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Numerous ag groups upset by Spartz ‘anti-checkoff’ amendment
 
By Michele F. Mihaljevich
Indiana Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An amendment proposed by a U.S. representative from Indiana has drawn the ire of numerous agriculture-related organizations that describe the legislation as anti-checkoff.
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Indiana 5th district) proposed the amendment to H.R. 4368 – the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2024 – this summer. The amendment would prohibit funds made available by the bill to be used to carry out commodity checkoff programs.
“As a farmer myself, I understand the importance of promoting our commodities at home and abroad as well as more opportunities for smaller farmers,” Spartz said in a release. “However, I see more and more corporate cronyism in agriculture with highly paid executives promoting just a few monopolies mostly owned by Brazil and China in some ag sectors, which are using child labor provided by Mexican cartels.
“We must demand transparency for roughly $1B in mandatory fees taken annually from farmers by the federal government and given to executives like USDA Secretary (Tom) Vilsack who was paid about $1M per year between his Obama and Biden jobs by one of these boards.”
In a Sept. 26 letter to U.S. House leaders, 130 national and state ag-related groups urged opposition to the amendment, saying the language in it targets commodity research and promotion boards, better known as checkoff programs.
“Checkoffs were established at the urging of the producers of their respective product,” the letter reads. “While each individual program operates in a manner uniquely crafted to suit the needs of that specific commodity, generally, a small portion of the sales receipts of that commodity is allocated to a research and promotion board overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”
The letter goes on to note that Congress has expressed support for the programs multiple times by adopting legislation authorizing checkoffs requested by different producer groups. The programs are entirely funded and directed by those who pay assessments into them – producers themselves, the letter says. “As such, all checkoff expenses, including the salaries of USDA personnel overseeing them, are funded by the same receipts they generate. There are no taxpayer dollars used to implement checkoffs, and no appropriated dollars are used to oversee.”
In the letter, the organizations said contrary to claims made by proponents of the amendment, checkoffs are regularly audited for transparency and compliance, and this amendment would do nothing to increase transparency measures at USDA.
Research and promotion boards exist to develop new markets and strengthen existing channels for specific commodities while conducting important research and promotional activities, the letter continues. They also work to educate consumers on behalf of a particular commodity to expand total demand to the benefit of all producers, the letter adds.
In a separate statement, Daryl Cates, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said Spartz’s amendment is a direct attack on all checkoffs and threatens the long-term viability of the soy industry’s successful program.
“Our soy checkoff continues to have strong support from hundreds of thousands of soy farmers across the United States, and that is proven time and again when the program comes up for referendum every five years.” he said. “Soybean farmers understand the significant role the checkoff plays in developing and protecting markets for their crops, conducting research and promotion to sustain their livelihoods and our environment, and keeping U.S. soy available domestically and competitive globally.”
Todd Wilkinson, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), said in a statement, “As a cattle producer, I am proud to pay into the beef checkoff because I know my $1 is doing more for our entire industry than I could do on my own. Our future depends on the investments we make now and the beef checkoff is the strongest tool we have to keep beef on consumers’ plates, strengthening the cattle industry today and for the next generation.”
The ASA and NCBA also signed the letter to House leaders.
10/2/2023