By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho Barley Commission board members voted unanimously Feb. 20 to create a $1 million research endowment with the University of Idaho.
The decision will result in the state assessment fee for Idaho's 1,500 barley growers increasing 1 cent per hundredweight beginning July 1. The current grower assessment fee is 2 cents per hundredweight.
The endowment will fund a scientist who will specialize in barley agronomics and soil fertility.
"I am confident ... we will more than return value to growers with this agronomy soil plan," IBC Administrator Kelly Olson told commissioners shortly before they voted 5-0 to create the endowment.
Industry leaders in the nation's No. 2 barley-producing state have been considering the idea for several months, and Olson said the decision to increase the assessment to fund the endowment followed a deliberate process that included looking at numerous possibilities.
When the assessment increases to 3 cents per cwt., it will still amount to less than 1.5 cents per bushel and will be half of what North Dakota and Montana, the No. 1 and No. 3 barley-producing states, charge their producers, Olson said.
The IBC's current budget is $450,000 and the increase will result in an additional $200,000 per year being raised. The commission has been tapping into its reserve fund to the tune of about $30,000 per year for several years to help fund research.
Olson said barley commissioners will closely evaluate the role of the scientist that is hired and will "be very hands-on" regarding the position.
"We will look for the best ... scientist we can afford," she said. "They will hit the ground running. By year two, you guys will be making back your money; I'm confident of that."
The penny per hundredweight increase in the assessment fee will sunset after five years, but if industry comes through with financial assistance, it can be retired sooner, commissioner Tim Dillin said.
"If we get industry support, we can maybe cut if off in three years instead of five," he said.
The board was adamant that the increase include a sunset date.
"We're not going to need that amount of money forever," Olson said. "Let's not give future boards a blank check."
Idaho's barley checkoff fee has never been raised and IBC commissioners insisted the decision to raise it had to be unanimous.
"This needs to be unanimous or not at all," Dillin said moments before the vote. "This is too big of a decision to not be something that is totally agreed upon by all members."
When it comes to spending growers' assessment money for research, "I've not gotten negative feedback from one producer," said IBC Chairman Dwight Little. "I don't hear any opposition to that at all."
The commission received permission from Idaho lawmakers last year to raise the cap for Idaho's barley checkoff fee from 2 cents to 4 cents per cwt.