In one of nearly 300 proposed amendments to the 2012 Farm Bill, Sen. Jim DeMint, R. S.C., says agricultural industry checkoff programs should be voluntary, leaving the decision on participating up to producers.

In a unified industry response, agricultural groups including the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), have sent a letter to leaders of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry defending the checkoff programs and urging leaders to oppose the amendment.

The letter, sent to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D. Mich., and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts, R. Kan., was also signed by dozens of U.S. agriculture associations including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation and United Egg Producers. Read the letter here.

“For its part, NPPC signed the letter in support of continuing the checkoff programs,” said David Warner, NPPC director of communications. “Senator DeMint has filed his proposal as an amendment to the farm bill, but there is no talk that it actually will be considered by the Senate.” NPPC does not receive checkoff funding.

The mandatory pork checkoff was established by the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985. U.S. pork producers and importers pay $0.40 per $100 of value when pigs are sold and when pigs or pork products are brought into the United States, according to the National Pork Board (NPB).

The pork checkoff program, administered by NPB, collected total revenue of $81.3 million in 2011. Funds are then used for pork industry research as well as producer education efforts such as the Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) and the industry’s ‘We Care’ programs. Checkoff funds are also used for pork advertising and promotion, including the national ‘Pork. Be Inspired’ advertising campaign.

In addition to national research, education and promotion efforts, about 20 percent of checkoff revenue is returned to individual states to support local pork association programs.

Each fall, a survey is conducted to gauge producer support of the checkoff program. The survey reveals increasing support for the checkoff over the past ten years with 80 percent of U.S. pork producers signaling approval of the program in 2011.

A recent pork checkoff return-on-investment study showed that for every dollar invested in checkoff funds pork producers receive a return of $17.

“I am afraid that without mandatory checkoff, pork producers would lose valuable information as well as promotional support,” says Mike Deahr, Muscatine County, Iowa, pork producer. “Some of the information provided now would not be available to me.”

Deahr points to the importance of pork industry research funded by checkoff revenue. “With the lack of funding by the government at land grant universities, I already feel that there is less information being created and it is harder to access. I believe that checkoff funds are used well.”