Audit: Farm commodity councils need oversight

Farm Forum

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — On March 21 Minnesota’s legislative auditor for greater oversight over the state’s 13 agricultural research and promotional councils, which are funded by millions of dollars in check-off fees that producers pay.

The councils currently get minimal oversight from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the auditor’s office said in a report. Information about several councils’ operations and finances is not readily available, their effectiveness is often not measurable, and some councils have potential conflicts of interest because of their close links and overlapping memberships with their corresponding growers associations, it said.

The report called for closer oversight by both the agriculture department and lawmakers, and legislation to mandate more transparency and address conflict of interest concerns. All of the councils should be required to have websites where they regularly post financial, election, meeting and contact information, it said.

And the report said state laws don’t prohibit the councils from using check-off revenues to influence legislation, despite a common understanding to the contrary, so the Legislature should decide what limits, if any, it wants to place on the use of that money.

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said in a response accompanying the report that his department has already begun implementing the recommendations.

“We anticipate positive improvements will result from this evaluation and the subsequent policy discussions,” Frederickson said.

The councils have elected boards made up of producers who set their council’s priorities and direct their spending. Budgets range from $18,000 for the sunflower council to more than $11 million for the corn council.