18 January 2009 - Check-Offs are Essential

There are several things, I’m sure, that America’s farmers and ranchers don’t really need in 2009. Today I would like to focus on two areas that I think we could well do without in agriculture, in this new year.

First of all, we don’t need a family squabble in this relatively small agricultural family in the United States. Secondly, I really don’t think we need another farm organization; yet we are getting both in the current controversy over the spending of check-off dollars in the Soybean Check-Off Program.

Many of you, I’m sure, are aware that the American Soybean Association has filed an official request with the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to check allegations of funds being misspent as well as some questionable personal-conduct activities in the soybean program. The Association wants them fully investigated and corrected.

Now, along with that we have a group of soybean farmers who have formed yet another soybean organization, The United Soybean Federation. I’m not quite sure why and I certainly don’t understand why we need yet another organization in agriculture. Be that as it may, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Shafer, in his news conference at the Farm Bureau Convention in San Antonio last week, said “the allegations are serious and as the overseer of all check-off programs, the Department of Agriculture will indeed check out the allegations to determine if they are true or false.”

I want to go beyond this single incident however, and talk about the check-off programs in general; because any “black eye” for any one program is going to spill over to all check-off programs and raise questions about funds being collected and spent. I firmly believe that American agriculture and producers have benefitted from check-off programs; dollars that have conducted research, promotion, marketing and advertising; dollars that brought us “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner”, “Pork, the other white meat”, “Got Milk?”, “3-A- Day” and all of the promotions that have helped expand the consumption, as well as the nutrition and safety, of America’s agricultural products.

I have been saying for decades that if producers are not willing to invest their time and money into marketing their products, then one of two things will happen. It won’t get done at all or it will be done in a way that will not help producers. We need these check-off programs; we need the staffs and farmer board members to conduct them in a legal and constructive way; and we need to correct this situation quickly before it infects the entire checkoff system.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.