Farmers know what a producer-funded checkoff program does. Or do they? And what about lawmakers at the state and federal level? It’s an issue that bothers Rob McClelland, CEO of FLM Harvest, a strategic consulting and marketing agency. He says any time there’s a new administration, understanding of checkoffs erodes. He recounts some early conversations as new members of President Donald Trump’s administration started taking their jobs, and finding out that few knew what a checkoff program was.
“One staffer asked, ‛Where’s the line in the tax code for the checkoff?’” McClelland recalls. “A checkoff is not a tax, which is why it’s not in the tax code. There was an educational gap on this topic.”
When you run a marketing communications firm, your first thought to solve a problem is help communicate about a program, and that’s what McClelland and his team, including Heidi Nelson, former head of Harvest and now on the FLM Harvest team, decided to do.
Says Nelson: “We’ve created a kind of open-source website where farmers and checkoff supporters can share their story. Content will be curated, but it’s a place where others can go to get a better understanding of how checkoffs work.”
This is a pro bono effort for FLM Harvest. McClelland explains that the site will help show that these farmer-supported programs are making a difference.
Bringing in partners
The site, ultimatecollaboration.org, is a place where groups can post their videos and tell their stories for not only the policy staffers in Washington, but also for farmers who may be new to checkoffs. What are the mango producers doing in research? Did you know mango producers even had a checkoff?
McClelland notes that one leader — Polly Ruhland, CEO, United Soybean Board — asked a good question: “What other industry has actual participants that have given their own money to promote, research and educate so that we can produce more with less, sustainably, and feed the world?”
Already, eight checkoff groups have expressed their support of the initiative by including their checkoff logos, including American Lamb Board, American Egg Board, National Mango Board, National Pork Board, United Soybean Board, National Watermelon Promotion Board, Cranberry Marketing Committee and National Honey Board. This is a diverse group.
“Anyone can submit materials to be used on the new website to tell the story,” says McClelland. “We’re looking for the farmer-voice testimony showing what the checkoff does for the farm.” The site started with two videos the agency produced, just to show an example of what’s possible.
“We start it, but we are hoping other agencies like us, land-grant universities, university students and others that benefit from checkoff programs will contribute,” he says. “Land-grant colleges are some of the biggest beneficiaries of checkoff programs through research funding. And as USDA research funding has gone down, checkoff funding has risen.”
It’s the basic research funded by those checkoff dollars that can make a difference in the long run, too. “Would we have Group 0 or 00 soybeans without checkoff-funded research? We have soybeans in North Dakota now because of work like that,” McClelland notes.
As Nelson explains, the agency is looking to take content others have produced and host it at this centralized site, so folks with checkoff questions won’t have trouble finding answers.
“This program is in its infancy right now,” she notes. “It’s meant to benefit checkoff programs, and we’d love their feedback.”
Checkoff programs have long worked on their focus crop or livestock area. Ultimate Collaboration aims to be a one-stop location where those with questions can come and get answers. And there are links to partner checkoff program websites, too. Learn more at ultimatecollaboration.org.