USDA Accepts Proposals for an Organic Check-Off Program

Got Milk?
The “Got milk?” campaign has over 90% awareness in the United States and the tag line has been licensed to dairy boards across the United States since 1995.

Whether you know it or not, you have probably seen marketing campaigns run by commodity research and promotion or “check-off” programs.

Remember “Got milk?” and “Beef – It’s what’s for dinner”? Each of these marketing campaigns was created through what is commonly called a commodity check-off program. Currently, there are check-off programs in place for all sorts of commodities, from pork to popcorn, which are funded by producers and run by boards made up of industry stakeholders.

In May, USDA began accepting proposals for a check-off program that would cover all organic commodities and require organic producers, importers, processors, and handlers above a certain income threshold to pay in to fund the program.

The first proposal, called GRO Organic, was submitted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) on May 12th of this year. It would raise an estimated $30 million annually for organic research and promotion. While $30 million per year sounds like a boon for the organic community, the idea has been met with resistance by some stakeholders. For example, some organizations claim that conventional check-offs have disproportionately benefited large processors and manufacturers at the expense of small and mid-sized farms. In fact, some feel that check-offs have directly contributed to the decline of small farms.

Ineffective marketing is another concern. Because they fall under the USDA’s umbrella, check-off programs tend to restrict the language and claims used in promotion, which can result in painfully generic marketing. On the other hand, more funding for organic research is sorely needed and a check-off program could help increase the capacity for domestic organic agriculture.

Will an organic check-off prove to be a boon or a burden on Vermont’s organic farmers? If you have thoughts, please be sure to share them with us by emailing Maddie Monty, NOFA-VT’s policy advisor or calling (802) 434-4122. In the meantime, we will be following the process every step of the way and will be asking for your input to help us inform our actions on this and other key policy issues.

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