An Organic Check-Off: It sounds good but what about...?

An organic check-off would be unlike any other check-off program in American agriculture. Nothing like it has ever been tried, so the idea has understandably raised some questions. OTA has talked to lots of organic stakeholders over the past three years, and has found there’s a core group of concerns that keep coming up. We’ve also found that most of these concerns are based on perceptions of older check-offs, and we’ve addressed these issues. 


CONCERN 

Producers won’t be adequately represented and will get overshadowed by large corporate interests. 

SOLUTION 

The composition of the check-off board has been designed with the key objective to give producers a strong voice. Organic producers will hold at least half of the voting seats on the check-off board. Those producers will represent different regions, and will be directly elected by producers in their region. Producers are the backbone of the organic industry, and their needs and interests will not be overlooked or diminished.


CONCERN

Smaller-scale producers and handlers wouldn’t have a say in the program.

SOLUTION

The check-off has been crafted so that producers and handlers with revenue under $250,000 could choose to be assessed. If they chose to participate and pay into the program, they’d have full voting rights.


CONCERN 

It would be too expensive for the smaller operations.

SOLUTION

The assessment rate is broad and shallow; everybody pays a little into the program and everyone benefits. The assessment rate would be 1/10 of 1 percent of Net Organic Sales (or of Producer Net Profit), so for an operation with net organic sales of $90,000 for example, the voluntary annual assessment would be $90.


CONCERN

Not enough of the check-off funds would go into research.

SOLUTION

An absolutely paramount objective of the GRO Organic program is to increase research for organic in order to help organic farmers deal with everyday problems, accelerate the adoption of organic practices and boost organic production. At least 50 to 75 percent of the check-off funds have been earmarked specifically for research or for activities that work hand-in-hand with research, such as technical assistance and widespread information dissemination of research findings. Also, because organic producers have identified local and regional research as a critical need, a board sub-committee of regional producer seat holders would be established to recommend to the full board just how those research funds should be spent.


CONCERN

Too much of the check-off money would be spent on salaries and administrative costs, and other questionable activities.

SOLUTION

A number of common-sense prohibitions are written into the check-off: First, a tight maximum cap of 15 percent of assessments has been established for administrative expenses; second, no check-off dollars could be used for lobbying; third, no check-off dollars could be used to promote individual brands.


CONCERN

Once this is in place, it won’t be able to be terminated.

SOLUTION

A referendum is required every seven years to decide whether or not to continue the program. The organic check-off has been crafted to be accountable and transparent. If organic stakeholders are not satisfied with the program, they can vote to end it. //


Organic Check-off: An Historic Step for Organic


Perspectives on an Organic Check-off

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