Organic Checkoff Proposed by USDA to the Dismay of FarmersJanuary 19th, 2017
Cornucopia’s Take: Of all the groups with certified organic farmers as members, or nonprofit advocacy groups supporting the organic movement, we know of only one that has endorsed this proposal to tax farmers in support of research and promotional/marketing work (and it isn’t a coincidence the one group in support shares a board member with the organic industry lobby group, the OTA).
Longtime farmers have had a bellyful of paying millions of dollars for promotional work that researchers have found rarely garners a return on investment and, when it does, mostly accrues to the processing/marketing sector, not to the farming community…
No Organic Checkoff Coalition opposes proposed Federal US Organic Checkoff
No Organic Checkoff
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday rolled out a proposal for a research and promotion check-off program, which could unfairly promote large organic processors’ needs over those of family farmers. Organic farmers and processors continue to oppose an organic checkoff program.
“This is a disappointment for the organic sector—checkoff programs are not a good match for independent organic farmers,” said Kate Mendenhall, a spokesperson for the coalition.
The USDA proposal fails to address many concerns outlined by organic farmer organizations in past USDA formal correspondence and partial proposals. USDA ignored a demonstrated lack of industry support for an organic checkoff. Our small grassroots petition has 1,871 signatures of farmers and processors that oppose the checkoff and support from 25 organic farmer organizations representing memberships of over 6,000 organic farmers across the nation. Norm Koster, an organic farmer in Illinois stated, “The organic movement started without any check-off and continues to grow without it. The question is why would an organic producer want it? I certainly do not.” His sentiment aligns with hundreds of comments from organic farmers across the county.
USDA failed to secure a voice for the small farmer. One concern is No Organic Checkoff Coalition’s request that all certified organic farmers and processors get a referendum vote on whether or not the organic industry will create an organic checkoff—the USDA proposal eliminates 60% of organic farmers from having a say unless they volunteer to participate in the checkoff for seven years—an inequitable demand that larger farms and businesses do not have to make to receive a vote.
USDA failed to give farmers enough power in the organic checkoff leadership. Small- to Mid-size grassroots organic farmers built the U.S. organic label and market, yet they will hold only eight reserved seats (47%) on the board of 17 members. It is clear that organic farmers are not determining the course of the proposed organic checkoff and will not determine the spending of checkoff funds. As certified organic FARMERS comprise the majority of all U.S. certified organic entities, we feel this lack of farmer majority representation is egregious. With the proposed leadership structure it is clear that the Organic Trade Association is looking out for its high-paying corporate members’ interests—NOT the interests of organic farmers who built this movement.
Organic Research NOT a Priority in OTA’s Checkoff Proposal. While USDA and OTA like to tout that the proposed organic checkoff will provide millions in research dollars to organic farmers, the proposed OTA research dollars for production agricultural research are much too low and fail to recognize this need and priority in the organic industry. The proposal to allocate 12.6% as the minimum starting point for all checkoff dollars to support agricultural research does not reflect this unanimous priority among organic farmers. OTA’s research allocation is much less than the 25% they would allocate to the amorphous “discretionary funds,” which seriously undercuts the needs of the organic farming community and allows a quarter of the industry-generated funds to be spent on undisclosed expenses and in a non-transparent manner.
Proposed Checkoff Assessments Are Burdensome for Farmers and Small Businesses. An organic research and promotion order should not impose arduous compliance requirements on small businesses. Organic certification already is taxing on farmers’ time and a checkoff assessment would magnify this burden tremendously. The OTA’s proposed producer assessments are burdensome, complex, and confusing. While on the face of it, the OTA proposal appears to reduce producer burden by exempting producers grossing under $250,000, the reality of this exemption is much more complex, bringing to light many problems and inequities embedded in the proposal. As organic farmers are already burdened by certification paperwork and fees, more bureaucracy burden will surely hurt farmers’ businesses. Lou Lego, a diversified organic farmer in upstate New York, has found this true with his participation in the apple checkoff, “We are a part of a check-off program like this with the Apple Association, and it is a disaster that is costing us business as well as the collection fees. Please do not do this to us!”
The coalition of organic farming organizations and businesses represent rank-and-file organic farmers and ranchers who believe they will not be well-served by a federally mandatory checkoff program to promote organic products. Conventional family farmers, subject to mandatory participation in any of the 22 checkoff programs that tax farmers on their production, have long alleged that the proceeds generated from research and promotion programs have benefited the interests of corporate agribusiness rather than independent farmers.
The No Organic Checkoff Coalition believes that organic farmers would be well served to hold onto their marketing money and invest it into their farming businesses, not commit it to a new federally mandatory organic checkoff program. Our coalition will be encouraging farmers and processors to submit comments to the USDA in opposition to the proposed organic checkoff.
For more information on why organic farmers oppose OTA’s organic check-off research and promotion program proposal, see www.noorganiccheckoff.com.
The No Organic Checkoff coalition is made up of over 27 not-for-profit organic farmer-member organizations as well as organic businesses. The coalition was organized to OPPOSE the creation of a new federal organic checkoff program. Coalition members include: Bardessono Vineyards, Cornucopia Institute, Eden Foods, Family Farm Defenders, Food and Water Watch, Fruited Plain Seeds, Gottschalk’s Organic Orchards, Hoosier Organic Marketing Education (HOME), Land Stewardship Project (LSP), Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA), Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council (NOFA-IC), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT-NOFA), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts (NOFA/Mass), Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ), Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc. (NOFA-NY), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island (NOFA-RI), Northern Plains Sustainable Ag (NPSA), Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Organic Crop Improvement Association, International (OCIA), Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), Stephens Land and Cattle, Terressentials Organic, Western Organic Dairy Producers Association (WODPA), Wood Prairie Farm.