There's nothing quite like wading through a mountain of Senate amendments looking for that proverbial needle in a legislative haystack that may cause a major change to an industry. The 2012 Farm Bill process in the Senate is moving forward, but the many amendments submitted for consideration tend to clog up the process. However, on closer read there are some surprised tucked into that big pile of ideas.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has kicked up a storm with his amendment that would be a "prohibition on mandatory or compulsory check off programs." The amendment says "no program to promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity without reference to specific producers or brands (commonly known as a "check-off program") shall be mandatory or compulsory."
In a letter sent to Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the American Soybean Association joined a number of groups expressing opposition to the amendment. In its release, ASA notes that the soybean checkoff was established by Congress and overseen by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The program offers generic marketing and research designed to increase domestic and international demand for U.S. soy and supported entirely by U.S. soybean farmers through an assessment on all soybeans sold.
Steve Wellman, ASA president and a Syracuse, Neb., farmer, comments on the amendment in a statement from ASA: "The checkoff is not a tax. It is not something that is imposed upon us as farmers. Rather, it allows farmers to invest our own dollars to conduct research, build markets and create new uses for soy. Our checkoff program has produced a strong return of $640 in increased profit for ever dollar invested."
In the letter, groups opposing the checkoff amendment say they have funded more than $905 million in research, promotion and consumer education programs annually through checkoff activities at no cost to the government. "In these austere budgetary times, our producers should be commended and certainly deserve the support of Congress. Our members see the checkoff programs as an investment in their families' future."
In the case of ASA, the organization notes that program is managed by USDA and even the oversight is funded by soybean farmers.
While the DeMint amendment is one of many, it has shown up on the radar of checkoff-funded groups.
Chickens, eggs…and more
While there's a bill under consideration that could make rules regarding hen housing law, the same move is now an amendment to the farm bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., along with 12 cosponsors, are pushing standards to egg laying hen housing originally worked out with the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers.