Natural Foods Merchandiser

USDA May Exempt Organics From Checkoff Programs

Producers and processors of 16 types of organic products may become exempt from paying assessments, commonly known as checkoffs, to commodity boards that research and market their products.

The Agricultural Marketing Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, currently provides oversight to establish, finance and carry out programs of research, education and marketing for 16 industries that have requested these programs.

"[Organic producers'] concerns are considerably different than a conventional farmer's would be. Unless a fair portion of those dollars are going to go toward your issues, why should you have to pay them?" said Kate Leavitt, international division manager for soybean producer Sunrich Inc. Leavitt said the money saved on the checkoff programs could be diverted into marketing that would specifically benefit organic commodities.

The industries that have commodity boards include beef, blueberries, cotton, eggs, fluid milk, dairy, Hass avocados, honey, lamb, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, soybeans and watermelons.

To be considered for exemption, all of a producer's crops or products must be certified organic, including those not covered by a commodity board. So if a farmer grows 100 percent organic soybeans and 100 percent organic corn, he or she is eligible for the soybean exemption. If, however, the soybeans are organic and the corn is not, there is no exemption.

These proposed changes were published in the Federal Register April 26. The AMS is accepting comments until May 26. For more details, go to

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