SALEM, Ohio – The equine industry may soon be the first non-edible agricultural commodity to have its own checkoff.
Horse owners in Illinois could finance research and education programs with funds generated from a feed-based checkoff program if they approve the measure in a statewide referendum this fall.
That program could generate as much as $400,000 a year through a nickel-per-bag or $2 per ton fee on commercial and manufactured feed.
Solving a problem. “One of the big problems we have always run up against is that there aren’t funds available for the horse industry as there are for other livestock industries because horses are a non-edible commodity,” said Sheryl S. King, director of equine studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
“The best way to get around this is for horsemen to generate the funds themselves, and the best way to do that is through a checkoff program, just like the other agricultural commodities have.”
Voluntary. The voluntary assessment is earmarked for continued expansion of the state’s existing equine program, made up of 77,000 horse owners and 200,000 horses, according to statistics from the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois.
Horses are a $3.8 billion goods and services industry in the state, which ranks fifth in the nation in gross domestic product – ahead of Kentucky and behind California, New York, Florida and Texas in that order, according to the most recent American Horse Council survey.
Preliminary figures indicated the assessment would total $1.80 per horse per year.
The assessment would also apply to feed sold or imported for sale in Illinois.
Horse owners who buy feed but don’t wish to contribute can ask for a refund.
The vote. Horse owners age 8 and older will be asked to vote on whether they want to pony up the cash Oct. 7.
The checkoff’s existence depends on the outcome of that vote.
The checkoff has something for everyone, said King, a council member who helped shape spending priorities for the proposed program.
“For your average rank-and-file horsemen, the thing they most want is more knowledge about the animals they love,” King said.
“We intend to have a lot of outreach programs that will give them information about better ways to train and care for their horses, maintain their horses’ health, manage their barns and so on.”
Other potential program areas that could be funded include a Master Equine Educator Certification program and a national competition in horse farm business management to partner commercial horse operations, horse industry corporations and equine education programs to foster better practices, according to King.
Not just universities. While King, who runs the state’s only four-year undergraduate equine science program, would welcome more support for her teaching program, the checkoff’s educational component does not focus only on universities, she said.
“4-H programs, therapeutic programs that involve horses, horse management summer camps, adult education classes in subjects such as equine behavior or non-violent training methods – all those are educational, too, but they often run on shoestring budgets with volunteers,” King said.
“With a checkoff, they would be able to ask for some help.”
Potential. As a scientist, King is particularly enthusiastic about the new knowledge checkoff funds could help reveal.
“What we know about horses lags at least 15 and sometimes as much as 25 years behind what we know about other livestock species, and that is primarily due to lack of research funding,” she said.
“The amount of money we will have through this program will not be a panacea, but it will be a start in answering all the questions we have been needing to look at for a very long time.”
Research considerations include the human-horse relationship, equine psycho- and physical therapy, equine welfare and the environmental impact of horses on the community, as well as applied studies of nutrition, reproduction and health.
Types of outreach and promotion projects envisioned include seminar speakers, development books and CD-ROMs on specific topics, horse farm open houses, equine themed community events, judging and horsemanship training.
Seating a board. University of Illinois Extension will conduct the referendum.
If passed, 12 members will be seated to the Illinois Equine Industry Research and Promotion Board, including representatives of the state’s harness racing, thoroughbred racing, pleasure, show and working horse industries. One member of that board will represent the feed and grain industry.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Horsemen’s Council of Illinois
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