USDA Backs Off on Organic Checkoff Program

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Regulation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would not be pursuing an organic checkoff program which would have funded research and marketing for organic produce.  The decision to terminate the proceeding was “based on uncertain industry support for and unresolved issues with the proposed program.”Organic Checkoff

The measure was backed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which would have overseen the program under the direction of USDA.  It would have assessed organic producers with annual gross revenues of more than $250,000 to fund the program, which OTA estimated would raise over $30 million a year to be used for research and promotion.

In response to the decision from USDA, OTA issued a statement citing the need for the program to afford the organic industry a similar opportunity as other industry groups.  “Organic research funding is uncertain because it is tied to the unpredictable fate of the Farm Bill. The government also has interfered with the strong role of the National Organic Standards Board,” OTA Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha said in the statement. “There is no question we need promotion for organic as consumers continue to demand food transparency.”

There were over 1,400 growers and other members of the organic supply chain who issued their support for the proposed organic checkoff through the OTA website.  However, USDA noted that the nearly 15,000 public comments on the proposed regulation showed a “split within the industry.”  There was disagreement within the organic industry itself.  Organic groups such as the Northeast and Western Organic Dairy Producers and many Northeast Organic Farming Association chapters, and had opposed the program.  Smaller farms claimed that the program would unfairly benefit larger farms, processors, and retailers.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has indicated now that the rulemaking has been terminated it allows USDA to “engage fully with all interested parties to discuss and consider the evolving needs of the industry going forward.”


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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West