North Dakota state checkoff moves through Legislature | TSLN.com

North Dakota state checkoff moves through Legislature

What started as a resolution at a stockmen's meeting three years ago is now moving quickly through the North Dakota state capitol.

A bill to implement a state-wide $1 beef checkoff in addition to the current federal $1 beef checkoff was approved unanimously by the state senate ag committee Friday. The issue will go before the full Senate soon and, if approved, will head to the governor's desk.

Current North Dakota law requires that the federal beef checkoff be paid. "Any person who sells cattle in this state or from this state must pay an assessment equal to the amount set forth in federal law."

HB 1238, requires that, "In addition to the assessment required in subdivision a, any person who sells cattle in this state or from this state must pay an assessment equal to one dollar for each animal sold."

According to the bill, producers can request a refund within 60 days of the checkoff collection date.

The Senate ag committee considered an amendment to require a producer referendum, but the amendment died for lack of a second. They did approve an amendment to ease the refund process, providing for electronic refund requests.

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In cattle country, opinions about the additional checkoff are mixed.

The North Dakota Stockmens Association, whose members approved policy three years ago to implement a state beef checkoff, supports the move. In fact the group's policy was the impetus behind the legislation.

The group's president, Steve Brooks, said that it has been three years since their members first showed that they "wanted to go forward" with the collection of another dollar in-state to fund research and promotion of beef but the group waited, thinking maybe an increase on the federal level was just around the corner.

But when no changes were made to the national checkoff, the group "found a legislator to carry it," he explained.

The Angus breeder from Bowman said he personally testified in both the House and Senate ag committees in favor of the bill.

One of the big reasons he supports a second checkoff is inflation. "From 1985 until now, the dollar is only worth about 47 cents. The price of cattle has tripled," he said.

Brooks believes that more checkoff dollars would mean more opportunity to promote beef to foreign countries.

"I've always been really in favor of the U.S. Meat Export Federation," he said. "I think the real growth in our deal is with the exports and the big thing is that they take a lot of the parts of the carcass we don't eat. Right now exports are putting $350 per head on," he said.

About $1.1 million is collected from North Dakota's cattle owners each year, according to the state beef commission's annual report. Of that, half is half is sent to the Federation of State Beef Councils, who, along with the Cattlemens Beef Board, determine how the money will be used nationally.

Of the half that remains in the state of North Dakota- $580,523, "Administration," at $175,159, was the biggest budget item in the 2014 report.

Other budget items include:

International promotion: $12,728

Promotion: $34,560

Research: $681

Consumer information: $91,255

National program development: $124,484

Beef gift certificates: $13,347

Operations: $52,426

Mike Heaton, a rancher from McKenzie and a director with the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND) said his organization has opposed the bill.

"We believe there is way too much money misspent. We aren't seeing good returns on the money," he said.

Heaton is disappointed with the relatively small amount of the budget that goes toward research.

Heaton said the bill proponents have not explained how they hope the extra checkoff money would be spent. "When you don't have a plan, why would you need more?"

Brooks said the nine-member governor-appointed beef commission doesn't have a plan as of yet for the potential extra $1.1 million they could be handling next year. "They don't even know if the bill is going to pass so there is no sense setting out a budget," he said.

As a rule, I-BAND supports using checkoff dollars in-state, Heaton said.

I-BAND believes the issue requires input from all producers. A referendum would have provided for that.

"In our state probably less than six state lawmakers have cattle and they are setting policy for about 12,000 producers," I-BAND member Dwight Keller, Mandan, North Dakota, said. "Everyone on the street stops me and asks, 'Why can't we vote on it?'"

Of the around $38 million of producer dollars spent at the federal level in 2014, $27.2 million went to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, $7.6 million to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, $1.5 million to the Cattlemen's Beef Board and just over $1 million to the North American Meat Association. Three other groups were awarded moneys amounting to less than $1 million each.

The money awarded each group is to be used for promotion and research of beef, according to the Act and Order.

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