Nebraska beef board rejects plan to suspend funding | TSLN.com

Nebraska beef board rejects plan to suspend funding

Reprinted with permission by Art Hovey, Lincoln Journal Star

The split vote came as an accounting firm retained by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board determined that as much as $216,000 in checkoff funds, raised at the rate of $1 per head from beef producers in Nebraska and other states, appeared to have been spent improperly or without proper documentation over the past several fiscal years.

That’s up from the $37,000 figure that turned up in an internal audit of a small portion of total budgets.

News suggesting bigger problems in spending on air fares, meals and other expenses – some of it involving spouses and other family members – emerges as the federation prepares to vote Saturday in Denver on a charter of principles meant to give it more separation from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Also just out this month is the news that the federal Office of Inspector General will do its own audit of the entire checkoff budget.

Behind a sudden surge toward fiscal accountability is rancor in the ranks of some beef producer groups about the federation functioning as a non-policy arm of the dues-paying and policy-pushing beef association.

Chris Abbott of Gordon, NE, a new face on the Nebraska Beef Board this month, made the motion to suspend spending of dollars not already allocated to the federation’s efforts to promote beef research and promotion.

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Withholding further support until the federal audit is completed “would send a message back to my district” that the Nebraska Beef Board is unhappy with indications of fiscal irresponsibility and is “taking the lead on this problem,” Abbott said.

Abbott was backed by Richard Schrunk of Emmett, NE, another new board member, and by Rod Gray of Harrison, NE. But Board Chairman Craig Uden of Cozad, NE, was among those who spoke out against the motion, and it fell short of passage.

Uden said the state beef board should wait for the results of the federal audit. “Wouldn’t that be a better time to bring this up?”

He said stepping back to review how money has been spent is in order. One reason is that checkoff dollars are not supposed to be spent on lobbying purposes.

“I think it’s good for the industry to get this out,” he said, “but I think it’s also good to get it behind us.”

Board member J.D. Alexander of Pilger, NE, also opposed the motion. He thinks action by the Inspector General should clear the air.

“That’s as big as it gets,” he said, although he cautioned the final result is likely to be more than a matter of months.

Part of the tension in the room Tuesday involved differences of opinion among board members who also belong to dues-paying organizations at the state and national levels over such issues as mandatory country-of-origin labeling and, more recently, federal efforts to slow concentration and consolidation in meatpacking and other key agricultural industries.

Several of the board members, including Alexander, belong to the Nebraska Cattlemen, the state’s largest livestock organization.

Abbott, meanwhile, is part of the leadership of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, as is Dave Wright of Neligh, NE, who just stepped down from the board and was in the audience Tuesday.

“We have producers saying they don’t want any more dollars spent until this is cleared up,” said Wright, recently appointed to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board at the national level.

He and others also want full separation between the federation and the national beef association. He sees the Saturday vote on the charter of principles as an effort “to create a smokescreen that it is separate. But the flow chart still goes to Forrest Roberts at the top.”

Roberts is the Colorado-based chief executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Ann Marie Bosshamer, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council, described what’s up for a vote Saturday as “independence of the federation within the NCBA.”

The Nebraska Beef Checkoff raises about $9.5 million a year. Half of Nebraska’s money automatically goes to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Much of it is spent on advertising strategies such as the familiar “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” campaign.

The $1.5 million Abbott and others want withheld is from what’s left over after that.

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