Formed at the request of an industry, check-off programs are funded through an industry assessment, and governed by an industry-selected board of directors approved by the Secretary of Agriculture. These programs provide funding for research and promotion efforts that can be used to help maintain, develop and expand domestic and foreign markets. Unlike trade associations, if an industry adopts a check-off program, participation is mandatory for all companies that fit within the defined demographics. Check-off programs cannot be used for lobbying or directly influencing government policy; this remains the purview of trade associations and individual companies.
Check-off programs have been in use for more than 50 years. While most have been in the agricultural sector, more recently softwood lumber and the paper and paper-based packaging industries have adopted programs. Examples include:
• Cattlemen’s Beef Board – “Beef! It’s what’s for dinner.”
• National Pork Board – “Pork, the other white meat.”
• Dairy Management Board – “Got milk?”
• National Egg Board – “The incredible, edible egg.”
• Paper and Packaging Board – “How life unfolds.”
While many of these have spawned highly visible advertising campaigns, the most important work of check-off programs is building a solid foundation for the environmental and economic benefits of a product.