The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a proposed rule to exempt more organic growers and handlers from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs.
The check-off programs are traditionally funded by producers of a specific commodity, with funds used for commodity promotion and research.
There are 22 national check-off programs in place, with well known examples including the “Got Milk” and “The Incredible Edible Egg” campaigns.
Nevertheless, organic growers often face challenges unique to their industry. By exempting organics from conventional commodity check-off programs, the USDA hopes to let the industry decide where its dollars are best spent.
USDA estimates the amount of money exempted could be as high as $13.6 million, a large amount for an industry that saw sales peak at $35 billion in 2013.
“These additional savings that will be available as a result of this exemption can be used by organic growers, ranchers and handlers to address everyday problems and to tackle issues that will help advance their businesses and the organic sector,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, which helped push for the proposed exemption.
The proposal, expanded by Congress in the farm bill of 2014, plans to cover organic growers, handlers, marketers or importers operating under “100%” and “primary organic” labels.
The bill also authorizes a potential check off program solely for organics, though it requires the organic sector to submit an official proposal to the agency.
The USDA published notice of the proposed changes in the Dec. 16 Federal Register, with a 30-day public comment period.
“It’s significant in that these types of steps will continue to allow the industry to mature, communicate its benefits and solve its own problems, so we’re pleased to see this rule come out,” Batcha said.