Checkoff programs conduct marketing and research on behalf of all producers of a particular commodity in the nation. Producers have little say in marketing, research is full of motivated reasoning, and corruption in governance is well documented. To fix this, you can act now on S2860 and S2861.
If passed, these bills would make checkoff program participation voluntary, and create rules for checkoff boards to remove conflicts of interest.
S 2860 The Voluntary Program Participation Act
Currently, federally authorized Checkoff programs require every producer to pay into their respective checkoff programs. In other words, the federal government compels independent producers to support activities among Checkoff programs whether they want to or not. S 2860, The Voluntary Program Participation Act1 would make participation voluntary.
S 2861 Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act
Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2021 (OFF) is sister legislation that will establish further restrictions and requirements for checkoff programs.
The bill prohibits boards from entering into a contract or agreement to carry out program activities with a party that engages in lobbying for agriculture policy.
A board or its employees or agents acting in their official capacity may not engage in any
- act that may involve a conflict of interest;
- anticompetitive activity;
- unfair or deceptive act or practice; or
- act that may be disparaging to, of in any way negatively portray, another agricultural commodity or product.
Structurally Encouraged Corruption
Checkoff programs lack proper checks and balances to ensure accountability; they put the groups collecting checkoff fees in charge of distributing the funds, often, to themselves.
Senator Mike Lee of Utah (R) points out two examples where the structure of the checkoff programs leads to what some might call corruption:
These marketing promotions are directed by multiple boards and are funded by checkoff dollars paid by producers.
Unfortunately, these organizations are not always accountable to those who contribute funds to the checkoff programs. For example, the Pork Checkoff Program has been accused of “relinquish[ing] too much authority to its primary contractor…” and putting that contractor “in a position to exert undue influence over Board budgets and grant proposals.”2
Similarly, in 2019 the Beef Checkoff Program released its budget for 2020 indicating that $27 million of the $40 million budget was awarded to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) which chooses ten of the 20 members of the board charged with distributing the funds. The NCBA has been accused of advocating for ‘pro-packer’ policies which contribute to the ability of meat packers to consolidate (and potentially manipulate prices). The organization for competitive markets asserts that, “Since the NCBA has been administering the lion’s share of the beef checkoff funds, the U.S. has lost nearly half of its cattle producers, beef consumption has declined by 30%, and the four largest meatpacking corporations control 82% of the market.”3Official statement from Senator Mike Lee’s Office 4
S 2860 will prohibit mandatory or compulsory checkoff programs and require producer participation to be voluntary at the point of sale.
Why free independent producers from federally mandated checkoff programs?
“For far too long, farmers and ranchers have been forced to pay into these programs only to see their dollars go to trade and lobbying organizations that work against their very existence. USDA has failed to act. It’s time for Congress to step in and do what’s right for family farmers and ranchers.”Joe Maxwell, President of Family Farm Action Alliance (farmactionalliance.org/2021/09/28/reintroduction-of-commodity-checkoff-reform-legislation-aims-to-end-program-corruption)
Why AFA is calling for S2860 and S2861
Checkoff programs poorly regulated tend to encourage monopolistic consolidation. Monopolies are antithetical to American free-market ideals. Furthermore, Checkoff programs fund research that tends to narrowly focus on answering loaded questions. The main product is favorable sound-byte answers for use in marketing and lobbying. This leads us to the big objection: many of the Checkoff program contractors lobby our federal government. There is a clear conflict of interest and opportunity for corruption in checkoff programs. At the very least, American independent producers should be freed from compulsory participation. To truly solve the problems with checkoff programs would be to abolish them. However, a positive first step would be to pass both S2860 as well as S2861.
Step 1: Check if your Senators are already cosponsors
On the Cosponsors tab of S2860, see if your Senators have already signed on as a co-sponsor to S2860, the Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act.
On the Cosponsors tab of S2861, see if your Senators have already signed on as a co-sponsor to S2861, the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act.
If your rep is already a co-sponsor on either of these, now is an excellent time to thank them for having signed on, and ask them to sign on to the other as well.
Step 2: Craft your email
We highly recommend you write your own email in your own words. That said, here is a letter you are welcome to use as a starting point:
Dear Senator ________,
I’m writing to ask you to please co-sponsor S2860 and S2861, both introduced by Senator Mike Lee of Utah.
S2860 will free America’s independent agriculture producers from compulsary participation in checkoff programs. Corruption plagues these federally authorized organizations that impede independent producers from differentiating themselves in the marketplace.
S2861 will prohibit Checkoff boards from entering into contracts or agreements to carry out program activities with any parties that engage in activities to influence any government policy or action that relates to agriculture.
Thank you in advance for considering my request and enlisting your colleagues to do the same.
Step 3: Send the request to your two Senators
For this exercise, you’re sending two letters to your Members of Congress in the Senate.
- “AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE CONTROLS OVER PORK CHECKOFF FUNDS EVALUATION REPORT NO. 01801-1-KC” (usda.gov/sites/default/files/018011kc.pdf)
- “OCM Accuses NCBA of “Granting” Itself $27 Million in Beef Checkoff Funds”(competitivemarkets.com/oklahoma-farm-report-ocm-accuses-ncba-of-granting-itself-27-million-in-beef-checkoff-funds)