NCBA says increase checkoffWritten by Jennifer Womack
LMA support hinges on key changes
Reno, Nev. – Meeting in Reno, Nevada early February members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed their support for an increase in the beef checkoff assessment.
“Twenty plus years of inflation have really eroded the beef checkoff’s ability to fulfill all the expectations we have placed on it over the years,” said NCBA President John Queen. “And increases in beef production have come primarily from higher cattle weights, rather than herd expansion. That’s another reason revenues don’t keep up with the industry’s needs. We’re producing more beef, but the revenue we need to market it doesn’t keep pace.”
While NCBA is one of several contractors that manage checkoff-funded programs, it doesn’t collect the checkoff or determine the assessment rate. Collection and expenditure of the checkoff rest with the Cattlemen’s Beef Board at the national level, while state beef councils manage the state portion. Any increase in the $1 per head rate would require action by Congress to amend the Beef Promotion and Research Act.
Cattlemen directed NCBA to ask Congress to approve a process that will allow producers to vote on enhancements to their Beef Checkoff Program.
“All we’re asking Congress to do is empower cattle producers with a referendum process, so they can control the destiny of their checkoff,” said incoming NCBA Policy Division Chairman Bill Donald, a rancher from Melville, Mont. “Producers will decide whether to increase the checkoff assessment, but this will put the procedure in place that allows them to do that.”
NCBA members declined to ask for a specific increase in the checkoff rate, but did request that Congress ensure that the program is adequately funded.
“The sense of the cattlemen at this convention is that $2 per head (a $1 increase) would adequately fund the program at this point in time,” said Donald. “But that can change over time, which is why we didn’t include a specific rate in today’s resolution.”
Other proposed changes to the Beef Checkoff Program supported by NCBA include:
Simplifying the petition process that determines whether a referendum will be held on continuation of the checkoff. A valid petition signed by 10 percent of the nation’s cattle producers would trigger USDA to hold a referendum within one year.
Establish a similar petition/referendum process for future increases in the checkoff assessment. This would allow cattlemen to approve or disapprove a proposed increase, without taking the question back to Congress.
Eliminate any reference to their charter date in determining whether organizations are eligible to manage checkoff-funded programs. Currently, some livestock organizations are not eligible because they were formed after 1986.
NCBA members also discussed whether the checkoff should be used to specifically promote U.S. born and raised beef. Currently, U.S. beef is specifically promoted only in foreign markets, while domestic programs promote all beef. This is due in part to the fact that assessments on imported cattle and beef account for about 11 percent (roughly $8 million per year) of Beef Checkoff Program revenues. Members directed that by June 1, NCBA report back to members of its Agriculture Policy Committee with amendment options to address this issue. But the resolution specifies that options maintaining the assessment on imported cattle and beef should be strongly considered.
The Livestock Marketing Association, a party in the legal challenge to the checkoff that was decided earlier this decade, responded to NCBA’s action on Feb. 11. A policy proposal approved by the LMA board of directors and membership last year conditioned LMA’s support for any increase in the checkoff on five enhancements to the program. They are:
• A producer referendum every five to seven years on continuing the program.
Beef, dairy and veal producers be allowed to vote on any increase.
• Checkoff dollars be used to promote U.S. born and raised beef.
• “All interested, qualified entities” be permitted to contract with the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to conduct checkoff-funded projects.
• Checkoff funds currently collected by state beef councils and remitted to the Federation of State Beef Councils for national beef research, promotion and other projects, be redirected to the CBB for budgeting to national projects.
NCBA’s policy now goes out to its entire membership for approval. Convention results become official only after this mail-in ballot process concludes in March.