Checkoff Funds

One method of funding research needs of diffuse end users, such as soybean or hog farmers, is a self-assessment mechanism known as checkoff funding. These commodity checkoff programs are established by authority in either federal or state legislation to be used for research and promotion. A referendum requiring two-thirds or majority approval by voting producers is required in federally mandated programs. Some state programs, however, do not require referendums. Some programs have a refund provision when producers request funds within a given time period. Some of the federal programs include provisions that a percentage of funds remain in the state where funds originate to be used for programs of research and promotion that might meet needs of that state or region.

The primary objective of most checkoff funds is to promote marketing of the commodity but nearly all have research components, even if only to evaluate the effectiveness of the promotion. One great advantage of checkoff funding mechanisms is that those funding these programs set criteria for research and promotion.

There also are many perceived benefits of industry-university collaborations in addition to maintaining funding levels and, thereby, avoiding marked downsizing. These include

  • more efficient use of intellectual and other resources from a societal standpoint,
  • opportunities for students to experience some aspects of working in industry,
  • more rapid movement of graduating students into appropriate first positions and the resulting more rapid and efficient recruitment to fill industry positions, and
  • incentives for "intellectual engines," like start-up companies, that in turn foster whole industries, like biotechnology.

Clearly, industry-university relationships have strengthened lately, particularly in food and agricultural sciences, and this trend may accelerate. Those who make decisions about federal funding of agricultural research will continue to face two broad realities: (1) the private sector is providing considerable resources for agricultural research at public institutions; and (2) federal legislation can have significant effects on such arrangements by, for example, providing tax incentives to support these activities.

With these realities in mind, the committee concludes that public policy must be flexible enough to ensure that private resources can be used to leverage public support for agricultural research when that research is consistent with federal goals. At the same time, continued vigilance is needed to avoid conflicts of interest in such research support, and this is best dealt with by having policies and procedures that, as much as possible, prevent problems before they start.

The committee further concludes that a more in-depth look at public-private partnerships, including publication rights, royalties, and patents, is needed. In conjunction, the implications for objectivity, academic freedom, and the types of research conducted with public funds is an important area of further study.



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