Roles and responsibilities: CBB, NCBA leadership meet to discuss working relationshipWritten by Christy Martinez
In early May leadership from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) met with a facilitator to work out the differences that some say have been growing for several years.
Those differences culminated with the CBB’s Roles and Responsibilities document, which was released in April for an email vote by CBB members.
The CBB was created as the caretaker of the 50 cents of every checkoff dollar that goes to national programs. The Joint Operating Committee, created by Congress, is comprised of 10 members from the Federation of State Beef Councils, and 10 members of the CBB. All national projects come before the committee, and they decide what is funded, and the CBB then administers the contracts between the committee and the contractor, whether that be NCBA, the U.S. Meat Export Federation or otherwise.
As NCBA Vice President, Cody dairy producer Scott George attended the meeting as one of the five members of NCBA leadership.
“For some reason, some of those folks want to go back to the national program that was twice rejected years ago in favor of a producer-run, producer-controlled program,” says George. “Some of the current CBB members want to be in charge and say where to spend the money, but their job is to administer contracts approved by the joint committee, which takes a two-thirds majority to grant a project.”
“We’d just met with them six days prior to their release of the new program, called Roles and Responsibilities, and they didn’t say a word. Suddenly they rolled out this new document outlining the responsibilities of CBB,” explains George. “There are some things in there that are very alarming and confusing, and it looked like they were trying to take over the checkoff work that, to date, has been done cooperatively.”
Wyoming Beef Council Executive Director Ann Wittmann says that what bothers her is that the document was not provided to state beef councils for review.
“Almost everything in the document has the potential to, or will definitely, impact how grassroots producers operate on their own state beef councils,” says Wittmann. “The document was released only to CBB members, so none of our active board members, who are partners with the CBB, had a say. If they had passed the document, and made those decisions, it would have had far-reaching implications about how state beef councils can operate, without having sought any input from the state councils themselves.”
George adds that CBB leadership received a sound kickback from their membership over the release of the document, and the way in which it was released.
Currently the CBB is composed of 106 members, a number based on the U.S. cattle herd. Because of declining cattle numbers, the CBB will soon be lowered to 103 members. At one board member for every 1.5 million head of cattle, Wyoming, with a population of 1.3 million head, only has one member on the CBB – Spencer Ellis of Lovell, who is also chairman of the Wyoming Beef Council board.
“We’re fortunate to have a close relationship between CBB and the Wyoming State Beef Council,” says Wittmann.
“It was a good clearing of the air, and many misconceptions were voiced and expressed, so we hope we’re making some progress,” says George of the meeting. “One thing we stressed from NCBA’s perspective is that we recognize NCBA is a contractor to the CBB, but as far as the planning and work, that’s been cooperative since 1996. The entire industry – from importers to exporters to the CattleWomen – has sat at the table to decide what projects will move the industry forward. Suddenly, this Roles and Responsibilities document made it sound like that was all going away, and they were surprised we viewed it that way.”
George says there’s been much pressure put on the NCBA team.
“Years ago the NCBA CEO said we don’t want to be the only contractor, but we do want to be the best contractor, and NCBA has stepped up to the plate and brought forward specialists in beef safety, microbiology, marketing and other fields, and they’ve worked hard to further the industry, and I don’t think some people understand that,” he states.
“Part of the problem we see is that some of the people, especially from CBB, do not have the institutional knowledge of the checkoff program,” notes George. “It used to be that we all worked separately, with no coordination or common goals, and that’s why we all merged in 1996 and formed joint committees to decide on priorities and projects. I’m afraid some of their current leadership were not part of that process, and they’re almost trying to go back to the way it was, which was much less effective, efficient or coordinated in both national and international activities.”
During the meeting, George asked the CBB leadership if they still wanted NCBA to be a contractor for the checkoff program.
“They were stunned, and said of course they did,” says George. “But our staff is feeling so oppressed by some of the things being done by the Beef Board in their oversight role that they don’t even want to do it anymore. If the CBB appreciates them, they need to voice it, because that message is not getting through.”
“NCBA has been criticized for being a contractor for the beef checkoff, but people don’t understand we’re working for the entire industry as a contractor. When we help the consumer buy beef, that helps everyone in the industry,” he adds.
“We stressed that we view this as a partnership with everyone participating, and the entire industry working together. We hope we got a lot of things on the table, and it went both ways. We learned some things from them, so we’re hoping we’re making some progress,” says George. “We have enough problems facing the industry without fighting internally, and we were pleased to have the meeting.”
George says the same facilitator who led the initial meeting will next meet with the CEOs and senior staffing of both organizations to further resolve some of their issues.
The CBB plans to discuss the Roles and Responsibilities document in great detail at their upcoming August membership meeting, and they’ve now asked for input from state beef councils, NCBA, other contractors and individuals.
“They made it very clear that they won’t make any commitments until after the discussion with their board about the document, and then they want to try to renegotiate an agreement that tells us how we operate together, which they canceled a year ago,” says George.
“We understand this is a partnership arrangement between all the entities working for the best of the cattle industry,” he adds. “No one group can do this alone, and that’s not how it was intended to be done.”