GLEANINGS The pork checkoff: unconstitutional
yesterday, mandatory today. Where's it all leading? One farmer's take on the end result
of mandatory checkoffs.
By Richard R. Oswald, Rockport, Missouri
October 29, a Michigan judge ruled mandatory
pork checkoffs unconstitutional. On
November 18, an appeals court ruled it mandatory
again. In this guest commentary, a Missouri hog
producer reflects on what it's import is for family
Nov. 11, 2002 -- CropChoice guest commentary: Checkoff
beginnings date back to the heydays of family farms. Most of
the checkoffs we have now were approved by a very different
set of producers with different demographics than many of those
present today. A good number who once voted left the roles of
contributors when agriculture contraction across the country
squeezed them out.
As a pork producer, I favored the pork checkoff and regarded
it as a noble attempt at self-help, but today I am no longer
a pork producer. My hog operation was a victim of the consolidation
that still plagues all areas of American agriculture. In order
to make a living I concentrated my labor where it would be most
effective. In my case, that meant more hours behind the steering
wheel of a row crop tractor or grain truck.
I think that most of us who voted in favor of checkoffs, in
whatever area of agriculture, did so not so much to promote
basic commodities for the commodities sake but rather to promote
the people upon whose existence production of that commodity
depended. We did it to make our farms and ranches better, more
profitable places for our children and us. We dreamed of what
increased demand would do for us financially. We had expectations
that somehow our lives might be improved by higher prices that
would allow just a little more time both for our families and
ourselves. We had expectations that incomes might be enlarged
through promotion rather than longer workdays and we craved
the self-respect that successful marketing promised.
Many of the hopes we had have been forgotten but the checkoffs
as well as consolidation of farms has continued. Many of us
have now retired or work off the land. World demand may have
improved but mechanization, technology, and genetics took the
place of a lightened work load, and the increased production
from those and other enhancements has more than nullified any
positives that might have allowed higher prices for what we
Many checkoff funded producer groups have developed beyond the
needs of producer families. They've outgrown their roots and
left behind the people they were supposed to help. In the case
of NPPC [National Pork Producers Council], the basic commodity
and the corporate business surrounding it took the spotlight
to the exclusion of all else. It is obvious that a majority
of producers have been disenfranchised and now they are making
their dissatisfaction known in the only way that will gain them
any notice. All it would have taken to avoid much of today's
unrest was respect.
As our groups grow and expand, they become more than we bargained
for. They take on the appearance of a large business that must
promote and feed itself above fulfilling its original mandate.
It's not enough to promote a product if the families who rely
on profitable farming and livestock production to make their
living are forgotten in the bargain. Groups must respect all
farm and ranch families, not just the largest or wealthiest.
Promotion isn't totally about big business or political deal
making. They must honor our way of life and acknowledge that
in the countryside, family men are more important than businessmen.
They should remember that, without us, there is no group.