With harvest off, S.D. wheat panel seeks savings

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota farmers planted about 860,000 acres of winter wheat last fall, up about 4 percent.

But they put just 640,000 acres into spring wheat this year — a 39 percent decrease that marked a modern record low for South Dakota.

The results this summer weren’t better, starting with an unusual two feet of rain in July in many places.

South Dakota’s spring wheat harvest was forecast 33 percent below 2018. Prices were off, too, leading producers to fill bins rather than take wheat to market.

Those who sold faced 13 types of quality deductions, known as discounts.

All of which put financial strain on the South Dakota Wheat Commission, which funds promotion and research into new seeds and new uses.

The commission pays its way through a check-off fee on bushels sold. Producers can get refunds if they ask.

The governor-appointed five members adopted a tight fiscal 2020 budget in June. Expected revenue is $1,381,725, while expected expenses and refunds total $1,742,836, up about $13,500.

The balance was to come from reserves that stood at $618,287. But Tuesday, the commissioners talked about more possibilities to save money.

Executive director Reid Christopherson said it’s too early to take “drastic” actions.

Expenses in the $750 to $5,000 range are the first places Christopherson said he’s looking, along with stretching equipment payments to the South Dakota State University Foundation over three years rather than two.

Chet Edinger of Mitchell, a long-time member who was serving his last regular meeting on the commission. suggested sending a letter to sponsors of various research projects, asking them to look for ways to reduce their costs $5,000 to $10,000.

Christopherson said the letters had limited potential because the organizations had already set budgets and signed contracts. “There probably wouldn’t be much,” he said.

The National Association of Wheat Growers has 20 states that are full or partial members. South Dakota is down to a one-half membership, saving $37,000.

The commission budgeted $313,000 last year for U.S. Wheat Associates, the exporting arm, but this year has cut down to $167,000.

Edinger asked about reducing the commission’s education grant paid to South Dakota Wheat Inc. which directly represents producers. The commission budgeted $75,000. Edinger suggested $50,000.

“We have not sat down and looked at it,” replied Caren Assman, the group’s executive director.

Assman said she’s already economizing on travel, such as doubling up her meetings with those of a soil-health group.

Clint Vanneman of Ideal, who was serving his last meeting on the commission, said U.S. Wheat would be a place to look for savings.

Assman said wheat groups in four states have already lost executive directors.

“Yeah, change is out there,” Christopherson said.

Edinger said U.S. Wheat and SDSU could be “the two safety valves.”

Christopherson said there could be a need for “drastic, drastic” steps taken at the December meeting. In the meantime, state Agriculture Secretary Kim Vanneman — who is married to Clint — plans a meeting October 25 with all of South Dakota’s commodity check-off groups.

“The impact is going to be the next year,” Christopherson said.

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