Checkoff legislation is ‘first step’
Casper – “We’re on step one of this – can we even do it – then comes should we do it, and what do you want done,” said Ann Wittmann of the Wyoming Beef Council to producers during the mid-December Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup in Casper.
Wittmann was referring to changes in legislation that clarify whether or not the Wyoming Livestock Board has the statutory authority to collect a state dollar in addition to the national checkoff dollar. It’s the consideration of that change in statute that has spurred discussion as to whether or not Wyoming would support a state checkoff, which would be in addition to the existing national checkoff.
WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna also spoke to the issue, saying that, at the WSGA summer convention, members passed a resolution urging the WBC to look into a state checkoff of up to a dollar, and to do what was necessary to authorize that to happen, should the state’s producers be in favor.
Because of that, Magagna and others took a look at the current statute.
“It’s clear the Beef Council could have decided to go forward in the state checkoff process without any change in statute, but the Wyoming Livestock Board is in charge of collection, and the statute says it can collect up to a dollar,” explained Magagna of the catch. “When a national program began in 1986, they quit the state checkoff and began collecting the national dollar under the same state statute. The question was, under that current statute, could the Livestock Board collect a state checkoff, in addition to the national checkoff, if the producers decided to.”
Wittmann added that they found there was potential for being challenged. “The wording says the Livestock Board shall collect an amount up to a dollar on cattle and calves. We are collecting a dollar, but not under state statute, as a federal checkoff,” she said. “The opinion of the Attorney General was that we could probably go ahead and collect that additional in-state dollar, but there’s question about whether that could be challenged.”
“The original legislation says ‘if there’s a checkoff.’ The Wyoming Livestock Board still makes the final decision, but receives recommendations from the Beef Council. Two entities made up of producers would look at it,” said Magagna. “The Beef Council could make their recommendation, and the Livestock Board could say they don’t want it.”
Magagna said the intent of the legislation is to authorize the process for a legal state checkoff.
“The legislation would amend the wording to allow for an in-state checkoff, should producers want it, and would increase the fee paid to the Brand Board for collecting the checkoff from three percent to five percent, even if there’s not a state checkoff implemented,” added Wittmann.
Of whether or not a state checkoff would actually be put in place, Wittmann said that’s up to the WBC to determine producer consensus, but a state beef checkoff is not in the legislation.
“The Beef Council members represent you, and they have no intention of increasing the beef checkoff, or adding one in the state, without proof and viable numbers that that’s what producers in the state want,” she said.
In a follow-up statement, the WBC said: “The members of the WBC want to assure Wyoming beef producers that changing the existing statute does not mean that a Wyoming Beef Checkoff would be assessed. The bill being considered by the Legislature in the upcoming session simply clears up wording to allow, without question, collection of a Wyoming beef checkoff should that be what Wyoming beef producers want. No decision about collecting a Wyoming beef checkoff will be made without input and feedback from the beef producers in Wyoming. The members of the Wyoming Beef Council will seek input and information from the Wyoming beef industry prior to making any recommendation or taking any action regarding Wyoming beef checkoff. Further, discussions of a Wyoming Beef Checkoff would be focused around $.50-per-head. Previous surveys of Wyoming beef producers show support for a Wyoming checkoff up to $.50 per head. There has not been support shown for more than $.50 per head.”
Currently 50 cents of every dollar under the national checkoff goes to the national program, as required, and Wittmann says an extra 16 cents also leaves the state for national promotion and for exports through the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The remainder is spent in Wyoming, or through direct partnerships with other states where there is a higher population.
The difference between the national checkoff and a state program are that the WBC could promote Wyoming beef specifically.
“We could identify markets where our product is going, and do marketing in those areas,” explained Wittmann. “That would benefit you as producers by increasing demand where Wyoming’s beef is already popular, and we could also rebuild some of the programs that have been cannibalized as costs have gone up.”
Just because the legislation for a state checkoff would authorize the WLSB to collect up to one dollar in state funding, that doesn’t mean a state checkoff collection would be as high as a dollar per head.
“There’s never been discussion of implementing an additional dollar,” said Wittmann. “From past producer surveys, we know there is support for an in-state checkoff, but not up to a dollar. My estimate is it would be 50 cents.”
She said that 50 cents would add up to $400,000 annually that could be used for any type of project.
On Dec. 14 the WBC, which is composed of Wyoming beef producers, met to vote on a plan and procedure in going forward with gathering input for a state beef checkoff. The plans of action they discussed were a referendum or a survey, and Wittmann urged Wyoming beef producers to let the council members know what they want them to do.