A checkoff is a mechanism that provides for regular payment of a “tax” or levy on sales of agricultural goods, which are then used to finance a commodity-specific marketing program. Advertising campaigns well-known to consumers – such as “Pork: The Other White Meat” and “Got milk?” — were funded by checkoff funding. A critical characteristic of checkoff funding is that each farmer pays a small amount, and the money is pooled and used for market research and/or advertising.
It’s a familiar marketing model that has been successfully used in the past. However, a checkoff program being proposed by the Organic Trade Association is meeting with some skepticism from organic farmers.They argue that the meaning of “organic” is too broad, and includes too many products, to be effective. The issue will ultimately be put to a vote; more than two-thirds of America’s certified organic producers will have to say “aye” for the checkoff to go into effect.
“It sounds kind of bad and I hate to say it this way but it’s not my job to make sure that there’s organic across the country,” says Jason Condon, a farmer in Lafayette, Colo. He and his wife grow certified organic vegetables, and while their Isabelle Farm is a success, their profits are still tight. If checkoff funding moves forward, the Condons could have to pay upwards of $1,000 per year into the pool, and all for messages they aren’t sure they support.