Pulse growers want refundable levy

Farmers have asked Saskatchewan Pulse Growers to make the shift to a refundable levy.

It is the only crop organization in the province with a non-refundable levy, which has been in place since the group was formed in 1983.

Cherilyn Nagel, a grower from Mossbank, Sask., and past president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, tabled the resolution at SPG’s annual meeting held during the CropSphere conference.

She said she spoke to a wide variety of growers about the levy before writing the resolution and found that some wanted the levy reduced below one percent of pulse revenues, while others wanted it shifted to a tonnage-based system.

“I felt the most principled position would be to make this refundable because that gives people the opportunity to have their say and hold the board accountable,” said Nagel.

She said it was a good year to bring up the issue because the grower group generated $18.3 million in levy revenue, which was almost $5 million more than it had budgeted, largely because of sky-high lentil prices.

The extra revenue resulted in a $2.5 million surplus, and Nagel believes it should have remained in growers’ pockets.

The resolution was passed by a large majority of the 60 to 70 registered growers in attendance. Nagel was surprised there was little opposition to the proposal because it was submitted well in advance of the meeting.

A number of growers approached her after the meeting, expressing their support for the idea. They are worried the association will exceed the 2016 levy budget by another $5 or $10 million.

Nagel’s farm contributed $25,000 to the 2015 levy, which she says is way more than it pays to other commissions.

“My intent is certainly not to take out my checkoff. I’m a strong supporter of research and market development, and our farm has definitely seen the benefits of the new varieties and the markets that SPG has opened up for me,” said Nagel.

“But I do feel it’s a good performance measure for a checkoff to be refundable.”

SPG executive director Carl Potts said there needs to be more discussion about the resolution.

“Our board is going to have a very close look at that and take the input that we had at the meeting and likely get more input from a broader set of growers and evaluate what our options are and our plan going forward,” he said.

When asked what options he was talking about, Potts said it boils down to keeping the levy non-refundable or switching to a refundable checkoff.

The refund rate for other crop organizations typically ranges from two to six percent, which would amount to a financial hit of $366,000 to $1.1 million based on this year’s levy revenue.

Potts said the association might poll growers on the issue at this year’s regional meetings in North Battleford, Rosetown, Swift Current and Regina in early February. It may also decide to survey growers.

Nagel is pleased there will be further discussion. She knew it was a non-binding resolution.

“I’m not delusional, thinking what we put forward has to be the answer. I’m hoping that the board will get creative and think about some ways they can readdress the issue,” she said.

Creative solutions might include instituting a cap on levy dollars or switching to a tonnage based checkoff in lieu of or in addition to the switch to a refundable levy.

Nagel said she doesn’t mind funding worthwhile research projects but doesn’t like the idea of spending money just because it’s there.

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