By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The Idaho Barley Commission is considering creating a $1 million research endowment with the University of Idaho, a move that could result in the state checkoff fee for Idaho's 1,500 barley producers increasing 1 cent per hundredweight.
The endowment would fund a scientist who would specialize in barley agronomics and soil fertility, IBC Administrator Kelly Olson told members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee Jan. 24.
The current assessment is 2 cents per hundredweight, which is less than 1 cent per bushel.
Olson said discussion about the endowment is a result of the $5.6 million in state funding that has been cut from UI's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences research budget since 2009.
Because of those cuts, "We do feel we have a need to step forward and fill that gap," she said. "Research has always been the most important priority of the commission."
If the assessment is raised, it would become effective in July and would generate about $200,000 toward IBC's current budget, which is $450,000. Olson said if the assessment is increased to 3 cents per hundredweight, it would still be less than 1.5 cents per bushel.
After being presented the results of a grower referendum that showed 54 percent of the 491 barley growers who responded favored raising the checkoff fee cap, lawmakers last year agreed to raise the cap for Idaho's barley checkoff fee from 2 cents to 4 cents per hundredweight.
Olson said the discussion of the endowment issue has been "a very deliberate, slow, due-diligence process" and the IBC board is likely to make a decision on the issue in late February or March.
The Idaho Wheat Commission last January announced a multimillion-dollar endowment designed to bolster the university's wheat research capabilities. That endowment, which will grow to $2 million over 10 years, is part of a new public-private partnership between the IWC, the university and Limagrain Cereal Seeds.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, told Olson that she was concerned about ag research at the university becoming a "pay-to-play" system, with only the larger, well-funded ag commissions able to participate.
"My area has a lot of specialty crop growers," she said. "Where does that leave our small specialty crops?"
IBC Commissioner Pat Purdy, a barley grower who represents farmers in southcentral Idaho, pointed out that Idaho is the nation's second-largest barley producer but has no dedicated barley research scientist.
"That's something we just have to resolve," he said. "It's the only avenue I see to give (UI) the funding they need to get a dedicated barley scientist ... in place."
State funding cuts have created a huge gap in university research, Olson said, and the ag industry was asked by the state to step in and help.
There is no easy answer, she added, "But barley feels like we have to address our needs."