Organic Check-Off: What’s possible?

Organic Checkoff Proposed Programming Framework

  • Cap on administrative overhead
  • Allocation of funds for regional research
  • Lobbying prohibition

What would Organic Check-off funds be used for?

An Organic Check-off program would generate money for the organic sector to successfully implement, develop, and manage programs needed to grow market share in today’s competitive environment. Program categories include promotion, research, education, and information. Well-funded, properly planned, and carefully monitored programs would help the industry:

  • Educate consumers about what organic is and its benefits
  • Distinguish organic from lesser claims and unregulated seals like “natural”
  • Confirm the science behind the environmental and public health benefits of organic
  • Undertake research to solve problems such as invasive pests and weed control
  • Bring new farmers into organic production through information and technical assistance

Since it’s so important to strike the right balance between the different types of allowed activities, the check-off proposal assigns an equal 25% of funding for each of the four primary activity areas: promotion, research, education, and information. However, since priorities change, the proposal also calls for recurring input from assessed parties on the most meaningful way to appropriate the funds.

Imagine what a minimum of $40 million a year could do!

What types of promotion could be funded by an Organic Check-off Program?

Consumers make most purchasing decisions based on marketing. An Organic Check-off program could directly provide them with accurate and useful information about organic to make informed choices. A national public education initiative could provide consumers with information about why organic can sometimes cost more, and why it is worth more. It could also create increased awareness of the USDA Organic seal through high visibility ad campaigns.

An Organic Check-off program could fund diverse promotional activities such as:

  • Consumer advertising
  • Consumer education
  • Public relations and crisis management
  • Transition of U.S. land to organic

What types of research could be funded by an Organic Check-off Program?

Tackling unmet research needs, such as alternatives for weed control and agricultural inputs, could translate to everyday solutions for organic farmers and encourage others to transition to organic practices.

An Organic Check-off program could fund research activities like:

  • Agronomic and husbandry research focused on farmer needs
  • Nutritional value
  • Market data
  • Environmental and human health benefits

Organic producers have identified local and regional research as a critical need. To ensure that a portion of organic check-off funds are allocated for regionally-based research, the proposal outlines that 25% of producer assessments are earmarked for this purpose. A Board sub-committee of regional seat holders would recommend how those funds should be allocated based on need.

Would an Organic Check-off Program prohibit certain activities?

A number of common sense prohibitions apply.

Check-off dollars could not be used for any lobbying, including an iron-clad prohibition against lobbying the National Organic Standards Board.

Check-off dollars could not be used to promote individual brands, or be used to make any false, misleading or disparaging claims.

How much of the Organic Check-off Program funds would be used for administrative costs?

A maximum of 15% of assessments could be spent on administrative expenses. This cap would also apply to any organization (e.g. a research University) who receives funding from the Check-off.

What is the role of the trade association in an Organic Check-off Program?

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is facilitating the Organic Check-off application to USDA; however, an Organic Research and Promotion Program is not a funding vehicle for OTA. A distinct and diverse board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture would govern the program.