I have always been a skeptic of checkoff programs.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, checkoff is a legal provision that allows growers of a specific commodity to petition the USDA to establish a producer-funded program for product promotion and research. If the USDA deems the petition worthy, the concept is put up to a vote of all growers of that commodity. And, if adopted, the growers are then required to pay (check off) a portion of each unit of production into the fund, which is then administered by a board appointed by USDA.
"Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner"…funded by the beef checkoff. The Other White Meat, and "Got Milk?"...pork and dairy checkoff funds as well.
My concern with these programs isn’t based on their advertising and promotion campaigns, but rather that they seem to be a backdoor way of funneling money to the commodity organizations that go to Capitol Hill and lobby against the interests of some of the growers who produced those commodities.
Many American cattle producers see the that the "Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner" campaign doesn’t encourage consumers to look for American-raised beef. Organic dairy farmers are frustrated that the major dairy commodity groups tied into their checkoff campaign actively fought the labeling of milk products produced from animals that receive synthetic bovine growth hormones (BGH).
So, I have watched with interest as the Organic Trade Association successfully lobbied Congress to include in the new farm bill a provision that would give the organic industry the opportunity to vote on establishing an organic research and promotion checkoff program.
I just want to say that, based on the experience of the already established checkoff programs…we oughta do it. Some may say my view is nothing more than a crass, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” rationalization. Perhaps so.
But let’s just look at the realities today.
According to USDA Economic Research Service, 0.8 percent of the nation’s cropland, and 0.5 percent of the rangeland and pastures, are now certified organic. Meanwhile, growing numbers of consumers are drifting away from the organic label because they don’t understand the differences between organic, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, and other labels in the marketplace.
If we want organic to survive and grow, it’s time to fight. Not among ourselves, mind you, but in the real marketplace where the hearts and minds of today’s shoppers reside.
Organic producers—large and small—are working hard to make viable, tangible changes in the agricultural system, and the food marketplace. That work won’t pay off unless we can get our message in front of a larger segment of the American public.
We’ve won some important battles over the past few years. Let’s not lose the war.