Members of the U.S sod production industry have asked Turfgrass Producers International (TPI) to investigate the potential interest among sod producers in a sod checkoff program as well as its impacts. Over the next 12-18 months, TPI will host online webinars to seek input from producers and to share information on what a potential checkoff could look like for the sod industry. Any sod industry checkoff would be designed, implemented and governed by sod producers, for sod producers. All U.S. sod producers will have a chance to provide input on establishing an industry-wide checkoff and ultimately be asked to vote on it in a nationwide referendum in order for it to become law.
Over 110 attendees registered for the first webinar on May 19, 2020, with the following agenda:
- Sod Checkoff Introduction
Hank Kerfoot, President of Modern Turf
- USDA Research and Promotions Program History and Overview
Dr. Casey Reynolds, TPI
- Sod Industry Checkoff, Building the Case
Dr. Casey Reynolds, TPI
- Dairy Industry Checkoff, Background, and Successes.
Marilyn Hershey, AR-JOY Farms LLC
- Sod Checkoff Development, Process, Referendum, and Compliance.
Wayne Watkinson, Watkinson-Miller LLC
Dr. Casey Reynolds and Wayne Watkinson did a wonderful job explaining what a USDA Research and Promotion Program (also known as a checkoff) is and could look like for the sod production industry. We heard first-hand experience from Marilyn Hershey on the success of the Dairy Industry Checkoff. Marilyn is a Pennsylvania dairy farmer and the chairperson of Dairy Management Incorporated (DMI), which is a key dairy industry checkoff program. The webinar ended with several insightful questions from our participants. If you missed it, you can watch the entire un-edited webinar here and ask questions on SodCheckoff.org.
Key Takeaways from Sod Checkoff Webinar #1
- USDA Research and Promotion programs commonly referred to as “checkoffs” began in 1966 when Congress authorized them at the federal level. The term checkoff originated from producers having to check a box if they were interested in participating. Today, all USDA programs are mandatory, but the term remains.
- Research and Promotion programs establish a legal framework for producers to pool resources and promote the industry as a whole. These programs help to:
- Strengthen Existing Markets
- Develop New Markets
- Conduct Important Market and Scientific Research
- Drive Demand for the Covered Commodity
- Engage other industries to leverage promotional funds
- Checkoffs are Industry programs, NOT federal government or USDA programs. They are created and governed by industry members (producers, farmers, etc.)
- There has not been a checkoff program established yet for turfgrass sod producers. Everything to this point has been exploratory and this webinar was the first of its kind seeking industry input.
Why the Turfgrass Industry Could Benefit from a Checkoff
- Lack of public understanding of our product and its value
- Generational opinions on the value of lawns are changing
- Regulatory threats to our market
- Competitive threats to our market
- We have a good story that needs to be told
What is a Checkoff Program?
- Congress authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to implement programs for agricultural products
- Checkoffs use federal authority to ensure fairness and compliance.
- Checkoffs are Industry Programs with an active “Board of Producers.” The Board has the following responsibilities:
- Sets the budget
- Creates the programs
- Oversees the programs
- If approved, compliance is mandatory
Process for Developing a Checkoff
- The industry drafts rules for a Checkoff program
- The industry works with the U.S. Dept of Agriculture (USDA) to finalize the proposal
- The final proposal is published for public comment
- A referendum is held within the industry to approve the program
Next Steps for Creating a Program
- The industry appoints a program development committee that drafts the rules of the program.
- The Development Committee will be comprised of large and small producers, a wide geographic representation of producers, TPI, and non-TPI members, etc.
- The industry then shares the draft program with the USDA and works with them to develop a final rule and publish a referendum for voting.
While TPI is leading the beginning stages of this effort, this will be an industry program, not a TPI program. We are here to help facilitate conversations between producers and the USDA. If you have any questions or would like to be included in the next steps, please email us at Info@TurfgrassSod.org