Today Farm Action and the National Dairy Producers Organization sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack calling for the immediate release of federally mandated annual dairy checkoff spending reports, which the Secretary has not filed for the duration of his tenure.
The letter states that the reports, which are “mandated by the same legislation that authorizes the dairy checkoff program,” have not been submitted to Congress by USDA “for the years 2020, 2021, and 2022.” USDA is required by law to describe “activities conducted, accounting for the receipt and disbursement of all funds, and including an independent analysis of the effectiveness of the program.”
In explaining the importance of these reports, the letter points to the amount of money collected by the dairy checkoff program and the distressed state of the dairy producers who must pay into it. “Since USDA’s last annual report, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Program has collected nearly $1 billion in mandatory checkoff fees from dairy farmers. During the same time period, more than 6,000 dairy operations went out of business, and remaining dairy farmers continued to face economic hardship and an unprecedented farm stress crisis.”
The letter concludes by calling for “the publication of the reports or an update on their status by July 7,” and urging the Secretary to “fulfill this statutory obligation” on behalf of U.S. dairy farmers.
“The most disappointing part of this is that Secretary Vilsack failed in his duty to dairy farmers the last time he was USDA Secretary as well,” said Angela Huffman, president of Farm Action. “After skipping these reports for five years, he left the Obama administration for a million-dollar checkoff-funded dairy industry job. It wasn’t until 2017, when the Trump administration’s Secretary Perdue responded to pressure from farm groups and the media, that dairy farmers were able to see how their money was spent from 2012-2016.”
“The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act was first introduced in the 115th Congress, and here we are in the 118th Congress still working for transparency and accountability to reform the USDA’s commodity checkoff programs,” said Deborah Mills, chairwoman of the National Dairy Producers Organization. “This speaks volumes about what frustrates producers who are paying into checkoff programs. The recipients of the checkoff dollars are the greatest proponents of maintaining the status quo. Producers are being denied the basic right to have their questions about their investment answered.”
Dee Laninga, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-450-0094
Deborah Mills, email@example.com, 651-764-0006