What is a checkoff?
A checkoff is an industry-supported program that funds research, promotion and education. Programs are designed to have industry-wide participation and funding to advance the industry as a whole and to create both demand and preference for a product.
Why do we need a checkoff?
A sod checkoff will provide significant benefits back to producers in the form of increased value for their products. It will also elevate the competitive position of sod against products like artificial turf that continue to put pressure on market share, as well as misconceptions about water, chemical and fertilizer use in the industry.
Why is it mandatory to participate?
The checkoff will be structured to benefit every producer. And in return, every producer will be responsible for contributing at an equal rate. With a voluntary checkoff, producers don’t have the benefit of consistent revenue streams and can’t fund high-impact programs that can significantly advance the industry.
How will the checkoff help me?
The sod checkoff will benefit every producer and farm by increasing visibility and value of sod. Through ongoing national promotions, the checkoff will work to advance market share for everyone and help us collectively combat challenges. The marketing efforts that will come from the checkoff funds will also equip producers with specific tools you can be used to promote farms locally.
What are the goals for the checkoff program?
Overall, the checkoff program will seek to increase value and profitability per square foot. Every program funded by the checkoff must meet that objective. With a sod checkoff we can by:
- Increase preference for sod
- Promote sod to consumers nationally
- Conduct research to educate and inform industry regulators and politicians
- Any other marketing, promotion and education programs that increase the value and demand for U.S. sod.
The program will give a unified voice to the industry as we navigate competition from the synthetic turf industry and misperceptions among consumers and regulators about sod production. Coming together through the checkoff program will strengthen our ability to address challenges and advance our reputation than any producer can do individually.
Why is the U.S. Department of Agriculture involved?
USDA will have limited responsibilities. These include fair representation by appointing producer-nominated board members; third-party confirmation that the checkoff complies with the Act & Order that authorizes the checkoff and its operations; and review of the final budget created and approved by the board. All priority and funding decisions will be made by the sod producers appointed to the Sod Checkoff Board.
Is a checkoff government overreach?
No. Checkoff programs are producer created, producer approved, and producer led. Only producers have a say in where and how checkoff dollars are invested. USDA’s role is limited to ensuring equal representation on the board of directors and that spending is in compliance with the provisions of the checkoff.
Strategic Priorities & Funding
What kind of programs can the checkoff fund?
The checkoff can fund marketing, promotion and education programs that increase demand for U.S. sod and increase the value of a square foot of sod. Programs could include:
- A high-impact marketing and advertising campaign targeting consumers, end users like sports turf managers, city managers, school systems and other key decisionmakers,
- Educational outreach targeting industry
- Promotional toolkits for producers to use locally
- Consumer insights and research that can help drive preference for U.S. sod
- Agronomic research.
Who makes the decision on where the checkoff dollars go?
Sod producers will make all decisions on where checkoff dollars go. If the sod checkoff is approved by the majority of producers voting, a board of directors comprised solely of sod producers will be established. Those producers will set the strategic priorities for funding based on their experience and insights. From there, producers and only producers will have the authority to fund programs with checkoff dollars.
How can I have a say in what is funded?
Checkoff funding decisions will be made by the volunteer producers who are appointed to the board of directors on behalf all producers. There will be opportunities at the state and national level to get involved as a volunteer director. More information will come about those opportunities if/when the checkoff is approved.
How will the checkoff program be managed?
If the checkoff program is approved, the U.S. Sod Checkoff board will be established and include 13 members who are all sod producers. Board members will be nominated by sod producers and will serve a three-year voluntary term. To ensure diverse representation of region and turf type grown, four members will be selected from the northern U.S., five from the southern U.S. and four from the transition zone and California.
How does this work?
All producers will be responsible to pay into the checkoff every quarter. More details about how those payments will happen will be outlined in the draft order that will be published in late 2021.
How much will I pay?
1/10th of one penny for every square foot of sod sold. With this investment, producers can fund marketing, advertising, research, education and promotional programs to drive preference with consumers and end users. Programs that would be virtually impossible for any one producer to fund alone.
How will I know that every producer is paying their fair share?
Every checkoff has a system of checks and balances that is overseen by the board to ensure everyone is paying their fair share and to ensure the money invested by producers brings a value back to them.
Is this really just a tax?
No, the checkoff is not a tax. It’s an investment into the future of the sod industry that brings a return value to producers. We don’t have the option of whether taxes exist or not, and we don’t have a choice of how your tax dollars are spent. With a checkoff, producers decide if there will be a program at all and where the dollars will go.
How will we know if the checkoff is working?
The checkoff board will be required to fund a return-on-investment study conducted by an independent third party led by an economist. In the study, all supply- and demand-enhancing programs will be analyzed to determine the market impact as well as the return to producers on every dollar invested.
I already sell every square foot of sod I grow. Why will this be a good thing for me?
One of the greatest opportunities with a checkoff program is the potential to increase the value of every square foot of sod produced. This could be accomplished by establishing sod as a premium product, through agronomic advances or through other programs identified by the future checkoff board.
Will the checkoff benefit small producers or large producers?
All producers will benefit from a sod industry checkoff. Programs that are funded will be held to a fundamental criteria: does this work increase the value of a square foot of sod?
Would I receive more value funding my own advertising campaign in my area?
By working together as an industry we can do significantly more than any one producer can do alone. For instance, in the case of advertising. With a national effort, we can fund research into what messages resonate best with consumers, where to spend media dollars and utilize advertising pros who represent the best of the best. At the same time, we can promote sod to customers across different segments, fund partnerships with organizations in pro sports among others and research agronomic advances to evolve the perception of sod as the premium choice over competitors.
How can I vote?
In the near future, USDA will announce on the U.S. Federal Register how sod producers can register to vote. There will most likely be a 30-day registration period and a 30-day voting period. We anticipate the initial vote will take place in Spring 2022. Once the specific voting period and process is defined, it will be communicated to producers in multiple ways. The latest information about the process and dates will be shared on this website, via email, at industry-related meetings and events, on social media, in Turf News magazine as well as through other communications.
Who is eligible to vote?
Every farm that has sold at least one square foot of sod in the last year is eligible to vote. There will be one vote for every EIN associated with a farm.
If the checkoff is approved, is participation mandatory?
Yes. If the sod checkoff program is approved by the USDA and then approved by a simple majority (50% + one vote) of sod producers voting in the initial referendum, all U.S. sod farms must contribute with no exemptions or exceptions.
How can I get involved?
To learn more about how you can get involved to support the formation of the sod checkoff program, please contact Casey Reynolds at email@example.com.