Grain growers in North Dakota have withdrawn from the National Association of Wheat Growers, citing a decline in support for issues specifically affecting their state.
"Considering North Dakota has consistently paid some of the highest dues out of all states represented by NAWG, we believe we're no longer seeing an adequate return on investment and have decided not to renew our contract that expires June 30, 2019," North Dakota Grain Growers Association president Jeff Mertz stated in a letter to NAWG.
NAWG received nearly $1.4 million in membership dues in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to its Internal Revenue Service tax form 990. Of that, North Dakota paid about 17%, or nearly $237,500, according to NAWG.
North Dakota is the highest dues-paying member, but Kansas is a close second, NAWG CEO Chandler Goule told the Capital Press. The top spot fluctuates depending on the production year, he said.
NAWG dues are based on the number of harvested acres, Goule said.
Mertz told the Capital Press that the state elected to pay NAWG half-dues in 2017 due to a drought.
"We looked at our balance sheet and if we were going to lose acres and production, we probably wouldn't have enough money to pay all of NAWG's dues and function as an organization," Mertz said.
The next year, North Dakota expected another reduction in acreage and decided to pay half-dues again, Mertz said.
The North Dakota growers hired their own lobbyist in 2017 to work on state-specific issues in Washington, D.C., Mertz said.
Mertz said he felt NAWG should have started cutting costs in the face of reduced wheat acres instead of increasing dues.
Goule said farmers must consider the broader benefits of being a NAWG member. The organization advocates for the wheat industry in Congress and the administration in Washington, D.C.
Goule said he can't assign a dollar value to NAWG's ability to reach those offices, "but it is definitely greater than the dues of any state that is a member of our organization."
In a press release, Goule said NAWG went "above and beyond" to address North Dakota growers' concerns, including private briefings, ramping up communications and traveling with a third-party facilitator to the state.
With North Dakota's departure, NAWG now has 20 member states, representing direct access to at least 40 senators and more than 218 members of Congress, Goule said.
It takes 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate to get forward movement on legislation, he noted.
"The North Dakota grain growers have lost the ability to get into the additional states that we represent," Goule said. "I think in the long run, what you're going to see is that we now have a state association that has become a man-made island when we continue to represent the vast majority of wheat growers on important issues like Farm Bill implementation and trade."
Both sides say they're open to further discussion.
"The door's open," Mertz said. "We offered to stay with the organization at half-dues and work on some of these issues and they chose not to. ... Sometimes you have to break up in order to come back together."
"We are most definitely open to the North Dakota grain growers returning to NAWG as a full dues paying member," Goule said. "They chose to leave based on their perception of what was happening in Washington (D.C)."