In her June 16 column, “Checkoff programs in the spotlight again,” (CLICK HERE to read) Agri-Pulse editor Sara Wyant opens with two sides of the debate over the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act. She writes, “many people support the concept of letting farmers voluntarily invest their own dollars in research and promotion. A smaller but more vocal subset of people is passionately opposed to checkoffs.”
First, it is important to clarify that checkoffs are not voluntary; they are mandatory and have been for several decades. They began as a way for farmers to voluntarily pool their dollars for research and promotion—as in “check off” a box to participate—but today, participation is mandated under federal law. We (https://farmactionfund.us/) would agree that many people, ourselves included, support the concept of voluntary checkoff programs, but this issue is not part of today’s debate.
The OFF Act would in fact support and improve checkoffs by making them more transparent through publication of program budgets and expenditures, more accountable with periodic audits by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a one-time performance audit by the comptroller general of the U.S., and more efficient and trustworthy by prohibiting checkoff boards from contracting with lobbying organizations.
Today, checkoff dollars collected from farmers and ranchers are often passed through lobbying-oriented middlemen on the way to performing the important functions of research and promotion. Prohibiting checkoff dollars from being contracted to lobbying organizations would assure farmers that no conflicts of interest exist. After all, the Supreme Court determined that checkoffs are government speech. Why should the government pay organizations that lobby the government to speak for the government?
The 58 farm groups leading the advocacy in support of these reforms represent more than 200,000 of the very farmers and ranchers mandated to pay into the programs. These farm groups are also supported by animal welfare advocates, conservationists, taxpayer advocacy groups, and more.
Why would more than half of cattle producers feel the beef checkoff isn’t working for them?
While the beef checkoff claims an $11 return on investment, it should be noted that ROI is based on retail prices instead of prices received by cattle producers. The producer’s share of the retail beef dollar fell from over 60% in the late 1980s when the checkoff was established to as low as 37% in recent years. According to the USDA, when you factor in operating costs, producers have been losing an average of $400- to $700 per animal for the past 25 years.
We’ve lost half a million cattle producers since the checkoff was established, and it’s a wonder any of the rest are still afloat.
Finally, since the beef checkoff program was established in 1985, per capita beef consumption in the U.S. has dropped from 75 pounds to under 57 pounds today.
If you were paying someone to advertise your product and getting these failed results, wouldn’t you want more information about how your money was being spent and maybe even want to fire them?
The hardworking Americans raising livestock and growing food to feed their communities deserve nothing less than transparency, accountability, and efficiency when the government collects their hard-earned money. This is why the OFF Act must be included in the 2023 farm bill.
—Angela Huffman is from Wharton, Ohio.