North Dakota interim committee takes testimony on North Dakota Beef Commission makeup
The North Dakota Ag and Natural Resources Interim Committee hosted a hearing Oct. 7 to discuss the makeup and operations of the North Dakota Beef Commission, among other topics. The interim committee has been assigned the duty of determining whether changes to the makeup of the board (the appointment process) or its management of state and federal checkoff dollars need updating.
NDBC Chair Mark Voll, NDBC Executive Director Nancy Jo Bateman and Travis Maddock, NDBC director and VP of Region 7 of the NCBA Federation of State Beef Council, spoke on behalf of the NDBC.
Bateman, Maddock and Voll shared a digital slide show presentation with the legislators that shared details about past voluntary checkoffs, the federal mandatory checkoff, the different programs funded by the North Dakota checkoff funds and more.
“Please remember the beef checkoff was created for producers, by producers to ensure that consumers choose beef as their number one protein option. The producers that wrote the checkoff laws specifically forbid checkoff dollars to be used for lobbying and policy making,” said Voll. “The checkoff, since its begininng, has defended beef by tackling beef nutrition, sharing truths, reassuring customers during crises, such mad cow disease, e-coli, confronting anti-red meat activists with science an facts and many more, culmimating in a beef demand that currently is at a 33 year high.”
Independent Beef Association President Kerry Dockter was allotted time to share his organization’s concerns with the Beef Commission and the state checkoff itself.
On behalf of the NDBC, Bateman reported that the NDBC fielded requests from 504 individuals in FY 2019 and about 574 producers in FY 2020. Producers do not have access to refund forms at sale barns or any public location and a printable refund form is not available online. Producers must contact the NDBC office and prove the recent sale of cattle, in an effort to request a form.
Bateman said over 14 percent of state checkoff dollars were refunded in the recent fiscal year.
In response to a question from Representative Kiefert, Bateman said she does not know how much of the state checkoff budget and how much of the federal checkoff budget is given to the NCBA Federation of State Beef Councils. “The beef commission sends set percentages that go in as part of the big picture,” she said. “We don’t say ‘we want this $5,000 to go to this and this $10,000 to this and this $100,000 to this’…so that percentage piece comes off the top, and after that, as a board…we have the research team of the Federation help manage the research part of our portfolio.”
She said that although the check is written to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which is a lobbying organization, that a firewall prevents that organization from using checkoff dollars to conduct lobbying activity.
Dockter said in 2015 when the bill was introduced, IBAND requested that the North Dakota State Beef Checkoff be approved by a majority of producers and that producers be allowed a periodic vote on the state checkoff.
Dockter said one of his group’s main concerns is the fact that producers who request their state checkoff refund are ineligible to serve on the North Dakota Beef Council. Even those who request their state checkoff dollars to be refunded must continue to contribute to the NDBC budget through the mandatory federal checkoff, of which the NDBC keeps half.
It is possible that producers who obtain refunds of state checkoff dollars still contribute substantially via the federal checkoff. Bateman testified that the average refund has been between $145 and $157 in recent years, indicating that producers who sell larger numbers of cattle are requesting their refunds.
IBAND suggested that the North Dakota Ag Commissioner, rather than the Governor, appoint NDBC members in the future, and that all nominations become “at large” with no political organizations being guaranteed seats. Currently the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association is guaranteed four of the nine seats (three producers and one feeder). Discussion about this idea went on for some time, with questions being asked about the possibility of an election process, which is how some if not all of the grain checkoff groups choose their boards. After Dockter’s testimony, a representative for the North Dakota Farmers Union said her group supports and election process. Jeff Schaefer, president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association said he didn’t know enough about how the process would work to grant support or not, and Dockter said his group would be open to considering that idea.
“We have to move forward unified somehow,” said Schaefer.
When Senator Myrdal, a Republican farmer from Edinburg, asked if IBAND had submitted names for the at large positions, Dockter replied that they had done so several times but that neither the the nominees’ nor their references had never received any follow up.
Representative Tveit, a retired farm equipment dealer, said it seems like IBAND wants to “play” but not “pay.”
Dockter responded that his group’s members have attended many NDBC meetings, asking for return on investment report, which has never been produced.
Dockter also said that his group has twice asked the governor for a face to face meeting, but never received a response.
Additionally, in contrast to other checkoffs, all cattle producers “pay” via the mandatory federal checkoff, even if they do obtain their state checkoff refunds.
Myrdal pointed out that “we are all human” and that politics could come into play with any appointment process and urged the different groups to consider an election process.
Federal law precludes the mandatory Beef Checkoff dollar from being used to finance lobbying activities.
Qualified State Beef Councils are required, per USDA Ag Marketing Service rules, to make AMS aware of “any actions which may conflict with prohibitions on influencing legislative and/or government policy.”
Bateman told TSLN that her organization did not contact AMS about their testimony before the legislative committee because “The NDBC is a state agency and, as a state agency, it is our job to report to the legislature and Governor with factual information pertinent to the NDBC whenever it is requested, which it was.”
Bateman also said that, of the several members of the NDBC who attended the hearing, only the group’s chairman, Mark Voll, was compensated for his time that day.
“Anyone else that was at the hearing was there as an interested beef producer at their own expense,” said Bateman.
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