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Fairness in Farming Act Intended to Control Commodity Board Expenditures


The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF) introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is a response to ongoing complaints by beef and dairy farmers concerning expenditures by their respective Commodity Boards. Matt Barron a dairy industry veteran writing in the Greenfield Recorder, noted that the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board operated with limited transparency and oversight over questionable expenditure of check-off revenue amounting to $364 million in 2021.  Despite promotional expenditures to encourage consumption, the dairy industry is losing farmers with 20,000 family-farms ceasing operation between 2010 and 2020. This is not as a result of any overt neglect or adoption of inappropriate policies by the Board. Sales of fluid milk has encountered extensive competition from plant-based alternatives over the past ten years, prices are accordingly low and small family farms lack economies of scale allowing them to compete with mega-producers.


According to public records, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board contracts with Dairy Management, Inc., a lobbying organization that received $110 million in 2021. This company enters into partnerships with large corporations with questionable value for the promotion of milk and to the benefit of farmers who provide the check-off funds.


The Department of Agriculture appears to be at fault for failing to provide Congress with reports on Board expenditures.  Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has been singled out since reports were not submitted between 2012 and 2016 under his previous tenure as Secretary in the Obama Administration.  Reports have also not been submitted from 2020 to 2023 with respect to disbursement of dairy check-off funds.  The most recent report was submitted in 2019 documenting $400 million in expenditures.


Matt Barron suggests a connection between lack of oversight over the Dairy Board and the fact that over the period when Secretary Vilsack was out of office, he was CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council with a salary and benefits reported to exceed $1 million annually. An audit would probably disclose similar deficiencies with respect to other boards administering check off funds for agricultural commodities invalidating any deliberate neglect or impropriety by the USDA Secretary.


The OFF Act, intended for incorporation into the 2023 Farm Bill, would enforce transparency and accountability. The legislation is supported by the National Farmers Union, the National Dairy Producers Association, the Organization for Competitive Markets, the Farm Action Fund and dairy associations in New England states.


The American Egg Board appears to be beyond reproach with respect to use of check-off funds for their intended purpose. These include promotion to consumers and the food industry; research on new products and scientific nutrition emphasizing the benefit of eggs and discretion in funding legitimate administrative expenses.  The only discordant note is their adoption of new terms that are somewhat meaningless with respect to categories of expenditure.  In the interest of transparency, those responsible at the AEB should revert to standard nomenclature so that the industry can meaningfully read a statement of income and expenditure and recognize specific purposes to which funds are allocated.