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Christmas in June?

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Some 18 months ago, following an uproar over a misunderstanding of a Christmas tree check-off, the program was put on ice. Now, with a new farm bill in the works, the check-off could get a second life.

Is it your sense that the White House was reluctant to take on the anti-tax people? Why have they been so gun-shy about this?

“Well, this is my personal view: They know we’d done everything correctly with the check-off. It was published in the Federal Register and we received permission to begin the program initially.

“My assumption is they didn’t like the negative media attention and the misrepresented story they were unable to get corrected.”

It seems too many folks still don’t understand what check-offs do and the fact that growers are just pooling money as opposed to setting up a tax.

“It’s a challenge. We’re in a time when there is a lot of sensitivity to new taxes, to increased taxes. We all feel that.

“The  problem is the check-off was mischaracterized as a tax. Even though we’re explaining ‘no, this is different’ they couldn’t seem to separate the two.

“But we’ve done a huge outreach even though it really isn’t our responsibility. We wanted to correct the story.

“Typically, when you ask people if they are familiar with ‘Got milk?’ or ‘Beef. It’s what’s for dinner’ their eyes light up. They say, ‘Oh, is that what’s behind those efforts?’ No one has a concern about those – or with watermelon, mangoes, whatever. But suddenly the Christmas tree industry check-off comes up and someone decides to point a finger and call it a tax.”

What about the next step? Are you expecting the amendment to move through the House farm bill process unhindered?

“We’ve heard no real negative focus on this. The amendment was approved on a voice vote and I don’t believe there was any opposition. The House Agriculture Committee was fine with it and we’re very encouraged by that.

“We also have a lot of support in the Senate.”

In terms of the conservative think-tanks, (former South Carolina Senator and current head of the Heritage Foundation) Jim DeMint, these types of people, has there been any pushback?

“I haven’t seen or heard anything from the Heritage Foundation. There was a bill introduced by DeMint last year that would’ve negated all check-off programs. That went down in flames. Very few supported that legislation.”

More on that legislation here.

Anything else?

“The message we’d like to share is we’re trying to use the program that has existed for a long time, since the 1960s. It’s self-funded by our industry and a board of growers would decide how the funds would be used for research, promotion and furthering the industry. We’re looking for consumers to understand what this actually is.

“We want nothing except the same treatment of any other agricultural commodity. We just really want to get started with our check-off program – we’ve waited long enough.” 

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