Are state-by-state increases a way to boost the beef checkoff?

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 1, 2015 - As the debate over how to increase the beef checkoff nationally continues, several states are working to boost their own funds for local beef research and promotion.

Nationally, the checkoff - a $1 per head assessment on all cattle sold in the U.S. - has been under a microscope for the last three years as interested parties sought ways to increase the funding of the program and explore reforms of the governance process. Recently, seven members of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining proposed changes to the checkoff, most notably adding an additional dollar to the assessment, which in the year ending Sept. 30 generated about $40 million for the national program.

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Getting seven groups to agree to proposed changes to the checkoff was a small miracle in and of itself, observers say. Now, those seven groups are working to come up with a strategy to reconcile their proposed MOU with the 1985 Beef Promotion and Research Act and Order, the legislation that governs the current checkoff.

Those changes will face likely opposition from both the far left and the far right, so the road ahead for the BCEWG will likely be a rocky one. Forrest Roberts, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and co-chair of the BCEWG, told Agri-Pulse that the working group is developing a plan to enact the MOU, “but we've got a lot of details that are yet to be defined.”

In the meantime, many states are working on checkoff programs of their own. Several have already created programs at the state level, including Texas, whose cattle herd of 11.8 million head leads the nation. Proponents say the local programs are providing more funds for the states, while giving them the option to contribute more to the national fund.

“If (keeping the money locally is) what their leadership deems to be appropriate and they increase resources that can be utilized to create global demand for beef, then great,” Roberts said. “What we've seen is really solid proof that when you bring those dollars together . . . we're able to bring those points of funding together in a way that really increases the reach, whether it be around education, research, or promotion, in a very effective way.”

In North Dakota, a bill before the state legislature would allow for the creation of a $1 per head checkoff on cattle sold within the state, over and above the national program. The House passed the bill, House Bill No. 1238, and is now considering amendments made to the legislation by the Senate. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, North Dakota Stockmen's Association Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson said since the legislation that created the national checkoff was passed in 1985, the buying power of one dollar has fallen, and at the same time the overall size of the nation's cattle herd has decreased.

“The beef industry can certainly build a strong case for the value of the beef checkoff and the necessity to enhance resourcing needs,” Ellingson said. “Again, 30 years is a long time, and as we know, whether it be inflation, fewer cattle numbers, or simply the rising costs of everything from research and promotion, the need is real.”

North Dakota is far from the only state working on beef checkoff reform efforts on its own. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, said a bill is before the legislature that would strike language from an existing law prohibiting a state checkoff if a national checkoff is already in place. He said that would allow a referendum on whether Missouri's beef cattle producers want a state assessment. Deering also said he has heard that there are “about a dozen” other states working to establish their own checkoff or increase an assessment.

In North Dakota's case, Ellingson said members of her association - which, she noted does not receive or disburse checkoff funds -- felt it was important to increase the state's research and promotion funding. In the year ended June 30, North Dakota collected just over $1.1 million through the national checkoff, keeping half of that amount for local programs. Much like the national MOU, North Dakota's checkoff bill includes language that allows a producer to request a refund of the additional assessment. 

A unique aspect of North Dakota's potential increase is that it is being handled through legislation, and not by a referendum of producers. Different laws in different states lead to different avenues for a checkoff increase, so no two approaches will be the same. But could North Dakota's initiative, which appears to be sailing through a conservative legislature in a state that has had GOP leadership in the House, Senate and governor's office since 1995, be a barometer for the time when a national increase comes before Congress?

Roberts said it's hard to say because state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be vastly different, but he and the rest of the BCEWG will continue their efforts to bring their MOU to and through Capitol Hill.

“What our focus is and will continue to be is how we continue to work on the approach for increasing the national assessment,” Roberts said. “We know that's a long-term approach… something that doesn't happen overnight, obviously, by virtue of it's taken us a long time to get to this point.”

 

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