Indiana ag groups: we’re at the table ready to discuss checkoff

Indiana’s ag groups are assuring farmers and Congresswoman Victoria Spartz of Indiana that there is transparency and oversight in producer-funded checkoff programs.

The Congresswoman recently introduced an amendment to the ag appropriations bill that would prohibit USDA from using any tax dollars to administer commodity checkoff programs. Last week, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the legislation is frivolous and wastes congressional time because no taxpayer dollars are being used to administer checkoff programs. Instead, the programs are funded by those who pay into them, not American taxpayers. 

Courtney Kingery is the CEO of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and Indiana Corn Growers Association.

“Congresswoman Spartz says that she is a soybean farmer and we are happy to talk to any of the soybean farmers that have questions about the checkoff, how the funds are used, our governance process, and how they can get more involved in the Indiana Soybean Alliance and the checkoff program,” she says. “We welcome any and all soybean farmers who want to have a conversation and get involved in the soybean alliance.”

Brian Shuter is the executive vice president of the Indiana Beef Cattle Association and Indiana Beef Council.

“The one good thing that has come out of this amendment is that (ag groups) are all sitting at the table together talking regularly,” he says. “We’re talking daily and working together better now than we probably ever have to have a concerted voice. Everyone is pulling in the same direction as we work to try to tell our story of why checkoffs are important to all producers.”

He tells Brownfield the checkoff program was developed to promote and add value to agricultural products. And, it continues to be led by farmer-volunteer leaders.

“For example, the checkoff is returning close to $12 for every dollar invested in the program. We’re seeing a lot of great things come out of checkoff (programs),” he says. “Producer support is really high. The checkoff is managed and operated by volunteer producers. They’re taking time away from their operations to spend time to help everyone be more profitable and have more value from their products.”

Kingery adds that there are a lot of ways for Hoosier farmers to find out more information or get involved.

“The farmers who serve on the board of directors are elected by the farmers in their districts and they have to demonstrate and show that they are farmers who have sold soybeans in the last year. So, they are farmers who are volunteers giving up of their time to serve and to represent the farmers in their district,” she says. “For the Indiana Soybean Alliance, we have four districts across the state and six directors in each district, and every year there are elections. If farmers want to get involved, they can go to our websites, they can learn more about what our organizations, be it the soybean or the beef organizations, are doing. They could see who their directors are in their districts. They can reach out to the directors, they can vote in the elections, they can run for office themselves. We do elections every year for directors, and if they’re interested in running and being a part, they can run for office as well. There are a lot of different ways that the growers and the farmers and the producers of Indiana can get involved with their checkoff because it’s a not-for-profit that’s funded by them, run for them for their benefit, and the farmer leaders serve the farmers of the state.”

Kingery says, “for example, annually we submit the budget for the Indiana Soybean Alliance to the department of agriculture. They review our budget every year to ensure what’s being spent and how the checkoff investments are being used are aligned with the Act in Order, the language that created the soybean checkoff. There are annual financial audits that the board of directors review and approve every year. Also, during every quarterly board meeting, there is a compliance process that gets reviewed by staff and the board of directors. There is tremendous oversite locally and at the federal level of what we’re doing at the state level.”

And, there is another opportunity for soybean growers to get more involved through the Soybean Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act.

“Every five years, the USDA puts out a call for a referendum. If any soybean farmers in the United States are interested in having a referendum about the soybean checkoff, that is their way to do that. The last time the call for referendum went out was in 2019. And in 2019, less than 1% of the soybean farmers in the United States requested a referendum, or in other words, requested opening up and looking to see if soybean checkoff should continue,” she says.

The groups say they have reached out to Congresswoman Spartz.

Shuter says, “we actually reached out to her office after the proposal was put forward. We had a zoom meeting with some of her staffers trying to learn more about where she’s coming from and try to figure out if there was a common ground we could find where we could work together to keep doing what we do with the checkoff and keep bringing in new products and adding value to our producer’s pockets with using those checkoff promotions.”

Kingery says,” within the Indiana Soybean Alliance we have had conversations with Congresswoman Spartz, not just now but throughout her time she’s been in office. We’ve also worked with her and had great conversations with her while she was a state senator as well and with her staff. So we have reached out to her and had conversations with her not just about this topic, but on a variety of topics that are important to farmers and her district.”

Kingery adds that this has given the groups an opportunity to highlight the great work checkoff is doing.

“Within the Indiana Soybean Alliance, about half the budget goes towards market development work. So half of the project work that we do, those funds in that budget, goes toward market development,” she says. “You’ve reported on some of the work we’ve done in Latin America and South America. So, for example in Colombia, promoting livestock and meat consumption and promoting exports of soybeans, soybean meal, and soybean oil into Latin America and into Asia. Promoting that as those markets grow, they have a preference for US soybeans. We call it soybeans in all forms: soybeans, soybean meal, soybean oil, and the livestock that consumes those soybean products. We work with our partners with beef, our partners with pork, and our partners with poultry promoting those products because any of that production that’s done here in the state of Indiana really helps our local communities and helps our local economy. And that’s really what the checkoff is about. It is farmers serving farmers and serving their neighbors here within Indiana.”

Last week NCBA, American Soybean Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Milk Producers Federation, and Indiana Beef Cattle Association released joint opposition to the amendment.

Click here or here for more information. 

Audio: Courtney Kingery and Brian Shuter

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