Groups still split on beef checkoff | TSLN.com

Groups still split on beef checkoff

Jerry Hagstrom
for The Hagstrom Report

Seven beef checkoff groups agree to MOU, but not NFU, U.S. Cattlemen, R-CALF USA

Seven national organizations that are members of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) reached agreement March 13, on how to proceed with a camaign to increase the beef checkoff from $1 per head to $2 per head.

But the group does not include the National Farmers Union, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association or R-CALF USA, so it appears unlikely that Congress would agree soon on proceeding with the increase.

The BCEWG has been struggling to reach an agreement to make changes to the checkoff that would garner support to ask Congress for an increase in the checkoff, which requires payments each time an an animal is sold to raise funds for beef research and promotion.

The core dispute has been the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's role in managing the checkoff and how much assistance the checkoff provides to small producers as opposed to large producers. Critics have charged that NCBA's role in the management has been too close for an organization that is also involved in lobbying.

The National Farmers Union and the U.S. Cattlemen's Association were part of the BCEWG, but R-CALF USA was not.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has become so frustrated with the group that he recommended the establishment of a second checkoff, but that idea did not win support.

The MOU said:

▪ These organizations will support legislation to increase the current beef checkoff program of $1 per head to $2 per head.

▪ Within a year of the legislation being signed into law, a referendum will be conducted among beef producers and beef importers to increase the assessment. If a majority of the beef checkoff program payers indicate they would like to increase the checkoff, the assessment rate would increase.

▪ Assessments will continue to be collected as they are now and state beef councils will have the authority to retain 50 percent of the assessment.

▪ A refund of the additional assessment amount, but not the current $1 per head, will be available to beef producers paying into the checkoff.

▪ Every five years, the Agriculture secretary will publicize a 30-day comment period of time during which beef checkoff payers may request a referendum vote on the continuation of the beef checkoff program and/or a change to the assessment rate. If 10 percent or more beef checkoff payers request such a referendum, a timely referendum will be held. The wishes of beef checkoff payers indicated by a majority vote in the referendum will be implemented. The current ability for the secretary to conduct a referendum only on the continuation of the beef checkoff if 10 percent or more of beef checkoff payers sign a petition will remain in place.

▪ The new joint nominating committee, which will recommend candidates to serve on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC), will include members from the Cattlemen's Beef Board, the Federation of State Beef Councils, and other national organizations representing beef checkoff payers.

▪ The Cattlemen's Beef Board will annually provide all interested eligible contractors information and training on the contracting process.

The group will continue its work "to develop a road map for simultaneously recommending and advocating for the outcomes highlighted in the revised MOU," according to a news release.

The U.S. Cattlemen's Association noted in a statement today that USCA and the National Farmers Union had proposed the concept of the working group to Vilsack in 2011.

USCA past President Jon Wooster said that despite four years of mediator-driven sessions, "Unfortunately, the group could never reach consensus concerning discussions focused on structural changes except for changing the date organizations had to be formed to be an eligible contractor from 1986 to being an established beef industry organization for at least three years."

"The MOU proposed several changes including a refundable increase in the assessment of $1," Wooster added.

"There is also a proposed change to the nominating process for candidates to the Beef Promotion Operating Committee," he said.

"At first glance this proposed change looked promising, but after further consideration we realized we were compounding the 'conflict of interest' concern by putting national organizations that were contracting for checkoff dollars on the nominating committee, which is the committee who selects the Beef Promotion Operating Committee that decides who is awarded contracts for checkoff dollars.

"The makeup of the BCEWG has changed since its inception and it seems its main goal is now to increase the assessment with no consideration to structural changes such as:

▪ Separating the Federation of State Beef Councils from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

▪ Allowing the Cattlemen's Beef Board to contract directly with the non-industry entities actually doing the work instead of requiring CBB to contract through national organizations who then often sub-contract with these entities.

▪ Requiring money from state beef councils invested in federation board seats go to the Beef Promotion Operating Committee to be awarded to contractors.

▪ Requiring an automatic periodic referendum every five years.

▪ Write a new order under the Commodity Promotion Act of 1996 prescribing a more modern and flexible beef checkoff.

"USCA will remain active on this issue and will pursue any effort to bring unbiased and open-minded individuals to the table to discuss substantial enhancements to the beef checkoff program," Wooster said.

–The Hagstrom Report

The following groups signed the revised memorandum of understanding (MOU) on changes the checkoff:

American Farm Bureau Federation

American National CattleWomen, Inc.

Livestock Marketing Association

Meat Import Council of America

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

National Livestock Producers Association

National Milk Producers Federation.