Op Ed by Vice Chair of Federation of State Beef Councils: What’s at Stake? | TSLN.com

Op Ed by Vice Chair of Federation of State Beef Councils: What’s at Stake?

Dawn Caldwell
Nebraska Beef Producer
Vice-Chair, Federation of State Beef Councils

As a beef producer-volunteer at the national level, I hear a lot of things and lately a lot of things I hear are just plain wrong. I'm writing this in an effort to help correct some of the misinformation that's swirling among cattlemen and women, and hopefully prevent us from making mistakes with an important program that was approved and is still widely supported by beef producers. That program is the beef checkoff and it has been under fire lately for reasons that aren't being fairly or accurately portrayed by a minority in our community.

First, let me explain that the beef checkoff and the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) is us; and when I say us, I mean each cattleman and cattlewoman in every state with a qualified state beef council. In my case, I am a beef producer and lover of all things beef and cattle. I am a daughter, wife, mom, off-the-farm employee. And, with my husband, I am the co-owner/operator of a relatively small cow-calf operation that feels the hurt when prices drop and lifestyle changes become mandatory. That's me and that's us, both as a family and as a community. We feel these things together and that's why I take the attacks on state beef councils and the checkoff personally.

The Federation is an organization of people and those people have cow-calf operations, feedlots and farms. We raise seedstock, we background calves and so on. But we all share one commonality and that's our love of cattle, beef and this way of life. We need to spend a little more time thinking about the things that unite us and a little less time concentrating on that which is dividing us, if we hope to pass this life and passion on to those who come after us.

To do that, I want to share a few of the things that I genuinely appreciate about the beef checkoff and particularly, the 50 cents that remain under the guidance of state beef councils in every qualified state.

First, I live in a state where cattle outnumber people four-to-one. The Federation of State Beef Councils offers an extremely efficient method of ensuring that our funds reach the population that needs to hear our messages about beef.

Second, as a producer-volunteer sitting on the Federation Board of Directors, I get to work alongside producer-volunteers from across the country to study how our investments can be directed to the most impactful programs.

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Finally, each state beef council has access to materials and information that allow every state-directed program, from advertising to producer communications, to maximize their resources. The advertising and program materials are available in multiple formats, and I might add, they are OUTSTANDING!

We've gained great momentum because of muscle profiling studies, identification and promotion of new methods of cookery and research programs such as Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) and countless others. What if those went away and we lost the opportunity to attract new consumers to our product? What would that mean for the future of my ranch?

As I think about some of the positive things I appreciate about the checkoff and the Federation, I'm also struck by the potential impacts if states, particularly mine, were to lose these investments in our livelihoods and our futures. Right now, the preference for beef's taste is as high as it has ever been. What if we didn't continue to capitalize on that fact, and instead we lost beef demand as a result? What would the market look like when my children want to step back into the operation?

Foreign markets contribute a significant and growing return to the bottom line of every operation in the United States. The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) estimates that the return is $270 per head to every one of the fed animals in this country and I firmly believe that money is passed back through the chain in the form of higher calf prices. What if we lose the ability to work with USMEF and the returns for beef went away, what would that mean to the profitability of my ranch when we sell calves in the fall?

When times are hard, it's easy to look for someone or something to blame, but as cattlemen and cattlewomen, we ought to be better than that. We know that hard times come and go, but we get through them by helping one another and working together, not by tearing one another apart. That's what we should be working on now. Rather than blame and tossing out the checkoff, let's work together and build a better future for beef and our families.

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