Small Farmers Challenge Big Ag Industry, USDA
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by Countable | 7.27.17
What’s the story?
Small farmers and ranchers, along with animal rights activists, flew into D.C. recently to lobby Congress to reform the USDA checkoff programs, which force small farmers to pay fees to support industry efforts that prioritize big, industrial agriculture ahead of small farming and ranching, reports The Hill.
Why does it matter?
Checkoff programs were originally created as voluntary programs which allowed producers to collaborate to expand their market share:
"[Checkoff programs] promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity without reference to specific producers or brands.... Checkoff programs attempt to improve the market position of the covered commodity by expanding markets, increasing demand, and developing new uses and markets."
The programs are responsible for well-known advertising campaigns such as "Got Milk?" and “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner”.
Although, checkoff programs started off as voluntary initiatives, they now have become mandatory, and small farmers are struggling to see how this program benefits them. Critics of the programs complain about a lack of transparency in how the fees are spent and they say the funds are also used to lobby for legislation that promotes the interests of big producers.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would require transparency regarding the use of the funds. The legislation would require checkoff programs to publish all budgets and expenditures of funds and to submit periodic audits by the USDA inspector general.
Booker spoke to The Hill in support of the legislation:
"Federal checkoff programs — which impose a mandatory tax on farmers and ranchers — are in desperate need of reform. Checkoff programs need to do a better job of spending their dollars in ways that benefit small family farmers, and the legislation that Senator Lee and I have introduced will increase transparency and help restore trust in checkoff program practices."
The Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act, introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) would take it a step further by prohibiting mandatory participation in such programs all together.
Mike Weaver, head of the Organization for Competitive Markets, told The Hill:
"The current system forces responsible farmers to pay into a system of taxes that is used against them. It’s a game of survival for independent family farmers."
What can you do?
Do you think small-scale agricultural producers should have to participate in USDA programs primarily benefitting industrial-scale agriculture? Should the USDA create checkoff programs that support the production and distribution of goods from small-scale family farms?
Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!
— Asha Sanaker
(Photo Credit: MA Office of Travel & Tourism via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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