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Ag Weekly - - - Friday - - -  Sept. 15, 2006 - - - 1:57 p.m. CDT

Not all on board with beef checkoff recommendations

DENVER — The Industry-Wide Beef Checkoff Task Force has developed four recommendations for strengthening the Beef Checkoff program, providing more stakeholder input and making it more inclusive. Conclusions of the 18-member group were reached following extensive fact finding and discussion, and finalized at a meeting in Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 7.

The mission of the Task Force was “to review, study and recommend enhancements to the Beef Promotion and Research Act and Order for the purpose of strengthening the checkoff for the common good of the beef industry.” The group met three times this summer to discuss various possible changes to the Checkoff and their implications.

The recommendations were to make the Checkoff more inclusive, give it an opportunity for a referendum, raise the assessment, and change the name of the Federation of State Beef Councils to reflect a better understanding of that group’s mission.

Not all participating factions agree with all of the recommendations.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation co-chaired the Task Force, which included representatives from National Milk Producers Federation, National Farmers Union, American Meat Institute, R-CALF USA, National Livestock Producers Association, American Veal Association, Livestock Marketing Council, National Meat Association, Livestock Marketing Association, Meat Importers Council of America and cattle producers chosen by a number of state farm bureaus or cattlemen’s associations.

“We knew from the outset that with the majority of the Task Force comprised of affiliates of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other groups NCBA is closely allied with, there was little chance to seriously consider any issues other than increasing the assessment,” said Jim Hanna, R-CALF USA checkoff committee chairman. “R-CALF brought up a number of possible modifications to the program including suggestions to earmark dollars to promote USA-born-and-raised products, to allow the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to contract directly with vendors, to expand the assessment to the packing industry, and to conduct a mandatory periodic referendum.”

Those suggestions were voted down.

R-CALF USA was also on the losing end of the vote to increase the assessment fee from $1 to $2 per head. The measure passed 11-4.

It also voted against changing the name of the Federation of State Beef Councils.

“We felt this was just a change in nomenclature so the Task Force could say they offered something in this particular area,” Hanna said. “R-CALF also voted that the Federation should be removed from under the auspices of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, but that was voted down 11-4.”

Mike John, a Missouri cattle producer and NCBA president was satisfied with the Task Force’s outcome.

“The Task Force was an idea started at the grassroots level by some state cattlemen associations. At their direction, NCBA initiated this industry-wide review because we believed it was important to provide a forum for all national organizations involved in the industry to discuss and develop recommendations to strengthen the promotion, education and research engine of the beef industry,” he said.

“Above all else, NCBA remained committed throughout the Task Force’s evaluation that any enhancement to the Beef Checkoff Program must do these things: preserve or improve producer control through their state Beef Councils and continue to provide an outlet to build and protect beef demand. We believe the Task Force’s recommendations maintain this level of integrity.

NCBA’s board of directors and membership will consider the recommendations at their annual meeting at the end of January, he said.

Hanna, however, said the recommendations leave much to be desired.

“R-CALF has never been opposed to the Checkoff, and acknowledges the program’s success in building consumer beef demand, but the Checkoff has been around more than 20 years without any modifications,” Hanna said. “R-CALF represents independent cattle producers, and those producers have told us it’s time to make some changes to enhance what the Checkoff does for them. Producers want to feel that they have a say in how the Checkoff is administered, and they want to feel like there are folks running the program who truly have producer interests at heart.”

Producers also want to know how efficiently Checkoff funds are being spent once the money is sent to NCBA, and they’d like to see a solid accounting of that activity in an easy-to-understand format, Hanna said.

“We don’t think the solution is throwing more money into the Checkoff, but increasing the program’s efficiency,” he added.

Task Force recommendations

* An opportunity to petition for a referendum. The beef referendum process be revised to provide producers the opportunity to petition every five years for a referendum on continuing the Checkoff. Ten percent of beef producers signing the petition at county offices will trigger the USDA to conduct a vote within a year. This is similar to the Soybean referendum model.

* An adjustment of the Checkoff rate. To assure strong demand-building initiatives for the beef industry in the future and to offset twenty years of inflation, adjust the per head checkoff rate to $2.00. The 50-50 split between State Beef Councils and Beef Board would remain the same. The industry will need to approve any Checkoff rate change through a referendum.

* Enhanced understanding of the Federation of State Beef Councils. The Federation of State Beef Councils gives priority to enhancing its identity in order to strengthen beef industry stakeholder understanding of the Federation. Options such as changing its name from The Federation Division to The Beef Checkoff Federation could be considered.

* Making the Checkoff more inclusive. Any reference to the charter date of established national non-profit industry governed organizations be eliminated from definition (1260.113c) in the Beef Promotion and Research Order. This will make the Checkoff program more inclusive.


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