As Bluestem drafts this, the Legislative Audit Commission is meeting to approve evaluation topics for 2013.
Unlike emergency audits ordered because of scandal or crisis, the evaluation topics aren’t a sign of malfeasance or corruption in the programs under review. It’s more of a good government sort of thing.
Ordinarily, the topics are passed without controversy, but the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council (MCRPC), which has legislative authority to levy a check-off fee from all Minnesota corn growers, has raised an alarm about the proposed selection of “Agricultural Commodity Councils” as evaluation topic.
Reading the Topic Selection Background Paper, it’s curious just what the MCRPC is worried about. The document notes:
In 2011, there were 79,800 farms in Minnesota. According to MDA staff, most farmers pay one or more of the councils’ check-off fees. Nationally, some have questioned the effectiveness of generic advertising and whether the benefits of such efforts are enjoyed by the producers who pay the fees.
To evaluate the agricultural commodity councils, we would examine the role of MDA, the process of collecting check-off fees, and the activities of the councils. OLA could determine farmers’ satisfaction with the councils’ work through a survey of a sample of farmers. We could also analyze select activities of particular councils to gauge the effectiveness of their programs.
However, our findings may be limited, depending on how feasible it is to isolate the activities of the councils from affiliated organizations and to attribute outcomes to the councils’ efforts. Agricultural commodity councils were last examined by OLA more than 30 years ago. Because the councils do not receive public funding, the state’s role with respect to the councils is minimal. Therefore, an evaluation by OLA might have a limited impact on the councils’ activities.
Given that the commodity councils are given the power to levy a check-off fee from producers, an occasional review–or one after 30 years–doesn’t seem oppressive to Bluestem.
Here’s the Topic Selection Background Paper:
Farmers create an enormous amount of wealth for the state, but we don’t know that state-mandated fees for industry councils are required of all other businesses. Another state-mandated fee, the “fair share” dues for representation by unions, is also in the list of topics.
Both groups should have nothing to fear.
Here’s the letter from the Council, which seems excessively “confused”:
Why should the Agricultural Commodity Councils be exempt from review? It’s entirely possible that the OLA might discover that much good occurs because of check-off programs, and the corn growers might gain yet another document to defend themselves against corn’s detractors.
Photo: Corn. We grow a lot of it in Minnesota, and by statute, a check-off is allowed to be levied by a farmer-led state commodity council.