Task force’s work points to facelift for 20-year-old beef checkoff

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SALEM, Ohio – After 20 years, it may be time for the beef checkoff to get a facelift.
A panel of 18 beef industry representatives worked throughout the summer to analyze the checkoff, and last week issued a handful of recommendations to make the program more effective.
However, since the task force has no legislative power, its work is only the research phase of any change that may happen. Beef industry groups and individuals now have to take the next step.
Success. The Industry-Wide Beef Checkoff Task Force had representatives from six states – California, Montana, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas – as well as importers and beef industry experts.
Also at the table were delegates from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation, both described by task force co-chair Scott VanderWal as “key movers” of the task force.
Recommendations. To enhance the beef checkoff, the task force came up with four recommendations.
First, the group says beef producers need the right to petition for a referendum, similar to what soybean producers can do with that industry’s checkoff.
The task force said beef producers should be allowed to say every five years whether the checkoff should continue. Ten percent of a county’s beef producers signing a petition at county offices should trigger a USDA vote, the group said.
New value. The task force also calls for bumping the checkoff from $1 per head to $2 per head.
Jamie Willrett, co-chair and representative from the NCBA, said inflation pushed the value of $1 in 1986, when the checkoff started, to $1.77 today.
“We’ve lost a lot of purchasing power,” he said.
Though there’s been no survey as to whether producers would accept the doubled price, Willrett said the task force approached the checkoff on a needs basis.
Looking at competition from Australia and Canada, and from poultry producers, Willrett said U.S. beef producers need $100 million in promotion to remain competitive in the protein market.
That $1 increase is expected to generate a total $1.07 billion, which includes an extra $32 per head sold added to the rancher’s pocketbook as a result of the checkoff’s marketing help.
The way that money is divided is proposed to stay the same – $1 would go to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board at the national level, and $1 would go to state beef councils.
State councils. According to the task force, there’s also some confusion about how state beef councils work together to implement the checkoff.
Currently, 45 state beef councils come together to direct the beef checkoff program, Willrett said.
The task force’s suggestion is for the Federation of State Beef Councils, as it’s known now, to consider changing its name so farmer-ranchers know who they’re dealing with on a more local basis.
Who runs it? There’s confusion as to who runs the beef checkoff, too. While surveys show 71 percent of beef producers are very happy with the checkoff, very few of them can explain how it works, or who runs it, according to John Huston, a task force facilitator.
When asked, survey respondents answered the government, NCBA and the beef board run the checkoff, but the biggest number said they were clueless, Huston said.
State beef councils should work to separate their identity from the NCBA, the task force said.
“It may be as simple as changing the name so it doesn’t cross over in people’s minds,” VanderWal said.
The fourth suggestion is for the checkoff program to become more inclusive through a change to wording in the Beef Promotion and Research Order.
Only an idea. The recommendations are merely suggestions to help the farm organizations study the checkoff and develop their own policies, VanderWal said.
“The industry will decide from the grassroots level where these recommendations will go,” he said.
“There’s no concrete process as we go forward,” Willrett said, noting each industry group represented on the board will work through policy and possibly come back together next year to make the suggestions into reality.
“It’s daunting, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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