USDA Checkoff Program – What does it mean to farmers?

Everyone remembers the “Got Milk?” advertisements, right?  Well, did you know this was a result of “checkoff” dollars from dairy farmers in California? Many people don’t realize this campaign was a result of checkoff dollars, so what are “checkoff” dollars? The National Checkoff program was established in 1983 by the Dairy & Tobacco Adjustment Act. It is a program whereby funds/assessments are deducted from producer’s milk checks for the specific purpose of building sales and demand for milk and dairy products.  The USDA oversees the checkoff program and plays a role in regulating consumer communication regarding dairy and other food commodities.

Where I farm, the Washington Dairy Products Commission and the Washington Dairy Council are certified by the USDA to carry out checkoff related programs on a local level. The Commission and Dairy Council collaborate with the national organization, Dairy Management, Inc. to build demand for dairy and protect the image of our industry. Checkoff dollars are used to:

  1. Build confidence in dairy to increase sales
  2. Defend our right to farm
  3. Create partnerships to build sales.  (i.e. Dominos Pizza and McDonalds)
  4. Stregthen community ties. (i.e. WIAA, NW Farmers Fighting Hunger)

As milk prices are forecasted to decline over the next 6 months, many farmers look to different assessments that are taken out of our milk check each month. While it would be easy to rationalize stopping the checkoff deduction, I like to acknowledge to my fellow dairy farmers the value of our Commission. While the work they do is not super flashy or spotlight grabbing, I feel it is crucial for our long term success as dairy farmers in the state of Washington. I also think it’s important to note that the Commission conducts year-round advertising and public relations, marketing promotions, issues management and crisis response initiatives, industry communications and public education campaigns directly mainly toward consumers.

So the next time you see a “Got Milk?” ad, remember dairy farmers are supporting this program with checkoff dollars. Our checkoff dollars are helping build and maintain a demand for dairy while building confidence in what we do.

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