Vilsack gives up on second beef checkoff

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2014 -  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, facing a congressional directive telling him not to implement a new beef checkoff, is dropping plans to create the program.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the existing program's largest contractor, strongly opposed Vilsack's plan for a second checkoff, and the explanatory statement accompanying the fiscal 2015 omnibus bill that President Obama signed this week included language telling him not to start one.

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“The proposal for a second checkoff program was designed to help the industry achieve its goal. However, as the appropriations bill Congress passed last week directed the Department not to implement a second beef checkoff program, USDA will no longer pursue that solution,” the department said in a statement today.

“USDA encourages the beef industry to work together to determine ways to secure more resources for the beef checkoff program so that it can continue to support cattle ranchers around the country."

The explanatory statement doesn't carry the legal weight of a prohibition in law, but Vilsack risked raising the ire of appropriators who control his department's budget if he went forward with his plan, which he announced this fall in the wake of an industry impasse over changes to the existing checkoff program. Vilsack had said he wanted to have the new program in place by December 2015.

Vilsack disclosed his decision to drop the idea of a second checkoff in an interview with DTN.

Negotiations among industry stakeholders have been ongoing for the last three years in efforts to increase the $1 per head of cattle sold assessment as well as some changes in the approximately $80 million fund's governance. Without a consensus, Vilsack said he would create a parallel checkoff governed under general commodities legislation passed in 1996, because the 1985 law that created the existing program requires congressional approval for changes.

The National Farmers Union was a member of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) until September, when its board voted to withdraw from negotiations, calling them “a waste of time and money.” In a statement, NFU President Roger Johnson said he was “very appreciative and supportive” of Vilsack's actions, but NCBA action prevented producers from seeing how a beef checkoff governed by the 1996 act would work.

 

“There is one major barrier to bringing about real and meaningful change to the beef checkoff and that is the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) . . . In fact, on the very day that comments were due to USDA about how to reform the checkoff program, NCBA lobbied to have a rider attached to a spending bill protecting the status quo,” Johnson said in a statement. “Of course, that came as no surprise to anyone. NFU will continue to advocate for a new direction for the beef checkoff under the 1996 commodity promotion law . . . Additionally, we will work to ensure there is a single checkoff program that expands markets and invests in meaningful research, education and promotion for the good of the entire industry.”

Even after Vilsack announced his plans for a parallel checkoff at the end of September, BCEWG negotiations remained ongoing, with Vilsack pledging to withdraw his efforts if the industry could come to a compromise. Discussions in the last few months have involved working to draft a Memorandum of Understanding amongst members of the group to present to members of their respective organizations at upcoming annual meetings.

In November, Vilsack reiterated to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters that he would prefer a solution from the BCEWG, but wasn't willing to wait for the group to act.

 

This story was updated at 5 p.m.
 

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