Checkoff changes receive mixed reaction in WyoWritten by Jennifer Womack
Alterations being discussed on the national level
Casper – Increasing the checkoff and management of the program has received a lot of debate at the national level, but what do people here in Wyoming think?
“I think it should be increased,” says Douglas rancher Aaron Clausen, “but the increase should go toward advertising for domestic product.”
“I think it’s a good program,” says Thermopolis rancher Jim Wilson. “I would accept the increase to $2 if they put in Country of Origin Labeling. To me that’s the deciding factor”
“I think the checkoff has got to go up,” says Tom Wright noting support for a $2 fee or more. He also supports structural changes as outlined by a multi-organization task force that reviewed the checkoff following the lawsuit over its legality (See sidebar).
“At a time when I’m told the Australians are levying $5 per head, yeah I think we ought to go to $2,” says Wright. He also says importers should pay and be involved in the program. “The fact is that 15 percent of our beef is imported and if we’re going to promote beef we’re going to promote them so they might as well pay.”
Midwest rancher Frank Shepperson supports the increase, but would like to see a portion of funds directed to promoting U.S. beef. He’d also like to see the 1986 charter date removed so a broader array of organizations can contract to carry out programs funded using checkoff dollars.
As much as she hates the thought of paying more, Converse County rancher Terry Henderson says there probably should be an increase. “The program was created to benefit ranchers and if that benefit is going to continue we’re going to have to keep funding it at a more appropriate level,” says Henderson.
Casper rancher Bill Keith says the timing is poor for an increase. “I think they ought to wait a while,” he says noting uncertainty surrounding the drought. “Ranchers are having a tough time with the drought and they’ve cut their numbers. Let’s leave it where it is and see how things turn out.”
“It would probably work while the calf prices stay up,” says Clara Wilson who ranches along the Cheyenne River in northeastern Wyoming, “but if they would go down, the $2 a head would most likely remain. And I have a problem promoting Mexican, Canadian and other foreign beef.”
Doug Cooper, Casper, says any increase should be accompanied by periodic referendums. “I think the checkoff should be targeted toward specific beef products and away from generic advertisement,” says Cooper. “We don’t go to the restaurant and say bring me a beef. We ask for a steak.”
“I also think the checkoff should promote American products, but sadly that is a complicated issue,” says Cooper. “At the minimum we should be able to promote cattle raised, fed and processed in the U.S.”
“I think that a beef promotion and marketing program does have value and based on what it is now there has been value,” says Gillette rancher Eric Barlow. “I don’t mind going to $2, but the producers have to have a voice in doing that. I think that second dollar should be explicitly for U.S. beef and state of origin beef.”
Wyoming’s agricultural organizations have policy on the checkoff, most often asking for some changes to accompany any increase.
“We’d only support an increase if there’s a producer referendum to support it,” says Scott Zimmerman of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Of his group’s checkoff policies in general, he says producers should have the opportunity for a refund.
“We think it should be charged not only on domestic, but also imported, product,” says Zimmerman. RMFU doesn’t necessarily believe a seat on the board of directors overseeing expenditures should accompany payment.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association has policy on its books supporting the recommendations of the industry-wide task force (see sidebar).
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says their national organization is supportive of the increase. “I’d like to see us focus a little more on products raised in this country,” says Hamilton. “If we’re going to start labeling our products it would be a good time to tell consumers the difference.”
While her organization doesn’t yet have specific policy Moorcroft rancher and Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) president Judy McCullough isn’t supportive of an increase. She’s critical of what she describes as too close of a partnership between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and checkoff dollars. “When I see my calf prices double I’ll think about it,” she comments. “When they passed the checkoff they said it was to increase our calf prices. They were about a dollar then and they’re still about a dollar.” McCullough also says she’d like to see promotions limited to U.S. beef.