Farm and Dairy | Farm Groups Fed Up With Ag Consolidation, Checkoff Corruption Speak Out

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Michael Kovach owns his own chickens, pigs and feed. He raises them on pasture at his farm, Walnut Hill Farm, in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, alongside his cattle.

Kovach, the president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, isn’t part of the vertically integrated mechanism that makes up most of the U.S. pork and poultry industry, where producers contract feed hogs and birds in confinement.

But he’s still been impacted by consolidation in the ag and food industry. When he needs to have his meat chickens processed, he drives them 2 hours to a federally inspected poultry processor in Baltic, Ohio. It’s one of two such facilities in the region.

“I’m more of a truck driver than a farmer some days,” he said during the Ohio-Pennsylvania stop of the Enough is Enough Tour on May 29, held at Birdfish Brewing, in Columbiana.

Leaders from the Ohio Farmers Union, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, Farm Action Fund and Buckeye Quality Beef Association gathered to speak publicly about the impact consolidation has had on their members.

“The downside to all that consolidation from a farmer’s perspective is that to actually raise meat to sell to their neighbors, the infrastructure to support that is long gone,” Kovach said.

Consolidation like this isn’t an accident, but a result of agricultural policies that favor over-production, particularly to feed export markets, said Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmers Union. The best way to fix this is through the 2024 farm bill and reforming the checkoff programs.

The groups urged their members and others to reach out to their congressional representatives and senators to urge them to support the inclusion of the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act in the 2024 farm bill.

“Advocacy is what allows us to hopefully make small dents in the armor that they’ve built up around the industrial food complex,” Kovach said. “You’ve got the most powerful voice in the room. I encourage you strongly to find your tribe and raise your voices together.”

Issues with checkoffs

Checkoff programs were created in the 1970s to promote and research agricultural commodities. They’re overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are funded by the sales of agricultural products for 21 different commodities.

While the programs were launched with good intentions, checkoffs are effectively a tax on producers, said Angela Huffman, vice president of Farm Action Fund, a farmer-led nonprofit that fights corporate monopolies in agriculture.

“Today the programs are full of abuses caused by a lack of transparency and accountability over where the money is going,” she said.

Huffman, who is from Wyandot County, Ohio, said a lack of oversight from the USDA has led to checkoff dollars going to lobbying groups that work to influence government policy, often in opposition of the interests of small farmers and ranchers.

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming, or OFF, Act is a bipartisan bill that would, among other things, prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that engage in political advocacy or have a conflict of interest and require checkoffs to publicly publish all budgets and disbursements and undergo periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. A companion bill was introduced in the House by U.S. Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C. and Dina Titus, D-Nev.


The event in Columbiana was the fourth stop on the regional tour, launched by various progressive agriculture advocacy groups, including the American Grassfed Association, R-CALF USA, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association, Competitive Markets Action and Dakota Resource Council. The tour started in Minnesota on May 14 and ended in North Dakota on June 4. The groups want a farm bill “that levels the playing field,” according to a press release.