OFARM members opposed to Organic Checkoff

OFARM

OFARM Position Statement on a proposed “Organic Research and Promotion Order”

The Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, (OFARM Inc.) a Minnesota incorporated cooperative marketing-agency-in-common, represents organic grain and livestock producers in 18 states, These producers are currently being assessed check off for existing conventional commodity promotion programs and also some who get refunds under the current system for organic. While the opportunity to funnel these funds into an ‘Organic Research and Promotion Order’ would appear admirable on the surface, organic producers appear to be united in their concerns for such.

In conversations with our member producers we find them generally, and adamantly, opposed to extending authority or steps that would ultimately lead to a federal, Secretary of Agriculture or other USDA entity mandated, ‘Organic Research and Promotion Order’.

Organic farmers do not trust existing commodity research and promotion programs. They find them to be rife with questionable initiatives, abuses, and sometimes inappropriate use of funds, without proper input, supervision and oversight (See note 1). A federally mandated ‘Organic Research and Promotion Order’ would very likely be modeled after existing commodity research and promotion orders where they perceive little, if any, real input or control as to how the funds such an order would mandate are used.

Existing check off programs have not been shown to keep family farm producers (organic or conventional) in business. They continue to see declining farm numbers and increasing concentration in agriculture, including organic, while these commodity research and promotion programs are in effect. They rightfully perceive that a significant share of the research and promotion money has been used for projects that have ultimately enhanced this continuing trend. (See note 2)

‘Got Milk?’ – ‘The Incredible Edible Egg’ – “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner’ and ‘Pork, The Other White Meat’, to name a few, may be nice sounding promotional terms but producers legitimately ask “Who got the benefit they may have created”? The old saw of “return on investment” is often hauled out to justify these programs. Return on investment for promotion does not directly equate to an adequate return on investment of a producer’s farming operation.

Existing opportunities to ‘opt out’ of these programs are cumbersome and confusing. Our producers would fully support the opportunity to be exempt from current orders by proof of organic certification for the organic product in question.

These are the concerns our growers are raising and this is the general opinion that we hear from growers. They prefer to be able to support the many and various research and promotion efforts, with their resources of both money and cooperation, in projects that are initiated by collective groups that represent their best interest. Grower research requirements to produce organic crops and livestock of the quality demanded by consumers and the industry are in many cases different than for other sectors. They point to many successful local and regional initiatives, (i.e. SARE) and feel that a federally mandated program is a move away from their ability to assure a return on their investment. They believe local and regional initiatives, as opposed to a mandated federal program, is good for them and for the entire organic stakeholder community; growers to consumers included.

For more information contact: Oren Holle, OFARM president (Tel. 785.337.2442) or John Bobbe, OFARM executive director (Tel. 920-825-1369)

Notes:

1. As noted in Alan Guebert’s columns, the beef check off has been a total failure in helping farmers as well as oversight problems with misspent funds (MN Agrinews Feb. 23, 2012 and April 12, 2012).

2. Between 1992 and 2004, U.S. farms with hogs declined from over 240,000 to fewer than 70,000.  Currently 20 pork entities produce 50 percent of all the hogs in the U.S. Very few independent hog producers remain in business and are subject to the whims of the integrated meatpackers. The pork checkoff will generate $72 million in 2012. (Source: USDA)

3. The wheat checkoff was designed to increase wheat exports. Current wheat exports are in fact below the 10-year average with the wheat check off having been in place since 1980. (2011/2012 crop year exports are projected to be 27.9 million metric tonnes vs. the 10 year average of 28.3 million metric tonnes.)  (Source: Wheat Growers Association)