WSGA learns about structure, inner workings of national groupsWritten by Saige Albert
Sheridan – With the theme of “Nuts and Bolts of Your Industry,” the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Summer Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show took an intimate look inside the national organizations representing the industry, particularly the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC).
“It’s helpful for producers on the ground to have a little perspective on the nuts and bolts of national organization,” said Todd Johnson of NCBA.
NCBA is one of the nation’s most highly-recognized cattle organizations, and Johnson noted that the current model that the organization operates under is only 20 years old.
In the early 90s, Johnson explained that an industry-wide group of producers gathered to figure out how to connect with consumers, be a more effective industry and be more efficient in their operations.
“A plan was put together and out of that plan came the principle for a merger of industry organizations,” he explained, noting that in 1996, NCBA came from the merger of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, Beef Industry Council of the National Livestock and Meat Board, U.S. Meat Export Federation, CattleWomen and others. “There were many of us nationally doing things that were very similar.”
The merger resulted in a very efficient organization with two divisions – policy and checkoff – all based on producer input.
“NCBA is built on producers at the grassroots level,” Johnson continued. “The state affiliate organizations fill the policy division of NCBA. WSGA and its leadership is substantial in our organization.”
He also noted that on the other side, the state beef councils are represented on the foundation side of the federation division.
“The unique thing is that both of those come together in one board meeting,” Johnson noted. “We answer to one board.”
However, in voting on issues, a division is made between policy and checkoff decisions, and the appropriate entities vote on issues affecting their respective arenas.
“If we are voting on or approving the slate of officers, for example, it is a joint issue,” he noted.
NCBA achieves efficiency in its operation by combining the redundant administrative duties of both groups.
“We have a checkoff-centric group, which does part of the work on behalf of the beef checkoff program as a contractor,” Johnson explained. “We also do work on behalf of the state beef councils.”
In the government affairs sector of the organization, a team works to advance legislative and regulatory policies in Washington, D.C. to support and promote the industry.
“We also have shared services, including accounting, communications and human resources,” he said. “We gain efficiencies of size and scale there.”
Because NCBA houses the federation and policy divisions, when issues facing the industry arise, they are able to attack the concern from a multi-pronged approach.
Johnson used the dietary guidelines as a recent example of how this strategy can work.
“We assemble what we call a core issues response team,” he said. “We pull staff from the policy division who understand the regulations around dietary guidelines. We pull a subject matter expert from the checkoff side who understands the nutrition research. We pull a communications person from the policy side who understands what they need to do to make headway in Washington, D.C., and we also pull a communications expert from the checkoff who knows how to relate to the consumer.”
By working together, the organization is able to accomplish more than any group may be able to achieve on its own.
Another important agency on the national scale, PLC, also works with NCBA in many ways.
PLC’s Executive Director Dustin van Liew represents NCBA on federal lands, Endangered Species Act and water rights issues. He also serves to carry out the direction determined by the Board of the organization.
“PLC was established in 1968,” he explained. “It represents 22,000 entities that hold grazing permits. PLC is the sole organization in Washington, D.C. at the national level dedicated fully to representing producers who hold permits or have grazing rights on federal lands.”
PLC is comprised of state affiliates in the cattle and sheep industry, as well as national affiliates, such as NCBA, the American Sheep Industry Association and the Association of National Grasslands.
“We don’t operate as other organizations with direct membership do, where one pays dues as a direct member,” van Liew explained. “We do operate as an umbrella-type organization where each state has a director and three additional delegates that sit on our board of directors, which dictates how PLC operates and moves forward.”
As with NCBA, PLC members bring resolutions to the annual meeting and legislative meeting each year. The resolutions direct the work of van Liew and his colleague Marci Schlup, a Wyoming native who works in Washington, D.C.
PLC has full-time lobbying representation that looks at a variety of issues on the national level, particularly for those states in western, public lands states.
“We continue to work with our national affiliates and visit with those states outside the West on the importance of keeping access to federal lands, not just for the ranching industry, but for the oil and gas industry that continues to rule our country,” van Liew mentioned. “It is an important part of keeping range access open and keeping ranchlands in the West.”
Because about 40 percent of the western cattle herd and 50 percent of the U.S. sheep herd spends at least some time on federal lands, van Liew emphasized that access to livestock grazing on federal lands is imperative.
“As we visit with folks at regional and national meeting, it is imperative to remind them that if the federal government removes livestock grazing on federal lands, it doesn’t just impact the states in the West, it also impacts the overall industry across the U.S. for both sheep and cattle.”