Cattlemen urged to sign petition for checkoff’s security

SALEM, Ohio – As the national beef checkoff sits in limbo, Ohio is making sure its state marketing dollars are secure.

The Ohio Cattlemen’s Association hopes to increase the state checkoff from 50 cents to $1 per head.

Farmers already pay $1, but half ends up in the national checkoff and half in the state fund. With the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s proposal, the state would still collect the full dollar if the national checkoff ended.

The association’s executive director, Elizabeth Harsh, stressed producers will not pay more than they are now.

In the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the federal checkoff’s constitutionality as early as this fall. If it agrees with lower courts that said it’s a First Amendment violation, the national checkoff would end.

Harsh calls the association’s proposal an “insurance policy” to protect the beef checkoff in case this happens, however she does not anticipate the Supreme Court will rule the checkoff unconstitutional.

But she adds the increase in the state collection would protect the beef checkoff program if the national fund didn’t exist.

Ohio’s beef checkoff is a separate state statute and would not be effected if the national program ended, she said.

Timeline. The first step is a petition for a statewide referendum.

Harsh hopes to have the 1,000 required signatures by early September and the referendum by the end of the year. The signatures, however, will be good for 12 months, she said.

Nearly 70 percent of producers across the country support the beef checkoff, Harsh said. And the association credits the checkoff’s marketing efforts for the 16-percent increase in consumer beef demand since 1998.

The national beef checkoff generates approximately $78 million a year, and the Ohio checkoff raises about $385,000, Harsh said.

Provision. The referendum would include a provision to continue reciprocal agreements with other state beef checkoff organizations. This means when a Michigan cow is being sold at an Ohio auction, the checkoff fee would go back to the state of origin, Harsh said.

This isn’t a change from the current policy, she said, but it would give Ohio Beef Council the authority to arrange these agreements.

‘Yes’ vote. Ohio’s beef checkoff program dates back to 1970 when producers first voted to establish a statewide beef checkoff at 10 cents per head.

Subsequent referendums gradually increased the checkoff until the national beef checkoff, Beef Promotion and Research Act, was established through the 1985 farm bill.

In 1988, following the first 18 months of operation, beef producers voted to continue the national program. Eighty-five percent of Ohio beef producers voted “yes.”

Signature. Individuals eligible to sign the petition must have marketed cattle in their name within the last 12 months. Petition eligibility includes juniors who have sold a 4-H dairy or beef animal in their name during the last 12 months.

Petitions are available at auction markets and through county fair activities coordinated by county cattlemen’s associations.

A petition will also be printed in the summer issue of Ohio Cattlemen.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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