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Small Farmers Challenge Big Ag Industry, USDA

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)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(38)
  • BillFordice
    07/27/2017
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    My concern regarding the mandatory check off program for farmers is the lack of transparency. It appears this amounts to a required ag tax that small farmers are paying with no guarantee that funds are being used for their benefit. In fact, I am concerned that these funds are used to lobby AGAINST the interests of small producers.

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  • James
    07/27/2017
    ···

    I fail to see how these programs help small, local, organic farmers. Unless there is more emphases on buying local, there is no fairness in the program. Agra-business will and are eating up the fees.

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  • Deborah
    07/27/2017
    ···

    I didn't t think small-scale agricultural producers should have to participate in USDA programs benefitting industrial-scale agriculture! Th USDA should create checkoff programs that support the production and distribution of goods from small-scale family farms! Small farms should be supported by the government more consumers are shopping by supporting local farms not factory inhumane slaughter houses! I'd like to see an end to those anyway! They are a huge creator of climate change warming the planet but that's another subject matter! Thank you

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  • dvmno
    07/27/2017
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    Please support the Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation act. Small farm freedom is important both to farmers and public health.

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  • Erin
    07/27/2017
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    Yay for family farms! They should absolutely not have to pay for a program like this that clearly benefits their competitors who already have an unfair advantage.

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  • Kodiwodi
    07/27/2017
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    Support small farmers and ranchers rather than Big Ag. It is the the small guys that built this country and will keep it going by humanely raised animal Ag and green agriculture. Support voluntary check off programs and quit overburdening our rural heroes.

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  • Natalie
    07/27/2017
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    I think we should support and promote small local farmers over big corporations.

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  • Christopher
    07/28/2017
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    Small and local agriculture may be one of the most important and valuable areas of social structure, especially in time of changing climate- they offer flexibility, care and quality, for animals and land and should be supported, not burdened.this looks like the discussion focusses on meat and I hope people also realize how much resources, how many calories, it takes to create meat, especially grain fed or finished- it's a two orders of magnitude. We could save a lot of people from famine by shifting to a diet focussed more on plant sources. Healthier in many ways for environment, our bodies and our society. More small farms. More community agriculture projects. More direct farmer consumer links.

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  • Judith
    07/27/2017
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    BREAK THE MONOPOLIZED POLITICIZED AGRIBUSINESS AND ALL THE LAWS THAT PROTECT ITS STRANGLE HOLD ON AGRICULTURE !!!! DITCH MONSANTO AND ALL SIMILAR ORGANIZATIONS !!!! THE FOOD THEY PRODUCE IS BARELY PALATABLE !!!!! I WOULDN'T EVEN FEED IT TO MY PIG !!!!! IT WOULD MAKE THEM AS SICK AS IT DOES WE AMERICANS !!! PEOPLE DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW BAD IT IS !!!!! THEY HAVE EATEN IT ALL THEIR LIVES AND ACTUALLY THINK IT IS SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE SAW DUST AND THEN HAVE TO TAKE SYNTHETIC VITAMINS FOR THEIR NUTRIENTS THAT SHOULD COME FROM THEIR FOOD !!!! I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE PROCESSED FOODS THAT ARE ACTUALLY POISONOUS FOR US !!!! THOSE ARE OBVIOUS!!!!! I'M TALKING ABOUT THE RAW VEGETABLES THAT HAVE BEEN RUINED NUTRITIONALLY AND THE MILK THAT IS WATER WITH A LITTLE WHITENER AND SYNTHETIC VITAMINS ADDED THAT HAS NO FOOD VALUE THAT LOOK HEALTHY AND ALIVE BUT HAVE HARDLY ANY LIFE IN THEM !!! NO FLAVOR OF A SWEET CARROT OR CUCUMBER BUT BITTER, TOMATOES THAT ARE SOUR ETC FROM SEEMINGLY FRESH VEGETABLES !!!!!! PEOPLE THINK THEY EAT WELL BUT IMAGINE WHAT YOUR FOOD WOULD TASTE LIKE WITH IT PROPERLY GROWN ON HEALTHY SOIL CREATING HEALTHY LIVING PLANTS WITH ALL THEIR NATURAL NUTRITIONAL VALUE AND FULL FLAVOR INTACT TO PUT IN YOUR MEALS !!! AGRIBUSINESS FOOD IS REPULSIVE !!!! IT GIVES ONLY THE IMPRESSION THAT YOU ARE EATING FOOD !!! IMAGINE THE VITALITY AND DECEASE RESISTANCE WITH VERY LITTLE OBESITY IN THE WORKFORCE THAT GOOD HEALTHY FLAVORFUL FOOD WOULD PRODUCE TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE NATIONAL PRODUCTION AND KEEP AMERICA AT PEAK CONDITION !!!! AGRIBUSINESS AND THE MEDICAL INDUSTRIES ARE WORKING TO MAXIMIZE THEIR PROFITS AT THE EXPENSE OF ALL AMERICANS !!!! THUS AT THE EXPENSE OF AMERICA !!!

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  • Dennis
    07/28/2017
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    If the US Congress is not careful, thoughtful, and aware, there will be no small farms. Cargill and Con-Agra are the two biggest conglomerates. When they are the only farms producing food, watch the food prices rise. Support small, independent farms in the US.

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  • MsMegan
    07/27/2017
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    Small farms should be the future of this country. Factory farming is less humane, and is a major contributor to the destruction of our environment. Anything that will help small farms succeed and compete should be enacted.

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  • Ann
    07/31/2017
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    These check off programs, according to the documentary what the health on netflix, also allow agricultural companies to slant nutritional information guidelines and public health guidelines so that they do not reveal to the public how risky it is to overconsume animal products. Considering we are a nation full of fat diabetes ridden Medicaid money pits, I think we should abolish the entire check off program.

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  • Ted
    07/27/2017
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    Check-off programs now steal from the small producers, to pay for Big Ag.

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  • James
    07/29/2017
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    Please support the OFF Act. Transparency in spending is a must at all levels of government and will satisfy those concerned about where the funding is actually going. Small farms are important.

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  • PLD
    07/27/2017
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    A major concern in the mandatory check off program for farmers is the lack of transparency. It appears grossly unjust that small farms are forced to pay to support large agribusinesses without any guarantees that there is any support for themselves. In fact, aren't large businesses working against the small ones and forcing them to, in essence, pay for their own demise?

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  • Carolyn
    07/28/2017
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    Small farmers and ranchers should not be forced to pay into the USDA check off program. It's not fair to them if it doesn't support them.

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  • Adam
    07/28/2017
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    Get the government as far out of agriculture as possible. This intrusion into business should only be considered permissible to the point that it assures a viable food supply (dairy price supports, if needed) and to protect environmental resources. Check off programs do neither and producers who market best should succeed.

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  • Barry
    07/28/2017
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    As a soil scientist and consultant to Montana Ag all my work is with smaller farm and ranch families that are not benefitting from these programs for Big Ag. Please do something to help real Montana farmers and ranchers and not the corporate interests.

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  • Pfergmomma
    07/29/2017
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    Lack of transparency is a big issue. If money goes to lobbyists who tout big ag, that is not appropriate

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  • Ethan
    08/04/2017
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    Large agricultural companies have manipulated USDA and other certifications to their advantage for years. Creating a system where small farm have a separate standard and fee structure for most certifications and procedures would benefit everyone.

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