North Dakota legislature takes up Beef Commission makeup
Members of the North Dakota state House of Representatives have introduced two separate bills that would impact the North Dakota Beef Commission.
The first, HB 1275, would require the commission to publicize the open seats twice in the official newspaper of each county, and post details, for a year in advance, about at-large seats that will be opening up. The notices must include details such as instructions for applying, application deadline, length of term of office.
The second bill, 1436, would create a new system for electing board members rather than requiring the governor to appoint them, and clarify some of the requirements for potential commission members.
The state’s largest beef organization, the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, with about 3,150 members, supports 1275. The bill “adds clarity and transparency and enhances the existing process,” said the group’s executive vice president, Julie Ellingson.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s does not support 1436, saying it is unnecessarily complicated and costs producers money.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association received about $45,000 from the North Dakota Beef Commission last year. Leiseth said $34,000 was reimbursement for a grant program, with the rest covering event sponsorships, advertising and photocopies.
The Independent Beef Association of North Dakota, a newer organization with about 300 members, received $12,500 from the North Dakota Beef Commission which partially funded an education program to teach school cooks around the state how to prepare North Dakota beef.
I-BAND has criticized the North Dakota Beef Commission in recent years for forwarding significant portions of the budget to the Federation of State Beef Councils, a division of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which is a lobbying organization. I-BAND has encouraged the North Dakota Beef Commission to use the state checkoff funds in the state to promote North Dakota beef.
I-BAND would like to see changes to the make-up and operations of the NDBC. The group supports HB 1436, but not 1275. Immediate past president, Kerry Dockter said HB 1275 doesn’t make any significant changes.
“There isn’t really anything in that that is going to change. They are just advertising prior to the position being open. The appointment process still falls to the governor, which leads to the question – who is influencing the governor to make his decisions?”
Dockter said members of I-BAND have been applying for open positions.
According to the North Dakota Stockmen’s president, Jason Leiseth, 8 of the 11 Beef Commission members are also Stockmen’s members.
Dockter said none of the Beef Commission members are I-BAND members, although different members of his groups have self-nominated for several years in an effort to be appointed to the Beef Commission board.
This past summer, the governor’s office contacted Dockter to say the governor would not be appointing the I-BAND nominee, Frank Tomac, but didn’t explain why. Another I-BAND representative, Scott Shively, then submitted a self-nomination, but was not selected for the open seat. Dockter repeatedly tried to find out why his group’s nominees were not chosen, but was not given an answer.
Dockter believes some North Dakota producers are being taxed without representation.
“All of the producers in this state are paying into the checkoff. Definitely with the first dollar (the federal mandatory Beef Checkoff). Some might be requesting the second dollar back, but we are all paying the first dollar. Just the way the board has been, I’d say only about a third of North Dakota’s cattle producers are represented. The other two thirds are taxed without representation.
“If 1436 passes, all North Dakota cattle producers would have the ability to voice their opinion through their vote or even seek a seat on the board through the election process and would not be required to be affiliated or represent a state organization in order to serve on the commission.
Dockter said his group does not support the portion of the law that prohibits individuals from serving on the board if they have requested their state checkoff refund.
Both the state and federal Beef Checkoff are collected every time a bovine is sold within the state. While the state checkoff can be refunded, the federal checkoff cannot, so every producer is contributing regardless of whether or not he or she requests a state checkoff refund.
Dockter said his organization has tried to get involved in the beef commission by attending meetings and by members submitting nomination forms to the governor.
“We’ve attended almost every Beef Commission meeting for the last two years. Shortly after we started attending, we were told we were no longer allowed to raise our hands and ask questions. The chairman of the board read a statement from the Attorney General saying it was up to the chairman’s discretion to respond to questions or not.” Dockter said at one meeting, he was only allowed to ask questions after the meeting was adjourned and the commission members were out of their seats visiting with one another.
“We’ve tried to be at their meetings and understand their process and mindset,” he said. His organization supports a lot of the projects that the Beef Commission funds – such as the “powered by beef” program which promotes beef to athletes.
However, they do not support the funds that are directed to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Federation of State Beef Councils because of the implementation fee that NCBA maintains, and the lack of government oversight. They have also voiced opposition to financing the US Meat Export Federation, which his organization believes helps the meatpackers more than the cattle producers who pay the checkoff.
I-BAND did not support the implementation of the state beef checkoff in 2015. NDSA did. I-BAND supported a bill in 2021 to make the state beef checkoff voluntary. NDSA opposed that bill. The bill to make the state beef checkoff voluntary, died in the House of Representatives in a 41-53 vote. All the house members who identify themselves as ranchers on their official government profiles, voted in favor of making the checkoff voluntary.
Who is the North Dakota Beef Commission?
The North Dakota Beef Commission collects about $2,376,000 each year – $1 for the federal Beef Checkoff and $1 for the state Beef Checkoff each time a beef or dairy animal is sold in the state.
Federal law requires that half of the federal Beef Checkoff funds be forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the national Beef Checkoff oversight group. The Beef Commission has the discretion to spend the remaining half of the federal dollars for promotion, research and education of beef.
The commission also determines how the state Beef Checkoff funds will be spent.
North Dakota law has the following requirements of board members:
a. Each member of the commission must:
(1) Be a United States citizen and a resident of this state;
(2) Be actively engaged in that phase of the cattle industry the member
(3) Have been actively engaged in that phase of the cattle industry for a period
of five years.
b. Each member of the commission, except the representative of a public livestock
market, must be a participating producer.
c. For purposes of this subsection, “actively engaged” means that the individual:
(1) Has an ownership interest in an operation that is of sufficient scope and
significance as to constitute a distinct activity; and
(2) Has and regularly exercises direct control of the operation.
Who determines whether nominees are qualified?
The governor’s office told TSLN that it relies on the North Dakota Beef Commission itself to determine whether nominees are qualified to serve.
The North Dakota Beef Commission staff told TSLN that, while it does report to the governor’s office whether or not a particular nominee has obtained a refund, it conducts no further vetting of candidates.
The state attorney general’s office told TSLN that the governor’s office does ask the Beef Commission to alert them if candidates have requested a refund, but that the governor’s office does in fact, handle the “remainder of the appointment process” in accordance with NDCC 4.1-03-02.
TSLN has asked the governor’s office and the North Dakota Legislative Council to define “sufficient scope and significance” and “distinct activity” as they relate this part of the law, but neither office is able to define them. The North Dakota Attorney General told TSLN its office is “prohibited by law from providing legal advice or assistance, which includes legal interpretation, to members of the public.”
The North Dakota Legislative Research Center was also unable to interpret the law for TSLN.
Three individuals were appointed to the North Dakota Beef Commission in 2022. Brian Amundson (feeder) and Joy Patten (beef producer), both North Dakota Stockmen’s Association nominees, were appointed May 31, 2022.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association confirmed that, as required by law, it submitted multiple names for each vacant seat.
After one seat was vacant for several months, Governor Burgum filled the at-large seat, appointing Jess Nehl, Oct. 27, 2022.
Jess Nehl did not respond to TSLN’s request for an interview.
Beef Commission Members:
Mark Voll, Chairman, At Large
Jason Zahn, Vice Chairman, Beef Producer
Fred Helbling, Secretary-Treasurer, Beef Producer
Brian Amundson, Feeder
Sharon Kickertz-Gerbig, At Large
Lilah Krebs, Dairy
Matt Lachenmeier, Livestock Markets
Joy Patten, Cattle Producer
Jess Nehl, At Large
Clark Price, Ex Officio
Travis Maddock, Ex Officio
North Dakota District 39 state representative Keith Kemepenich, Bowman, has not committed his support or opposition to either bill just yet, but he said the issues “are worth looking at,” and that he looks forward to hearing discussion of both.
Kempenich, a rancher and crop insurance adjuster, was a sponsor of the 2015 state beef checkoff bill and he also called for an interim study of the makeup and operations of the beef commission after the 2021 bill to make the state checkoff voluntary nearly passed the House.
“You’ve got to get the right people in the right place,” said Kempenich, about the Beef Commission.
Kempenich said that in the current political climate, “people think that if you disagree, you are disagreeable.” This kind of mentality doesn’t always lead to healthy discussions of all sides. “You can’t have that bubble. You don’t get anything accomplished. You get in an echo chamber, and you don’t hear all the different ideas,” said Kempenich.
“You’ve got to have some broad opinions to make the right decisions.
“We need to make sure we’ve got the industry represented. That’s something that we need to work on, no doubt about it,” he said.
“I want to make it so everyone feels like they are participating. That was one of my points last session – you get to have a voice,” he said.