Vilsack: Second checkoff likely a reality | TSLN.com

Vilsack: Second checkoff likely a reality

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack told beef and cattle groups Sept. 30, that a second beef checkoff will likely be a reality by January 2016.

United States Cattlemen director Chuck Kiker of Texas said Secretary Vilsack told his group and several other members of the Checkoff Enhancement Working Group last week that he planned to leave the current checkoff alone and implement another beef checkoff under the 1996 commodity promotion act.

According to the 1996 language, a checkoff could and likely would be implemented without any vote or official approval from the industry, and a referendum would take place three years after it was implemented.

The current mandatory checkoff, managed by the Cattlemen's Beef Board and the Federation of beef councils, with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Associaiton as the biggest contractor, has been a hot topic for years, as some livestock groups believe the policy-oriented NCBA uses checkoff funds to offset lobbying expenses.

Three years ago the secretary organized the working group, comprised of many national cattle, beef and farming groups in a last ditch effort to find compromise on the controversial program.

The three main cattle and beef groups in the country responded to Secretary Vilsack's proposal with a myriad of thoughts.

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USCA has remained active in the working group and is excited with the Secretary's announcement.

"This is the most positive thing for the beef industry in a long time concerning the checkoff," Kiker said. He said the current beef checkoff will remain "untouched" but that Vilsack's new checkoff would "put more money into the kitty to promote beef." Kiker added that the Secretary will be taking comments as he prepares to write the hew checkoff language. "I hope the new check-off is done so that everybody supports it, not just NCBA. Hopefully it will not be controlled and manipulated by a policy organization."

R-CALF USA, which was originally involved in the working group, refused from the beginning to discuss an increase until certain changes took place, and so was asked to leave the group. CEO Bill Bullard said his group doesn't support the new checkoff concept as it would create more expense while producers haven't voiced a desire for added checkoff funds. "The proposal appears predicated on the erroneous assumption that producers want to pay more into the checkoff. Secondly it appears to be a mechanism to avoid making the tough decision to address problems with the current checkoff. It kicks the can down the road for at least three years so we are very disappointed in this proposal."

Bullard's group believes that concerns over conflict of interest with the policy-oriented NCBA taking funds from the government-mandated checkoff program must be addressed first and foremost. "They are just acting as if they [the conflicts of interest] don't exist."

Minor changes have taken place within the structure of the state beef councils' roles and in the requirements to be met by potential beef checkoff contractors, said an NCBA spokesman on a media conference call. But in three years the working group members have not found enough common ground to move forward with significant checkoff reforms.

Although National Farmers Union last month withdrew from the working group, saying a positive resolve didn't appear likely, NCBA past president Scott George said that the working group still exists and will meet later this month. George said the Secretary indicated that if the remaining members of the working group would pull together and find common ground to move forward with changes to the current checkoff, that he may very well put the brakes on his proposed second beef checkoff.

NCBA spokesmen said their group doesn't believe the secretary's recommendation is necessary, adding that they are concerned with the ability of USDA to implement a checkoff program with as much efficiency as the current one.

"There are a lot of inefficiencies that we've overcome in our current checkoff," NCBA spokesman Forrest Roberts said.

The organization cited a nearly 80 percent approval rating and an $11-plus return on producers dollars. "We are getting all the signals we need, we feel like, to go forward with a program that is going to be more likened to the 1985 Act [the current checkoff] than the idea the secretary has floated out to us,” said Roberts.

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