Dawn Caldwell, Nebraska Beef Producer, Vice-Chair, Federation of State Beef Councils: Straight Talk
August 22, 2017
I've spent a lot of hours in the skid loader piling cedar trees this week and it's given me a lot of time to think. The divisiveness in our country dominating the news is beyond saddening. We know from history that when people within a country are divided, that country more easily falls. As someone who has invested – and will continue to invest – my time to support beef producers and the checkoff itself, it's disheartening to see the discourse and divisiveness in the beef industry turn for the worse. I've seen the beef checkoff function from the inside and I'm proud of the work that state beef councils and our national organizations do on behalf of the beef community.
Community is a word I use intentionally; beef producers are a community. We're all in this business together and without every segment of this business functioning at its best, our fortunes are decidedly worse than they would be otherwise. Like it or not, each of us has chosen to make our living in one segment of the beef business or another and that makes us a family. Like all families, there comes a time when we need a little honest conversation and that time is now.
A recent court decision in Montana is preventing the Montana Beef Council from conducting promotion efforts within the state. It means producers have lost their local voice in how their checkoff dollars are invested. As a result, efforts to sell more beef products in Montana are on hold. It also means funding for several popular programs designed to promote beef and keep our products in the center of the plate are facing a grim future unless we, as a community, reject the animal rights activists and stop these senseless lawsuits.
In Nebraska, we recently wrapped up our planning for the year ahead and I've been thinking about what's at stake here. An activist lawsuit here would mean programs that promote beef on the radio would cease. State programs which promote Nebraska beef in important overseas markets such as Hong Kong would be at risk; the Beef Council staff support for the Beef in Schools program would vanish. We could lose the ability to fund dieticians who help promote beef as part of a healthy diet in urban states such as New York, Florida and California with Nebraska funds. In-state farm-to-fork tours, a program that demonstrates the positive attributes of beef to individuals who influence the buying decisions of millions of consumers, would be gone. Funding for the promotion activities of Nebraska Cattlewomen and plenty of other programs would be at risk. The result would be a catastrophic reduction in our ability to promote the very product that funds our farms, ranches and families.
The stakes are the same in every state where checkoff dollars are collected. As members of the beef community, we can't continue to pursue behaviors which divide us. We must turn away those who seek to divide our community and get back to the business of selling more beef. Regardless of your segment in the beef community, the continued viability of our livelihood depends on people continuing to put beef on their plates. We must support and protect our ability to promote our livelihoods. There's too much at stake to continue on a path that limits our future.