N.D. considers brand inspection fee hike | TSLN.com

N.D. considers brand inspection fee hike

It can be tough to place a dollar value on the safeguarding of property.

In North Dakota, brand inspection – or proof of ownership of livestock – is required when cattle, horses, mules or donkeys leave the state or change ownership.

The current cost for the service is $1 per head but the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, who manages the inspection program, recently requested a fee increase.

On June 10, the state Board of Animal Health unanimously agreed to move forward with a request from the stockmen's group to up the inspection fee to $1.50.

“We’re way behind on wages.”Stan Misek, North Dakota chief brand inspector

"We're way behind on wages," said the state's chief brand inspector Stan Misek. He said two to three full-time brand inspector positions remain unfilled, and while he does receive applications, "Once you tell them what the starting wage is, they just walk away."

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Misek said the inspection program predicted a loss of about $100,000 in wages for the current fiscal year, and that inspection numbers are running short of what they expected – which could leave a bigger hole in the budget. Total inspections were down almost 50,000 head from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014 and are on target to be down at least that much again this year.

The stockmen's association does not profit from the brand inspection program, Misek said. "All of the income goes through the state department. If there is excess income it runs over for use in the program the next year."

Melvin Leland serves as the chairman of the state Board of Animal Health. New full-time inspectors are offered $20,000 to $21,000 per year, which isn't enough to attract very many qualified applicants, he said.

President of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, Steve Brooks, said health insurance, which is offered to each of the 21 full-time inspectors, in the past two years has increased in cost by 77 percent. The Bowman rancher said he prefers not to comment further on the subject as "it could be way over a year," before the increase would be enacted.

The state's other cattle industry group, Independent Beef Association of North Dakota issued a news release this week urging a "performance audit" of the brand inspection program.

Larry Kinev, a cow-calf producer from Dawson, said he pays the brand inspection fee when he sells cattle, and that he is a firm believer in the program and is a supporter of the program's overseer. "I think Stan Mizek does a good job. If that was an an elected position I'd vote for him and I'd even campaign for him," said the former director for the N.D. Stockmen's Association.

But Kinev's group is campaigning for something different – a "performance audit" of the state brand inspection program, spurred on by the request for a 50 percent increase in the inspection fee.

Kinev said the state requires regular financial audits on the program, but that I-BAND would like to see the program's performance evaluated. "It's a little deeper deal where you look at the overall management."

Clarity and transparency are two things his group seeks, Kinev said, "How the system is managed, how it is run, who is in charge of the vehicles, things like that."

Wages for brand inspectors are not too high, Kinev said, but he and his group would like to know just how efficiently the program is being run.

I-BAND takes issue with are the fact that the brand inspection fee went up recently–from 75 cents to $1 in 2011, so if the additional 50 cent increase is approved, the industry will face a 100 percent increase in five years. Secondly, this year the NDSA successfully lobbied for a $1 state beef checkoff – a program run by board that includes several NDSA members.

"To date, livestock producers in North Dakota have not been formally notified about the intended increase," said Kenny Graner, I-BAND immediate past president, in a news release. "If the Agriculture Commissioner is going to advance this initiative, then producers deserve to be notified appropriately and an adequate public comment period should commence after that notification occurs. This proposal amounts to a 50 percent increase in fees on top of the 33 percent increase made just four years ago. Stakeholders deserve the opportunity to voice their opinion about the proposed increase and I-BAND will be working towards that goal."

Any discussion on the proposed increase is "premature" said NDSA executive vice president Julie Ellingson, because the rules are still being drafted, and several more steps are required before the public will have the opportunity to comment. "We don't know what the rules look like," she said.

Leland echoed her comments. "Most of these things have to go before a legislative council and have other hoops to go through. We are probably looking at nine months or maybe up to a year," said the western North Dakota Red Angus seedstock producer. Leland explained that, while his address is Sydney, Montana, he lives in North Dakota and pays for brand inspection there when appropriate.

In addition to the 50 cent fee increase, the NDSA requested the following increases, according to Misek:

• An increase in the feedlot rate for registered feedlots from 10 cents to 50 cents (This rate applies to cattle going directly to slaughter from a registered feedlot. Other cattle leaving a feedlot are subject to the regular brand inspection fee.)

• An increase in the annual registered feedlot fee from $20 to $100 per year

• An increase in lifetime horse permits from $10 to $25

Misek added that 69 of 119 head of estrays were returned in the last fiscal year from auction markets — for a value of $88,911.68. The total collected from auction market estrays was $145,280.

On estrays identified in the country, $232,584 was collected and to date $135,282.92 has been paid to livestock owners proving ownership. Misek said a livestock owner officially has up to six years to prove ownership on an estray, but that even after that time, the rightful owner will be paid if he or she can prove ownership on an estray.

Ellingson said the state is in the process of formalizing the proposal for the increase, which is being written together with several other proposed rule changes in an effort to save money on attorney fees, and her group has yet to see the final proposed rule.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for comments from the public," said Leland

While brand recording expenses are not expected to change, 2015 is the year for renewing brands. All North Dakota livestock brands expire on Jan. 1, 2016. To renew a brand, simply complete the brand renewal forms mailed to the address recorded on the brand's listing and return them and the appropriate fee to the NDSA's headquarters prior to the Jan. 1, 2016, expiration date. The cost is $25 per brand position according to a a news release from the organization.

Detailed instructions can be found on the brand renewal form or online at http://www.ndstockmen.org. For more information, contact the NDSA at 701-223-2522. F

According to North Daktoa Chief Brand Inspector Stan Misek, inspection numbers are dropping, probably at least partly due to the fact that grazing land is becoming more and more scarce.

Here were the fiscal year 2014 totals:

Cattle

Livestock markets – 888,010 head

Local inspections – 314,209 head

Weigh stations – 79,904 head

Production sales – 5,704

Feedlots (at the 10 cent rate) 20,907

Total (including horses, donkeys and mules): 1,308,734

Horses, mules and donkeys

Livestock markets – 4,550

Local inspections – 4,497

Production sales – 1,395

Total: 10,442

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