A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court involving a mushroom checkoff program raises questions over what's legal and what isn't in agricultural marketing programs, and in the long run could affect all related checkoff programs.

Producers of numerous commodities – from pork to cotton to soybeans – are involved in checkoff programs, so the Supreme Court's ruling should be watched with great interest, said Kansas State University agricultural economist John Crespi.

He points out that in 1997, the high court ruled that checkoff-marketing programs for California tree fruits were legal. This year, however, the Supreme Court ruled that a similar program for mushrooms was illegal because the mushroom industry was not as heavily regulated as the tree fruit industry.

The Justices' majority opinion points out that the mushroom checkoff's generic advertising violates the Tennessee-based United Foods' free-speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution. The point here is that the company doesn't have to contribute to a promotional fee that supports its competitors.

"Because the justices do not provide specifics on the degree of regulation, I believe the Supreme Court has opened the door to further litigation over what is and isn't legal with regard to ag checkoff programs," he added.

USDA secretary Ann Veneman came out with a statement expressing support of such agricultural checkoff programs following the U.S. Supreme Court's mushroom decision.

Meanwhile, the National Pork Board has generally kept quite with its assessment of the issue. Cindy Cunningham, spokesperson for NPB, says, "We're evaluating the decision and how it might impact the pork program." She contends that the mushroom and pork checkoff programs are different. The mushroom feeds are used for promotion, whereas the pork checkoff addresses research, education and promotion. Still, the future is uncertain.

For those interested in learning more about the potential future for checkoff programs– as well as other risk management topics – should consider K-State's Risk and Profit 2001 Conference. Crespi will discuss checkoff programs and the Supreme Court rulings. The conference will be held at the Manhattan Holiday Inn on Aug. 16-17. The registration fee is $150 per person if paid by Aug. 13, or $175 if paid after that date. Group discounts are available.

To register, or for more information, contact Michelle Allison at (785) 532-1504 or visit http://www.agecon.ksu.edu and click on "Risk and Profit Conference."