cows in field

No Organic Checkoff Coalition applauds USDA finalizing organic farmers’ exemption from commodity check-offsz

Organic farmers no longer required to pay into programs
competing with the organic market.

Contact: Kate Mendenhall (585-944-2503;

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 6, 2016) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced they will extend the organic farmer exemption from conventional commodity checkoffs to ALL organic farmers, effective February 29, 2016. A coalition of over 20 organic farmer-based organizations and organic businesses that oppose the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) proposed organic checkoff applaud the USDA’s finalization of this checkoff exemption rule. Organic farmers are no longer required to pay into conventional checkoff promotion programs that promote conventional products directly competing with their organic products. This is a big win for the organic sector—checkoff programs are not a good match for independent organic farmers.

Many organic farmer organizations supported this organic checkoff exemption in the 2014 Farm Bill so that ALL organic farmers may receive equal exemption rights. Previously only farmers who made 100% of their farm business as certified organic could participate in the exemption; now all farmers and processors, even if part of their business includes conventional crops or livestock, can exempt their organic products.

“This exemption is not tied to OTA’s proposed organic check-off. They are very separate. These new regulations allow for all organic operations to exempt themselves from commodity checkoffs and the promotional component of some marketing orders. This will stay in effect permanently unless an organic check-off is passed,” explains Ed Maltby, Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association. The coalition of organic farming organizations and businesses believes that organic farmers do not need a federally mandatory checkoff program to promote organic products.

While this organic checkoff exemption will help those producers who have split organic and conventional operations, it will not affect the majority of organic farmers says organic dairy farmer and NODPA Board President, Liz Bawden. “I know of very few organic farmers who currently pay into any of the existing checkoffs. If you have been 100% certified organic, you have been exempt from the conventional checkoff. It has only affected the parallel producers which tend to be the larger scale, commercial type operations,” explains Bawden. “This exemption will not change anything at all for most of us; unlike the proposed organic checkoff, which indeed will.”

Over 720 people have signed a petition to exempt organic farmers from conventional checkoffs and to stop the OTA’s proposed organic checkoff, claiming lack of organic industry support for an organic-specific checkoff program. Organic Washington dairy farmer Janet Baker claims, “We as dairymen have been disenchanted with the check-off programs that are national programs. We were led to believe that they would be more efficient than our local programs, but history is not proving this to be true. The current program being offered (pushed) by the Organic Trade Association does not have the support of organic producers and would be primarily to the benefit of processors, using organic producers’ money.”

This organic farmer exemption from conventional checkoff programs is not tied to the creation of a new organic commodity checkoff program. Organic farmers are now exempt from all conventional checkoff programs and the promotional components of federal marketing orders. The No Organic Checkoff coalition believes that organic farmers should hold onto their marketing money and invest it into their farming businesses, not commit it to a new federal mandatory organic checkoff program.

The federally administered check-off programs from which organic operations may now be exempt include a variety of commodities, including milk, eggs, blueberries, beef, and more. For the complete list, see the USDA site on check-off programs. The marketing order programs from which organic operations may now be exempt can be found on USDA’s website.

The No Organic Checkoff coalition is made up of over 20 not-for-profit organic farmer-member organizations as well as organic businesses. The coalition was organized specifically to support the FAIR act to exempt organic farmers from conventional checkoff programs and to OPPOSE the creation of a new federal organic checkoff program. Coalition members include: Bardessono Vineyards, Cornucopia Institute, Eden Foods, Family Farm Defenders, Food and Water Watch, Fruited Plain Seeds, Hoosier Organic Marketing Education (HOME), Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA), Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council (NOFA-IC), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT-NOFA), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts (NOFA/Mass), Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ), Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc. (NOFA-NY), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island (NOFA-RI), Northern Plains Sustainable Ag (NPSA), Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Organic Crop Improvement Association, International (OCIA), Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), Stephens Land and Cattle, Wood Prairie Farm

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