Under the new Farm Bill, organic farmers have been given a break. The bill exempts them from paying the mandatory fees paid to checkoff programs provided they do not grow conventional commodities. The argument is that conventional agricultural marketing programs for generic commodities do not benefit specialty, organic products.

Organic farmers by definition do not use commercial pesticides and fertilizers on their crops, and organic livestock producers only feed organically-grown feed and do not use antibiotics or growth hormones.

Although organic farmers received an exemption from paying checkoff fees in the Farm Bill, the details still have to be worked out. USDA officials have until May 2003 to determine the rules for the exemption.

A growing segment of producers believe the commodity checkoff programs with their generic advertising do not benefit them directly, or that enough benefit is received for the money paid. A number of lawsuits have been brought forth including one which was recently decided in South Dakota that struck down the beef checkoff program as unconstitutional. The ruling will be appealed.

Another lawsuit, pending in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Calif., was brought by a group of organic dairy farmers who want to be exempt from that state’s checkoff fees.

United Press International