of the land we live and farm on.

The same can be said for corn farming as a whole. Yes, corn farmers work with a lot people and many different organizations in order to build and maintain the most successful and sustainable farms possible. Crop consultants, agronomists, seed companies, environmental experts, universities and government agencies all play important roles in helping corn farmers continuously improve.

But in the end, it’s fellow farmers who we rely on the most. That’s why organizations like the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association exist. And that’s why we have the corn check-off.

For those of you unfamiliar with the check-off, Minnesota corn farmers invest in their own industry by paying a voluntary one-cent fee for each bushel of corn sold to market. Check-off funds have contributed millions of dollars to third-party research that not only boosts on-farm productivity and profitability, but also helps farmers protect land and water resources.

Thanks to the check-off, Minnesota corn farmers have developed new uses for corn and are able to fund projects designed to add value to every bushel harvested. Check-off funds also are used to build positive relationships and develop key partnerships with the non-farming public.

Most importantly, check-off funds are administered by corn farmers. We decide how best to invest the funds in a way that makes sense for us. It’s up to corn farmers — not private industry, the government or outside organizations — to look out for each other and make sure everyone understands the important role corn farming plays in our economy and our everyday lives, especially in areas that extend beyond the farm.

The corn check-off makes that happen.

In the July 10 edition of the Agrinews, a prominent ag-centric publication based in Southern Minnesota, Alan Guebert unfairly trashed commodity check-offs like the one corn farmers support here in our state. Mr. Guebert wrote that there is little evidence that money “spent on checkoffs in the last 25 years has had any material effect on prices received by farmers and ranchers.”

Mr. Guebert seems to think the sole purpose of a check-off is to fetch higher prices for our crops. He is wrong.

If all corn farmers wanted to accomplish through the check-off is higher profits, we’d spend the funds on production control tactics in order to manage demand and maintain higher prices. We definitely wouldn’t invest $4 million annually in research that seeks to improve water quality or help cattle farmers develop a better diet for their herd like we do now.

And we for sure wouldn’t use check-off funds to develop innovative new uses for corn, or connect with the non-farming public through partnerships with organizations like the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum or the Minnesota Twins.

Today’s consumers are asking more questions than ever before about where their food comes from. Simply put, if farmers aren’t there to answer those questions, it reflects poorly on all of agriculture.

I’m not sure what Mr. Guebert was trying to accomplish with his attack on check-offs. Perhaps he’s not comfortable with farmers being the main voice of agriculture and would rather have farming represented by big business to drive higher profits, or a government entity with the hopes of ... I don’t know what, exactly.

I’d rather speak for myself. I’d also rather make investments that have an impact beyond my own farm and into areas like the environment, water quality and consumer awareness.

The corn check-off accomplishes this. I’m proud to invest in my own industry, and I’m proud Minnesota’s corn farmers feel the same.

Gerald Tumbleson is chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council and a family farmer in Sherburn.