U.S. Capitol Cheryl Day/National Hog Farmer

Farm groups oppose farm bill rider that guts checkoff programs

Brat-Blumenauer farm bill amendment ends agreements between checkoff boards and lobbying groups.

National Pork Producers Council joined more than 40 agricultural organizations on a letter sent yesterday to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., asking that House members vote against the amendment to the 2018 farm bill that would gut the federally authorized commodity research and promotion programs, commonly known as checkoffs.

Reps. David Brat (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) filed an amendment to the farm bill last Friday, imposing significant restrictions on research and promotion programs for pork, beef, milk and dozens other commodities. This amendment prohibits checkoff groups from entering “into any contract or agreement to carry out checkoff program activities with a party that engages in activities for the purpose of influencing any government policy or action that relates to agriculture.”

Groups in favor of the amendment say it will prevent checkoff funds from being used for policy purposes. The proposed amendment is one of 51 farm bill amendments that Republican leaders are allowing to be debated. 

The NPPC is urging House lawmakers to oppose the rider being offered by Brat and Blumenauer.

“The amendment is ill-conceived, too broad and poorly drafted,” says NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio. “It would have far-reaching, detrimental impacts on the marketing of and research for agricultural commodities and ultimately harm all farmers and ranchers. It addresses a problem that doesn’t exist and does so in a manner that would result in significant, long-lasting harm to American agriculture and free enterprise.”

Among other things, the amendment would prohibit checkoffs and their employees and “agents” from engaging “in any act that may involve a conflict of interest, anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive act or practice …” Significantly, it also would prohibit checkoffs from contracting with any entity with an agricultural interest before the federal government.

Checkoffs routinely contract with university researchers, private entities, organizations and individuals to, for example, conduct research on food safety and nutrition and to market and promote their respective commodities.

Since 1966, Congress has authorized 22 industry-funded research and promotion boards, or checkoffs. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the checkoffs to ensure fiscal accountability and program integrity. The checkoffs annually fund more than $1 billion of research, promotion and consumer education programs.

“Like the other checkoffs, the Pork Checkoff provides tremendous value to our producers through research on swine diseases, genetics, better production methods and through its pork promotion efforts,” Heimerl says. “At a time when it seems like everyone is going to the government with his or her hand out, American agriculture, through the checkoffs, is funding its own programs. The checkoffs are funded by producers for producers.”

TAGS: Farm Policy
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