When a group of forward-thinking South Dakota farmers decided more than 30 years ago to lobby for a corn checkoff program, they envisioned the vast achievements that could be made by earmarking one penny per bushel of corn sold to fund research, market development, promotion and education.
What a success that program has been since its administration by the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council. A priority of the checkoff program is to expand demand and uses for our corn and corn by-products, in turn adding value.
Funds raised through the checkoff helped launch and expand the state’s ethanol industry. Today, the state has 16 ethanol plants capable of producing more than 1 billion gallons annually. About half of South Dakota’s corn is used for ethanol production.
Those ethanol plants are also vital to local economies, providing good-paying jobs and generating revenue. Checkoff dollars also have helped expand ethanol infrastructure, including blender pumps.
Nearly one-third of our corn is exported out of the state because South Dakota farmers raise more corn than the state is able to use for ethanol production and livestock feed. In contrast, Iowa raises two billion bushels of corn, which is still not enough for the needs of their state, so they need to import corn from other states like South Dakota. That’s why a portion of our checkoff dollars fund development and expansion of export markets.
South Dakota Corn partners with the United States Grains Council to increase exports of corn, ethanol and dried distillers grains around the world. The Grains Council has offices in more than 50 countries. South Dakota grain and byproducts are transported by BNSF Railway to the Pacific Northwest, then shipped primarily to countries throughout Asia.
Another partner is the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which, as its name indicates, is dedicated to increasing exports of American meat products. Livestock is a major user of South Dakota corn, and pork, beef and poultry exports are extremely important to the livestock industry.
The checkoff program also funds research into new production technology and innovative uses for corn. South Dakota Corn partners with South Dakota State University Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Services on an initiative to improve productivity and establish vegetation on unproductive saline or sodic soils. That has included a number of soil health workshops.
Another ongoing project aims to establish South Dakota ethanol as a low-carbon fuel that would meet clean-air guidelines in California and other states and result in a premium price for South Dakota ethanol and corn used to produce it.
Checkoff dollars also are helping fund the Raven Precision Agriculture Center under construction at SDSU. This new facility and accompanying programs will make South Dakota the leader in precision agriculture.
Education and promotion are two other points of emphasis for the checkoff program. Checkoff dollars help fund an annual series of GrowingOn grain marketing presentations for farmers.
On the consumer side, there has never been a more important time to tell agriculture’s story, to share the good things farmers are doing and to dispel misconceptions about GMOs, livestock and farming practices. South Dakota Corn has successfully done those things for years and will continue to do so, through consumer education efforts, promotions and displays at events and a “This is Farming” campaign that includes videos, ads and television commercials.
The latest consumer outreach effort is a 3,000-square-foot interactive, agricultural exhibit at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls that will inspire thousands of children to connect, engage and learn about agriculture in a fun way. Keep in mind that most South Dakotans are several generations removed from the farm.
That’s just a sampling of things that the corn checkoff program has accomplished. I assure you, it’s a penny-per-bushel well spent.