Farm Progress

Industry groups defend checkoff programs

Proposed amendment brings strong rebuke against federal funding for commodity checkoff programs.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

July 27, 2023

2 Min Read
USDA building
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Ag trade organizations are pushing back against a proposed amendment by U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R- Ind., to prohibit federal funding from going to commodity checkoff programs. The groups say her amendment to a 2024 appropriations bill funding USDA is “frivolous” and a waste of congressional time since checkoff programs are not funded by taxpayers.

“Rep. Spartz’s amendment targets programs like the Beef Checkoff and is a direct attack on America’s farmers and ranchers,” NCBA policy division vice chair Tim Schwab says. “The Beef Checkoff conducts critical nutrition and food safety research, strengthens consumer demand for beef, and helps farms and ranches stay in business. I hope Rep. Spartz withdraws her amendment and sides with Indiana agriculture over animal rights activists.”

The American Soybean Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Milk Producers Federation and the Indian Beef Cattle Association joined the NCBA in issuing a public statement condemning the amendment. ASA president Daryl Caste says he was surprised to learn of the Spartz amendment, noting that only 708 of his organization’s more than 500,000 soybean farmers requested a vote on continuing the Soy Checkoff when it was last considered in 2019.

“That means hundreds of thousands of farmers continue to support the Soy Checkoff,” he says. “They understand the significant role the checkoff plays in developing and protecting markets for their crops, conducting research and promotion to sustain their livelihoods and the environment, and keeping U.S. soy available domestically and competitive globally.”

While most industry advocates defended the checkoff programs, not everyone is opposed to the Spartz amendment. Farm Action, which bills itself as a farmer-led organization fighting against agriculture monopolies, says groups like the NCBA are working to protect their biggest source of funding instead of protecting farmers and ranchers.

“We share Representative Spartz's frustration with our nation’s corrupt checkoff programs, and thank her for putting farmers and ranchers before special interests,” Farm Action Fund vice president Angela Huffman says. “Even more frustrating is that the groups opposed to Spartz’s amendment and any other reforms to the checkoff programs are brazenly omitting their shared conflict of interest: These lobbying organizations are all recipients of checkoff funds.”

Her remarks drew a heated response from the NCBA, which accused Huffman and Farm Action co-founder Joe Maxwell of being career animal rights activists who have “no business” claiming to represent American farmers and ranchers. NCBA president Todd Wilkinson said he was also disappointed in Spartz, who said in a recent interview that she paid into the wheat checkoff, an organization that doesn’t exist.

During the same interview, Spartz defended her amendment, contending that ag checkoff programs lack oversight and transparency. While acknowledging that federal money does not go to checkoff programs, she said that mandatory checkoff payments equate to a farming tax. She believes Congress should have oversite so that legislators and farmers know more about what the checkoff programs are doing.

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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