House Bill 2897, a bill that would increase the assessment cap on wheat, corn, grain sorghum and sunflowers sold in Kansas, passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee late last week. The bill also includes a provision that suspends the state assessment while a national check-off program for any of the five commodities is in effect.
From here, the bill will go to the floor of the House where it is expected to pass by the end of this week.
The Kansas Association of Wheat Growers approached the 2008 Kansas Legislature for an increase in the wheat assessment authority from 10 mills per bushel to 20 mills per bushel. The Kansas Wheat Commission plans to use any increase for additional investment in research and biotechnology, cellulosic ethanol and consumer education.
"Current wheat shortages are reinforcing the need for advanced and expanded wheat research," saysJoe Kejr, President of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We approached the Legislature because increased funding of research is necessary for the long-term viability of the Kansas wheat industry."
The proposed increase is a legislative authority increase only; essentially raising the assessment cap from one penny to two pennies per bushel. This does not raise the actual assessment to two pennies. If this legislative authority is approved, Kansas Wheat will then ask for producer input before any decision is made by the Commission to collect a higher amount.
The last time the wheat assessment authority was changed in statute was 1982. At this time, the authority was raised from 3 to 10 mills. It has been 26 years since the wheat assessment authority was changed. Many changes have occurred at home and around the world during this time. The wheat industry must change as well.
"Wheat is currently losing ground to corn and soybean production. In spite of their lack of environmental compatibility for much of the state, corn and soybeans currently offer a short-term economic advantage to producers," says Kansas Wheat Commissioner Dean Stoskopf. "Because of this, profitability for dry-land farmers is at risk, and groundwater resources are being depleted. Research is the key to unlocking the maximum potential of crops grown for the benefit of the state's economy and the world's consumers."
Since 2001, Kansas State University has experienced a loss of 15 - 20% in state support, just in wheat research. For the past few years, wheat producers have been asked to fill in this gap. This struggle for funding is making it harder and harder to keep young, aspiring scientists interested in wheat.
Advances have been made in crop science to utilize biotechnology traits such as plant resistance to insect or disease as well as tolerance to herbicide and environmental conditions such as drought. Yet wheat has not enjoyed any of these new traits because of consumer perceptions about this technology.
One developing value-added area is the use of biomass for ethanol production (crop residues such as wheat straw and dedicated biomass crops).