NCBA realizes reorganization misstep

That didn’t take long.

Before most of the newspapers carrying last week’s installment of this summer’s most popular soap opera, “The Beef Checkoff Chronicles,” could reach you, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reined in its “governance structure” plan “to allow,” it said in a June 25 press release, “the Federation of State Beef Councils an opportunity to clarify its role and intentions to all industry shareholders.”

For those of you who don’t speak the arcane language of checkoffs, permit me to interpret:

“Golly, we thought no one would notice our extra-legal takeover of the beef checkoff and its $80 million kitty. But, doggone it, USDA and, OK, maybe a bunch of others like (sigh) the American Farm Bureau and Farmers Union, caught us in the cookie jar. Ha ha!

“Well, we can’t beat USDA, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union so we’re blaming this whole mess on those whiners in the state associations who obviously want cattlemen to fail because they’re making it impossible for us really smart folks to run the world!”

Exaggeration? Not entirely if you read the e-mails NCBA President Steve Foglesong, an Illinois cattleman, sent concerning NCBA taking its checkoff plan back to the drawing board.

Change of heart

In a June 25 e-mail to “Industry Partners,” to alert all that NCBA “will not be going forward with changes to the bylaws,” Foglesong cited the key reason for the pullback as the same concern USDA and farm groups had with the NCBA plan last spring.

“… (W)e must also preserve a sound, legal Federation” — the collective voice of more than 45 state cattle and beef groups who control one-half of the $1-per-head beef checkoff — “which will continue to focus on the important work of improving beef demand,” explained the NCBA leader.

Legal; that’s the word NCBA’s dream tripped on early and often.

Oh, yeah. The law

USDA and the farm groups believed NCBA’s plan to control nearly every aspect of the beef checkoff violated the both the spirit and letter of the federal law that created it. They warned NCBA of that concern in writing and in person and to little effect.

Three days later, however, Foglesong forwarded by e-mail a long, rambling commentary by a cowboy writer named Troy Marshall that pretty much kicked the guts out of his earlier contrition and the checkoff’s leaders and their lack of “focus” while calling the NCBA “unassailable.”

Remarkably, Marshall penned the 1,725-word indictment of checkoff leaders without one mention of the not-so minor problem of legality.

In fact, he used no facts in his lengthy piece that, finally, near its conclusion, laid down a marker more worthy of a Soviet farm commune than a High Plains ranch.

“Our first order of business,” he offered, “should be to convene the leaders of the checkoff and policy sides — NCBA, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, R-CALF and others — and make it known that enough is enough; we cherish good debate and differences, but will no longer accept behavior destructive and counterproductive to the best interests of this industry.”

And who, comrade, defines what’s in “the best interests of this industry”? The Colorado cattleman didn’t say.

Nor did NCBA’s Foglesong — who forwarded the diatribe to his list of “Industry Leaders” as an example of what he described in a cover note as “healthy discussion” that “ultimately helps us get it right”

Nothing changed

Get it right? Don’t worry; it will be done right and that might mean it won’t be done by the pony boys at NCBA.

“We’ll look any new plan by NCBA,” said the checkoff’s CEO Tom Ramey in a June 30 telephone interview.

“At the same time, we want to know why NCBA has to do everything. Why can’t the Federation?”

Happy Independence Day, cattlemen.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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