Checkoff groups hold Washington showcase |

Checkoff groups hold Washington showcase

Faced with bills that would restrict their activities, 16 agriculture research and promotion groups recently held an educational showcase near Capitol Hill to show off what they do.

The checkoff groups, which raise their money through checkoffs that require farmers to pay into a fund when they sell a product, paid to rent space in the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Sept. 26, and Agriculture Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach and Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Sommers spoke at the event.

Ibach, a rancher, was Nebraska’s director of agriculture and served on the Nebraska Beef Council and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, a national group, before taking a position in the Trump administration.

He said the showcase was “a great opportunity” to help members of congress and their staffs understand that the checkoffs allow farmers and ranchers “to pool their money together and work on research and promotional events to better inform consumers why the products they raise are good for them and nutritional and beneficial.”

Ibach also noted that AMS has a staff member assigned to provide oversight with each board to analyze its budget for USDA approval and to analyze each board’s communications to make sure they comply with the law and that the information they publish is fact-based and accurate. USDA staff also facilitate nominations to the boards and rulemaking that affects them, he added.

Ibach also acknowledged that “there are people who have concerns about how checkoffs and marketing boards work,” and said the groups have to continue to justify their existence.

Reporters asked Ibach about the bills introduced by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. Dave Bratt, R-Va., and Dina Titus, R-Nev., that would restrict checkoff activities. The bills would strengthen prohibitions on checkoff programs contracting with organizations that lobby on agricultural policy, establish program standards that prohibit anticompetitive behavior and engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest and increase transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures, and means for audits of compliance.

Ibach replied that USDA “works closely” with the checkoff groups to make sure they comply with the law.

The 16 checkoff groups had booths at the showcase to display their products and answer questions about their work.

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