Organic farmers neither want nor need an organic checkoff

Jim GoodmanBlog

The “organic industry” represented by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) wants to make some money, supposedly for promoting organic food in the marketplace and for more research related to organic farming. So the go to place is the paycheck of organic farmers.

Promoting organic food is good, so is more funding for organic research, which has always been the ugly stepchild of conventional agricultural research. However a national checkoff on organic producers to raise money for these efforts is not the solution.

Since a checkoff would be operated through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, (AMS) any comparison and claims that organic food is superior to conventional food would not be allowed— that is a fact.

To me it makes more sense to let processors do their own promotion for their own brands, with their own money instead of jumping on the sweating backs of farmers for a mandated checkoff.

As to research money, since a checkoff would be placed on all organic commodities (and I hate calling organic food “commodities”, because it is food, not a commodity — a tool of profit for industry), from apples to eggs, meat to milk, who would have more voice in how that research money is used, someone like organic giants Aurora Dairy and Earthbound Farms or a farmer with two acres and a hoop house?

How about getting a percentage share of federal agricultural research dollars and dedicate it to organic research? USDA knows what percentage of food production is organic — that seems like a good percentage to start with.

From my past experience with the dairy checkoff (you remember, the milk mustache adds?) it did not sell more product, it did not raise farm income and most consumers viewed the adds as little more than silly. Since the dairy checkoff was put in place in 1983 consumption of dairy products has increased, but so has the population— per-capita consumption, the real measure of promotional success, has steadily dropped. All farmers did was give their money to an already bloated dairy industry that was more concerned about paying outrageous salaries to the executives of the promotion efforts than it was about increasing farmer profitability.

Commodity checkoffs were never intended to increase the profitability of the farmer, although farmers were led to believe that. Checkoffs, paid by the farmer, are put in place because the farmers paycheck is an easy target, an easy source of funding for the industry to use as it sees fit. The beauty of it, to industry, is that the farmers have no voice and are required by law to pay.