Of the four recommendations agreed upon by the 18-member Industry-Wide Beef Checkoff Task Force (see "Checkoff Task Force Issues Recommendations," Sept. 15 BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly), the most controversial undoubtedly will be to raise the checkoff fee to $2/head. It's a smart move, as inflation has eroded the value of a dollar; just to reach equivalency with what $1 was worth in 1985, the $1 checkoff should be $1.77 today.
And everyone agrees the millions invested in the self-help program have been a good investment; the checkoff has always enjoyed very strong majority support.
That said, however, life is never that simple, and the checkoff is a unique industry issue. Many have been hesitant to make adjustments to the checkoff because it would mean reopening the law. In a reopened law, not only the beef industry would offer input, but every environmental, food safety, animal rights activist group, etc., in the country, as well. Problem is they have a much different agenda than increasing beef consumption.
The checkoff is the only mechanism our largely commodity business has to fund research and build demand; its vital importance is widely understood. And a lot of folks -- both inside and outside the industry -- are drooling over the political leverage possible by tying their support of the checkoff to non-related issues (similar to Congress attaching all of its pork-barrel initiatives to important bills).
The potential danger from such initiatives is obvious. It could devastate the checkoff's support within the industry and reduce the program's ability to deliver on the investment producers are making. The industry needs to agree on whether it supports the task-force recommendations then agree to work together to push only those recommendations.
Without broad leadership, the industry risks more internal fighting and relegation of the checkoff to a pawn in a battle for power. It's time for the industry to prove it can work together for the good of the industry and accept the democratic principles of compromise and majority rule.
Let's hope our leaderships will be able to avoid the landmines and give the industry the tool it needs to compete in the 21st century.
-- Troy Marshall