Cross-section of producers give beef checkoff thumbs up in national survey

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SALEM, Ohio – About 8,000 beef, dairy and veal producers nationwide answered ringing phones last fall and gave a united voice to thousands of U.S. beef producers: ‘We approve of the beef checkoff.’
Results of the Beef Checkoff Survey, released by USDA Jan. 26, show 72 percent of U.S. beef producers approve and have a positive attitude toward the beef checkoff program.
About the checkoff. The program assesses a $1-per-head fee on all cattle sold in the United States and a $1-per-head equivalent on imported cattle, beef and beef products, to invest in programs aimed at increasing demand for beef.
The checkoff also aims to improve profit opportunities for cattle producers and importers who pay into it.
USDA
oversees the program, which is administered by the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, commonly known as the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
Part of settlement. The survey was conducted as part of a court settlement between Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Livestock Marketing Association.
The marketing association challenged the act, saying the generic beef advertising that came from the mandatory checkoff was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
In May 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Beef Promotion and Research Act was constitutional.
Checkoff dollars funded the survey.
Still going. Beef Board chair Jay O’Brien said during a teleconference the survey results echoed the same checkoff support the beef board had been finding for years through other surveys: If given a vote, more than 75 percent of producers were likely ask to continue the checkoff.
However, those farmers and ranchers also said one other thing that’s making the livestock organizations sit up and listen.
Gallup poll officials said more than 90 percent of the ranchers “whoppingly approved” the idea of the checkoff’s purse funding promotion only of beef that’s both born and raised in the U.S.
Currently, the program promotes beef, in general, regardless of its source, since importers pay into the checkoff the same as any Ohio or Pennsylvania farmer would.
It would take a change in law to modify the current beef checkoff to allow this, according to Randall Jones of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
“The law will not allow them to promote only U.S. beef because we’re collecting on all,” he said.
“It’s up to the industry to lobby to change that law.”
Even if promoting only U.S. born and raised beef meant canceling the checkoff assessment on imported beef and beef products, 75 percent of the survey respondents still strongly or somewhat agree that a portion of the checkoff dollars should be used to promote only U.S. beef.
Currently, $8-$9 million or 10 percent of the checkoff collected comes from imports.
Working together. USDA, Cattlemen’s Beef Board, Livestock Marketing Association, and Federation of State Beef Councils officials worked together to develop the survey questions.
The teamwork of those groups led to “a lot of questions never asked of producers before that need attention,” according to Nancy Robinson of the Livestock Marketing Association.
Only just begun. Livestock Marketing Association president Jim Santomaso calls the survey “an excellent starting point for a national discussion of ways to improve the beef checkoff.”
Santomaso said the survey, the largest of its kind in the two decades since the checkoff began, will help leaders focus on three areas where producers are asking for changes. Those areas are the checkoff contracting process, the referendum, and promotion of U.S. beef.
The beef board, in the meantime, still aims to increase beef demand by at least 10 percent by 2010.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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