Vilsack still draws skepticism from farmers fighting agribusiness interests

During the Obama administration, Tom Vilsack presided over a USDA that promised to tackle concentration in the agribusiness industry. But after eight years, critics say, there was little evidence of reform. And that has led many to wonder whether there will be any meaningful changes during Vilsack's current tenure as secretary of agriculture, according to FERN's latest story, written by Clint Rainey. (No paywall)

Growers back checkoff program for industrial hemp

A large majority of farmers and processors of industrial hemp support the creation of a checkoff program to pay for research and promotion of the newly legalized commodity, said two trade groups on Tuesday. The National Industrial Hemp Council and Hemp Industries Association said they would …

Farmers, advocates concerned about Vilsack’s record on dairy issues

Some dairy farmers and advocates are worried that president-elect Joe Biden's pick for agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, will do little to address their concerns about issues like consolidation, farm bankruptcies and low milk prices. Critics are especially concerned about how Vilsack’s years running a dairy industry trade group will affect his policymaking approach.(No paywall)

Hemp groups to push for checkoff program

Two trade groups announced plans to spearhead a discussion across the hemp industry on the creation of a checkoff program to promote industrial hemp, similar to producer-funded checkoffs that boost cotton, milk, and Christmas trees.

Legislation to reform checkoffs introduced in the House

Legislation introduced in the House on Thursday would reform so-called “checkoff” programs, which impose mandatory taxes on producers of some commodities in order to fund promotional campaigns.

OTA lays groundwork for voluntary organic checkoff

Four months after the Trump administration killed a proposal for a mandatory checkoff program for organics, the industry’s largest trade group said it would move forward with a voluntary checkoff to promote organic food and products.

Ranchers expand lawsuit against checkoff to 13 states

A group of independent ranchers has expanded its lawsuit against the federal beef checkoff to include 13 more states, arguing that the checkoff violates the First Amendment by requiring ranchers to fund the "private speech" of state beef councils. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Action Fund (R-CALF) filed a supplementary pleading on August 9 that expands its existing lawsuit against Montana's beef checkoff program to include beef checkoff programs in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Farm groups disagree on farm bill checkoff amendment

Thirty-eight farm groups signed on to a letter to the ranking members of the House Agriculture Committee urging them to oppose a farm bill amendment that would more stringently regulate commodity checkoff programs.

USDA kills the proposed organic checkoff program

The Agricultural Marketing Service of the Department of Agriculture issued a preliminary notice Friday morning terminating the proposed organic checkoff program. The program, which was controversial among organic industry stakeholders, would have funded research and marketing for organic products. No paywall

Appeals court sides with ranchers on Montana beef checkoff

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s 2017 injunction against the collection of the Montana state beef checkoff in a decision released Monday. The ruling supports ranchers’ claim that the state's beef checkoff program impinges on their First Amendment rights by obligating them to pay taxes to support “private speech.” As the case between the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) and the Department of Agriculture unfolds, it has greater implications for checkoff programs in other states. No paywall

Pizza Hut adds more cheese to help offset dairy glut

Pizza Hut says it will add 25 percent more cheese to its personal pizzas as part of a deal with the administrators of the dairy checkoff. The deal comes as dairy farmers are facing national overproduction of milk and falling prices.

Senate confirms Ibach as USDA undersecretary for marketing

On a voice vote, the Senate confirmed Gregory Ibach, the state agriculture director in Nebraska, as agriculture undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. Ibach is the third member of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's executive team approved to take office; five slots remain empty.

Government agents are in the cheese business

In the midst of a national cheese glut, a government-sponsored marketing group called Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) is partnering with fast-food restaurants to encourage Americans to eat more cheese. Last year, farmers poured out 50 million gallons of milk because prices and demand were so low. As dairy consumption has dropped, DMI, which was behind the popular “Got Milk?” campaign, now spends much of its time sending experts into the secret product-creation rooms of chains like Burger King, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s.

Cranberry industry says no to donations for research and promotion

Since 1962, U.S. cranberry growers and processors have been part of a self-financed research and promotion program. The small industry, with an estimated 1,200 growers and 45 handlers in 10 states, has rejected a proposal to allow outside donations to the checkoff program, says USDA after tabulating the votes in a referendum held early this year.

In an advance for organic checkoff, USDA asks for public comments

After a year and a half of internal review, the USDA will ask for public comment on an industry proposal to create a checkoff program for organic products. It is a significant advance for what would be the first research-and-promotion program to apply to a mode of production rather than a commodity. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), the sponsor of the checkoff, says it would raise more than $30 million a year to help U.S. producers meet the burgeoning demand for organic goods.

Annual audits, ethics training for Egg Board after crack-up

The farmer-funded American Egg Board will face annual audits and a round of ethics training for its undercover attempt to derail a vegan version of mayonnaise, say USDA regulators. Their report could bolster long-shot legislation to end compulsory participation in the two-dozen "checkoff" programs that promote farm goods, from watermelons and limes to beef, cotton and milk.

Utah senator’s bill would make checkoffs voluntary

Farmer and rancher participation in federally created "check-off" programs, which raise money for research and promotion of two dozen commodities from cotton to beef and milk, would become voluntary rather than mandatory under a bill filed by Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican. A conservative, Lee said mandatory collection of check-off fees "is crony capitalism at its worst."

Coalition of organic farmers opposes checkoff plan

The "No Organic Checkoff" coalition has amassed a petition of 755 signatories, representing 6,000 farmers, to oppose the proposed organic checkoff tax, reports New America's Food & Power. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) pitched the checkoff in May 2015 to the USDA, saying a commission would use the funds to promote organic products. But petitioners fear that the checkoff will go the way of others before it, funneling money toward industry giants and away from small producers.

Coalition tells USDA: Thumbs down on organic checkoff

The USDA should reject the checkoff program proposed by the organic industry, says a coalition of opponents, who contend the checkoff would fail to expand U.S. production despite seemingly insatiable consumer demand.

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