Organic checkoff campaign proposes to raise awareness of organic foods

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By: Geoff Lesar
glesar@flavor574.com

Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth

Thick, white milk mustaches with the slogan, “Got Milk?” Sam Elliott’s gravelly cowboy voice declaring, “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” 

Both familiar refrains are part of popular marketing campaigns promoting their respective agricultural products through a process known as checkoff funding.

In a checkoff program, private producers are essentially required by the federal government to contribute a fraction of their annual revenues to help support national advertising efforts promoting a particular product.

Now, leading organic certification agencies are preparing to submit a proposal for checkoff funding to promote organic foods, according to a report from Luke Runyon of Colorado public radio station KUNC

If approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the organic checkoff program would require farmers who net $250,000 or more annually to contribute one-tenth percent of their annual revenue to be used in the advertising and awareness campaign. 

For the checkoff plan to be approved, more than two-thirds of the nation’s organic farmers will need to vote in favor of it, KUNC reports.

“I am against it 100 percent,″ said David Randle, owner of Randle Family Farm in Lebanon, Ind.

Randle’s organic farm clears the $250,000 revenue mark and has been required to participate in checkoff programs in the past when it still produced conventional products.

“They really want my checkoff money,” said Randle. “A few years ago, I was 80 percent (organic). Because I wasn’t 100 (percent organic), they were able to get checkoff money from my soybeans.”

The KUNC report notes that the organic food industry encompasses a much wider range of products than checkoff-funded campaigns which focus on specific products, like eggs or soybeans.

While a checkoff program would aim to increase national awareness of organic practices and ultimately sell more organic foods, Randle says small farmers like him, who rarely rely on outsourced assistance, believe their own marketing and advertising to be sufficient.

“How does it benefit me to have someone try to sell something for me when I can damn well do it myself?” he said.

What do you think?

  • Does the average consumer understand what organic food means (and does it matter)?
  • Should farmers be required to support a national campaign that may not benefit them directly?
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