Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Group sees reform, accountability in farm checkoff programs

MOSES LAKE — A number of U.S. farm groups are backing an effort to reform federal crop promotion and research programs — also called checkoff programs — as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

According to Joe Maxwell, executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), the lack of transparency in current federal checkoff programs has all too often meant they have been captured by large companies to the detriment of small farmers.

“Our objective is to restore the integrity and purpose of commodity promotion and research,” Maxwell told the Columbia Basin Herald. “With farm income down about 50 percent, a lot of these dollars have been diverted to organizations that don’t well serve farmers.”

Managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the commodity promotion programs give farmers the ability to vote to effectively tax themselves to promote research and marketing. The nationwide program covers 22 crops, from major commodities such as wheat and soybeans, to specialty crops like mushrooms, honey and Christmas trees.

In the past, previous programs have paid for advertising campaigns like “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and “The incredible, edible egg” by the American Egg Board.

According to Maxwell, the federal checkoffs provide roughly $800 million in research and marketing, and how those funds are spent needs to be transparent and audited to ensure that farmers are getting the most for their money.

The proposed amendment to the farm bill, co-sponsored by Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Corey Booker, D-N.J., would prohibit lobbying organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association or the National Pork Producers Council from receiving checkoff funds. The intention is to prevent conflicts on interest and put an end to “anti-competitive practices,” according to a press release from the OCM.

The amendment would also require checkoff programs to publish budgets and undergo regular audits.

“It would add credibility,” he said. “Checkoffs are like union dues.”

While the proposed measure only affects federal programs, the Washington State Department of Agriculture oversees 22 similar programs for state farmers that help fund research and marketing for everything from potatoes, milk and apples, to mint, hops and wine.

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