Sale barns talk checkoff referendum
The South Dakota Livestock Auction Markets Association is hoping to facilitate a vote on the national beef checkoff.
According to Ft. Pierre Livestock’s Bryan Hanson, the SDLAMA recently approved policy that seeks an “up or down vote” on the national $1 beef checkoff.
The South Dakota organization’s board of directors voted unanimously to work on gathering enough petition signatures to allow producers the opportunity to vote for the checkoff. “When the board voted it was 7-0 to move forward with a petition to bring the checkoff to a referendum,” said Hanson, the president of the SDLAMA.
Chelsea Good, the Livestock Marketing Association vice president of government and industry affairs, said the issue will be talked about at the next LMA government and industry affairs committee virtual meeting. If the committee agrees the concept has merit, it will recommend that the LMA board take it up, who would then decide whether or not to seek a membership vote. The LMA, the national organization that SDLAMA is affiliated with, has around 800 members.
Good said the LMA currently recognizes and supports a beef checkoff program driven by producers and managed in a way that protects and maximizes the return on investment. This policy was approved in 2015.
LMA’s leadership has been very focused this spring on challenging industry issues and keeping livestock auctions operating as critical infrastructure, said Good. “This (COVID-19) situation has also highlighted concerns on packer margins and practices, which we are pursuing through encouraging investigations,” she said.
According to Hanson, around 73,900 signatures will be needed, which is 10 percent of cattle producers, according to USDA. But he believes they ought to get more signatures, in case some are not considered to be acceptable.
In 2000, the LMA helped gather signatures for a beef checkoff referendum, and while the group submitted 127,927 signatures, far more than the minimum 107,833 needed, an accounting firm estimated that only 83,464 were valid.
The national beef checkoff was enacted via the 1985 farm bill and became mandatory in 1988 when 79 percent of producers approved the concept in a national referendum.
The $1 federal beef checkoff is to be used for promotion, education and research. State beef councils collect $1 each time a beef animal is sold. They forward half of each dollar to the CBB. Many beef councils also send some of the remaining $.50 to the NCBA Federation of State Beef Councils, which amounts to about $10 million in checkoff funds each year submitted to NCBA, along with the $27 million in contracts it achieves.
A board of appointed representatives (the Cattlemen’s Beef Board) oversees spending of the checkoff, and the vast majority is granted to organizations who carry out the initiative. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association last year was awarded over $27 million in checkoff funds, which amounted to about 66 percent of the total sent to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
Other checkoff contractors last year included: The American Farm Bureau Federation for Agriculture, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education, the Meat Importers Council of America, the National Livestock Producers Association, the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative (subcontractor to MICA), the North American Meat Institute, the US Meat Export Federation (subcontractor to NCBA) and the United States Cattlemen’s Association.
R-CALF USA is currently pursuing legal action to halt 15 states from collecting the checkoff. The group says those state beef councils, including Montana and South Dakota, are not appointed by the government, and therefore do not produce “government speech,” which means their messaging may or may not violate checkoff payers’ rights to free speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal beef checkoff, which is overseen by USDA, does produce “government speech” which means, in part, it can legally produce messaging that may or may not be supported by those who finance the program.
One of R-CALF’s complaints with the Montana state beef council was an advertising campaign promoting “North American Beef” several years ago.