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Check-up On The Check-off
— by Lee Pitts

In case you thought it was just we here at the Digest making a big deal about the merger and the subsequent confiscation of the beef checkoff by the NCBA, we share with you quotes from other interested parties. Admittedly, we present more negative comments than positive, figuring that the CBB and the NCBA have already spent four million of your dollars in the last ten months telling their side of the story. That should have provided ample opportunity to make their case.

"The beef checkoff isn´t all bad. But there are areas where improvement is needed, including accountability. If taking the checkoff to a referendum will send that message to the Secretary of Agriculture, then let´s do it." — Chris Abbott, Nebraska Sandhills Cattleman.

"The stuffed shirts are, even as we speak, creating an advertising blitz, not for promotion of beef, but rather the beef checkoff itself. A referendum would cost too much: all those wasted funds should be used for more gainful pursuits, like golf tourneys in temperate climes and other languid respites. When the checkoff was a voluntary collection,there was in effect a referendum at the time of each and every sale. If it ain´t broke don´t fix it. Not content to allow a cowman to decide for himself if it is worthwhile, the now famous mandatory beef checkoff was masterfully force fed, complete with the full weight of the government´s mighty hand upon any who dare to retain any of his own money for his own selfish designs. Now my money (and opinion) has about the same effect as a yard dart thrown into a section of summer fallow when it´s given to the packer controlled, custodian of the checkoff: the NCBA." — K.T. Hayward, rancher from Parks, Nebraska

"The Cattlemen´s Beef Board continually asserts that a referendum isn´t needed, because the checkoff is producer run and the majority of producers support the program. However the 60,000 signatures we´ve gathered in the last ninety days on our referendum petitions would indicate otherwise."-- Hatch Smith, LMA President speaking in March

"Whenever market share is lost, over a ten year period, we´re not doing something right. I´m saying it´s time for a review. We have to challenge the fact that demand has not come up. There needs to be rethinking of where are dollars spent." -- Larry Jantzen, Kansas cattleman and petition signee who was also the Business Manager for the NCA in the late 1980´s and the architect of the National Beef Checkoff´s accounting system

"As a producer, I am pleased and encouraged by the progress we´re making with our checkoff investments. During our cattle industry annual convention in Charlotte we heard that the checkoff is working as a catalyst for new product development, and even had an opportunity to taste products now being introduced to consumers a round the country. We saw the new consumer advertising with the familiar "rodeo" music and "Beef. It´s What´s for Dinner" theme. I and other producers were excited about our efforts to educate consumers about beef´s important role in a healthful diet. And we even heard from ag. economist Dr. Wayne Purcell, who said his data indicates that for the first time in two decades that the beef demand appears to have stabilized. But there´s more work to be done and now is not the time to be diverted. We must focus our checkoff efforts on building demand for beef." -- George Swan, Idaho cattleman and new NCBA President

"NCBA is using their quasi-governmental status and authority to advocate a radical restructuring of the beef industry. NCBA advocates abandonment of a competitive-bid market structure in the beef industry in favor of a trans-national corporatized system. In doing so, NCBA claims to speak for a million independent producers. In fact, it is really serving as a mouth piece for centralized food conglomerates like IBP, ConAgra, Sysco, Sara Lee, Cactus Feeders. Simplot, National Farms, Harris Farms and a rapidly growing network of smaller captive supply feeders." — Northern Plains Resource Council

"U.S. producers pay almost all of the $600 million used to fund commodity research and promotion programs each year."-- Gene Paul, National Farmers President

"The NCBA has spent the last year listening and learning from its members and others in the industry and we have begun the process of strengthening our organization to meet the needs of cattlemen today. This process has been assigned to a Blue Ribbon Commission that will seek information and input over the next few months and then present our recommendation to our board during our summer conference in July. NCBA is poised for change and ready to provide bold new leadership. We will continue to move forward in order to achieve the vision of a dynamic and profitable beef industry." — George Swan, NCBA President

"Most producers feel strongly that it makes no sense for us to be paying the advertising expenses of multi-billion dollar corporations to sell foreign beef. We also object to having two-thirds of the $10 million NCBA spends on staff salaries and benefits and 70% of NCBA´s overheads paid by producer´s checkoff dollars. It´s outrageous that NCBA is living off funds paid by family ranchers while they use our money to advocate economic policies that fundamentally threaten the future of independent family ranching in America." -- Jeanne Charter, Montana rancher who with husband Steve, refused paying the checkoff on the sale of a set of their cattle as a direct challenge to the merging of the NCA and CBB.

"Most of the NCBA employees had either little or no farm/ranch background. But they sure had lots of good reasons why my business would go in the toilet if I didn´t let them handle my money." — Tim Latham, Powell Wyoming Cattleman

"Ranchers pay into the checkoff program but make no money. Beef packers and supermarkets don´t pay into the checkoff programs but make lots of money. Something is wrong here. Advertising our own products so someone else can make a profit selling them is like asking workers in steel plants to fund the promotion of toaster ovens or cars. The NCBA is embarrassed that market share has decreased and is searching for another tactic. Its current focus is to develop quick and easy microwavable beef meals. Now perhaps ease of cooking is the problem, or perhaps not, but the fact is that beef packers and retail stores have seen their profits from beef sales rocket out of sight, while rancher´s ledger sheets are bleeding gallons of red ink. Why should an organization representing only 3-4 percent of producers control money which 100 percent of producers are required to pay?" — Giles Stockton, Montana rancher

"The business of the Beef Board needs to be selling more beef and improving markets for cattlemen. We must not let ourselves be diverted from this mission by a continuing controversy resulting from misinformation and innuendo." — Les McNeill, CBB Executive Committee

"Our interest all along has simply been to find a mechanism to bring the checkoff to an immediate vote, and a periodic vote every 3-5 years. The producers who pay for this program deserve no less, and to assume that the LMA is not aggressively moving forward to gain signatures is extremely inaccurate." — Hatch Smith, LMA

"It is hugely ironic that all the while the CBB, NCBA and the state beef councils have been decrying the cost of holding a referendum, they have spent four million plus of the producer´s promotion and research dollars, so there won´t be one."-- Nancy Robinson, VP for Government Affairs for the LMAtestifying at government oversight hearings on ag checkoffs.

"The original concept of the beef checkoff program started within LMA. It was only through their extensive efforts that the individual state cattlemen´s associations were convinced and the idea moved forward." — Ed Uvacek, respected ag economist and columnist