It may be a season of change for the Intermountain Grass Growers Association.
Plans to restructure the group that represents grass farmers in Eastern Washington and Idaho comes as a response to member concerns that it is too narrowly focussed on the grass-burning issues and bans in the area of Spokane.
“We’re doing it to bring in outside areas that are non-traditional IGGA members,” said John Cornwall, former president of the association.
The reorganization may be more than an attempt to reach new members. It may also be an effort to hang on to those still around.
“There’s some question with growers in southeastern Washington whether there’s a need for the organization any longer,” said Steve Stilson, general manager of seed processor Dye Seed Ranch in Pomeroy. “The people of this area have already withdrawn from the Intermountain Grass Growers.”
He said many of his grass farmers were frustrated that the IGGA directed membership dues to things like weather stations in the Spokane area, rather than using them to benefit growers in the south-east part of the state.
“They supported the organization and paid for non-members for years and years and years,” he said. “They got tired of it.”
If the IGGA sets new priorities and spreads its focus to cover more of Washington and Idaho, it may get some of its membership back.
“But it depends on what their defined purpose is,” Stilson said. “If it’s for research into chemicals and alternatives other than burning, they’ll probably get pretty good participation.”
The IGGA, which has about 300 members, has come to recognize that not all grass growers share the same problems, said Linda Clovis, spokesperson for the group. For example, Idaho growers aren’t facing the burn ban that’s bearing down on Washington, she said. Also, Columbia Basin growers who use irrigation don’t share the problems of the dry-land farmers in the Rathdrum Prairie.
“And there are Washington issues that are not related to Idaho issues,” she said.
“We want to decide how we can deal with issues geographically.”
The IGGA was formed in the 1950s when farmers met to address field burning and other problems surrounding grass farming. The group incorporated in 1969. Though historically the majority of the membership farmed in Spokane County, that’s changing because of the regulations on burning in the state. Now the industry is spreading to areas like the Columbia Basin and Nez Perce County in Idaho.
“We found that there are probably six specific areas in Idaho and Washington that have different problems at the local level, but common goals as a group,” Cornwall said. “Bringing them into the IGGA can only strengthen it.”
But if the IGGA loses its members, it also loses money it would direct to finding alternatives to grass burning.
“We have to find a way to raise more money for research,” Clovis said. “The research that has been done hasn’t really given any alternatives.”
Though the restructuring of the IGGA is not set in stone, it’s something the group’s leaders - including new IGGA president Terry Jacklin - will plan early in 1998 and hope to bring to the membership for a vote by March.