Checkoff legislation reviewed
In 1971 the Wyoming Legislature passed legislation allowing for a state beef checkoff program to promote beef consumption. In the 2011 General Session, legislators will review a bill to clarify the amount of checkoff funding the Wyoming Beef Council (WBC) is allowed to collect.
With the 1971 bill, the legislature created the WBC and gave it the statutory authority to carry out checkoff activities, and provided that the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) would collect an amount not to exceed one dollar per head on cattle and calves, at the same time and in the same manner they collected brand inspection fees.
Then, in 1986 the national beef checkoff was established, and it provided for the one-dollar beef checkoff. Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) explains that, at the time, the decision of the WBC and the WLSB was that the WLSB would collect that one dollar for the national checkoff, and the state checkoff was dropped at that point in time.
“Moving forward to 2010, at the WSGA convention this summer, our members nearly unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Beef Council to consider re-initiating a state checkoff, in an amount up to one dollar,” says Magagna.
“The feeling was that the dollar at that national level that was established in 1986 was no longer that same dollar. We don’t see a real likelihood in the near term that the national checkoff would increase, or that our membership would support that at this point in time, but they do feel the need to have additional resources available for beef promotion,” he continues.
The WBC is obligated to contribute 50 cents of every dollar to the national checkoff program, and can keep 50 cents in the state. WBC Director Ann Wittman says the WBC sends an additional 15 to 18 cents out of the state to partner with other state beef councils.
“We have two-and-a-half times more cattle than people in Wyoming. If every man, woman and child in the state would consume 16 pounds of beef each week, plus livers, kidneys and tongues, we might be able to consume everything we produce,” says Wittman. “We need to market outside the state, and that’s why we contribute the additional 15 to 18 cents outside the state.”
She says that if an in-state checkoff were to be assessed, programs that have been cut back in Wyoming could be bolstered, and funding could be used to promote Wyoming product in specific markets throughout the U.S. and internationally. “We can work with the U.S. Meat Export Federation for promotions directly into export markets, or work directly with other state beef councils,” she explains. “We can invest however Wyoming producers want us to.”
Magagna says his organization began to look at presenting the request for additional state checkoff collection authority to the WBC, and when they looked at Wyoming statute there was some concern the WLSB may not have the authority to collect more than one dollar, because the language says “not to exceed one dollar.”
“At the time that meant for the state checkoff, but that’s currently the national one-dollar checkoff,” he says.
“There’s an Attorney General opinion from early ‘90s that indicates the thought that the WLSB could collect the state checkoff in addition to national dollar, but in visiting with the Attorney General’s office now, there is some concern that, while that may be doable, it may also be open to challenge,” notes Magagna. “In visiting with the Business Council, it was our feeling to address that up front and clarify the ability of the Livestock Board to collect a state checkoff up to a dollar in addition to whatever the national checkoff is.”
That clarification is in a bill presented to the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee in Buffalo in early October. “The bill says the Livestock Board, based on recommendation from the Beef Council, may collect up to a dollar in addition to the national checkoff,” clarifies Magagna.
“I emphasize that what the legislators have before them is not a decision in regard to whether or not additional checkoff funding will be collected, and it does not relate to what specific purposes that checkoff would be used for, other than within the scope fo the statutory authority of the beef council,” he continues. “It is simply clarifying procedure that, should the Beef Council decide to initiate a state checkoff, and should the Livestock Board accept that recommendation, they would have the authority to do so, up to that additional dollar.”
Also included in the legislation is an amendment passed by the Joint Ag Committee to increase the WLSB’s share of collected checkoff dollars from three percent to five percent, at the request of WLSB Director Jim Schwartz. Although Wittman says she’d rather use the money to promote beef, she does understand administrative costs have increased. “And we know collecting the checkoff without the assistance of the Livestock Board would cost us far more than five percent,” she says.