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Dave Heineman
Gov. Dave Heineman (AP file photo)

Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation are often on the same page in their policy preferences.

Right now, as the governor turns to corn and other commodity boards to solve a budget crisis, they're not.

"We recognize there is a financial crisis," Farm Bureau President Keith Olsen said Tuesday. "We have no question about that. But this issue is a matter of principle. And, in our opinion, it's wrong to take farmers' money that was checked off for a certain use and to try to put that into a completely different use."

Confronted with a budget shortfall of some $334 million, Heineman is trying to squeeze cash resources from a multitude of sources.

That includes money raised from point-of-sale fees on agricultural production and always spent, up to now, on research and promotion of those same products.

The cost to the corn war chest could be as much as $330,000. The comparable wheat figure, taking into account both a fee transfer and a budget reduction, could come close to $360,000. For grain sorghum promoters, it could be in the $70,000 range.

The Nebraska Ethanol Board also would be affected.

As president of the state's largest farm organization, Olsen is acutely aware that much of the money, accumulated through so-called checkoff fees, comes from his farmer-members.

"We oppose any movement of checkoff funds away from their intended purpose," Olsen said.

He said the state's agricultural advocates should stand united on that point and against an unprecedented budget tactic.

Checks with individual commodity boards, including Seward corn producer and Corn Board member Alan Tiemann, suggested that might be very do-able.

"We're all pretty upset that they're even considering this," Tiemann said of using the dollars raised at the rate of a quarter cent per bushel from some 26,000 corn producers.

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"If the governor wants to take checkoff money and put it into the general fund," he added, "then they become tax funds. It becomes a new tax on farmers."

Jen Rae Hein, spokeswoman for the governor, acknowledged the opposition.

"This is part of the issue of shared sacrifice of which the governor spoke yesterday at a news conference," she said. "Clearly, we realize reductions are not going to be easy for anyone. But all must participate to meet the fiscal challenge."

Royce Schaneman of the Nebraska Wheat Board isn't following that line of thought. He said he and members of its board are "shocked that the governor's recommendations included all commodity boards and taking sizable amounts of money out of those specific programs to cover a general fund shortfall."

Barb Kliment, executive director of the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board, said the Heineman strategy would be especially harmful to the board's operating budget of about $118,500.

"Suddenly, a 50 percent cut in our budget is going to mean we'll have to eliminate programs, people -- probably both," Kliment said.

Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or ahovey@journalstar.com.

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