Five Things to Know About a Sod Checkoff

Could a Sod Checkoff Help Florida?

Casey Reynolds, Executive Director, Turfgrass Producers International

Chances are by now you may have heard of the U.S. Sod Industry Checkoff initiative that is in the early stages of promotion and consideration, but if not, that’s ok too. There is plenty of time to explore it ahead of the upcoming referendum that is more than a year away. Chances also are that checkoff-funded advertisements have impacted you or your customers’ buying choices in some way or another. From the ever popular Got Milk? campaign through Pork. The Other White Meat and Cotton: The Fabric of Our Lives, these campaigns are possible in part because of nationwide checkoffs. The U.S. Sod Checkoff program’s tagline “Bring Grass to Life” could be just as impactful by not only encouraging consumer

s to bring grass to their lives, but also by bringing our industry’s story to life.

The goal of any checkoff program is to increase product demand, expand markets, fund consumer and scientific research, and to fight regulations, building codes, local ordinances, and consumer attitudes that do not align with the uses, science, and value behind agricultural products. There are plenty of checkoff success stories to share, but first it is worth exploring the details of a U.S. Sod Checkoff, what it is, and just as importantly what it is not.

A U.S. Sod Checkoff has been discussed at least as far back as 1996, and the idea is nothing new to many other agricultural and specialty crops. There are currently 21 checkoff programs, formally called Research and Promotion programs, that work daily to expand markets, increase consumer demand, fight regulations, and more. The path to a national checkoff is purposefully long with a number of checks and balances to ensure that everyone in the industry is represented fairly and has a chance to provide input.  In 2017, representatives from the U.S. Sod Industry began exploring checkoff programs in detail and have spent the last four years developing a potential program for the industry to consider and vote on. A formation committee made up of 14 sod producers from throughout the U.S. wrote and submitted a draft order to the USDA in late 2020. That committee is currently working with the USDA throughout 2021 to bring the checkoff to a nationwide vote no earlier than spring of 2022.  See below for more information on key details of a potential U.S. Sod Checkoff program.

5 Important Points to Know about Checkoff Programs

  • Checkoffs are not government programs. The USDA does not have any direct access to sod producers or their records, they do not perform audits or show up at your farm unannounced, and the funds do not go to the government. They go directly to the U.S. Sod Checkoff board to fund research and promotion of natural grass. The only involve-ment USDA has is to work in a supportive role to the U.S. Sod Checkoff Board in administering the program.
  • Where checkoff dollars are spent is decided by sod producers, for sod producers. The U.S. Sod Checkoff board will be comprised of 13 sod producers who invest the funds into research, promotion, and fighting local, regional, or nationwide regulations and consumer attitudes to promote natural grass. Florida sod producers can be assured that their concerns will be heard by nominating Florida sod producers to the checkoff board. Board members serve 3-year terms.
  • Everyone contributes, everyone benefits. If passed by a majority vote of U.S. sod farms, then everyone contributes equally at 1/10th of one penny per square foot of sod sold. The U.S. Sod Checkoff board, made up of sod producers, will be tasked with developing a compliance program that ensures all farms contribute to the program because all farms will benefit from the program.
  • A checkoff program is the only way to fight the many challenges our industry faces now and in the foreseeable future. Current projections are that a U.S. Sod Checkoff program could raise between $14 million and $18 million annually to fund important scientific research showing the environmental benefits of natural grass, promote it through advertising and marketing, and fight local regulations and ordinances.
  • National checkoffs and state associations like the Turfgrass Producers of Florida go hand-in-hand. Checkoff boards provide state associations with the means to conduct much-needed research at state universities, promotion efforts, and materials for associations to educate industry regulators, elected officials, and consumers to protect and grow the market for natural grass. Checkoff programs have a proven track record of benefitting state associations, not competing with them.

The U.S. Sod checkoff initiative is still in its early stages, and there is plenty of time for consideration before a nationwide referendum on its passage. Please visit https://sodcheckoff.org for more information in the coming year on updates and progress and to sign up for notifications.