Most recent checkoff violation comes with some choreography.
Another Montana rancher has been charged with violating the Beef Promotion and Research Act and Order. In early October, USDA officially charged Rosebud County's Wallace McRae for refusing to pay the $1/head beef checkoff.
Like other checkoff protesters, McRae faces a lengthy legal battle and stiff fines in this lose-lose fight with his neighbors in the beef business.
One reason the checkoff has been so well supported for almost two decades is that it's fair to everyone; everyone pays their fair share, and everyone who pays benefits. The checkoff is progressive, and it does not discriminate.
But, don't be led into thinking this act of defiance comes from a lone rancher watching the sun set from the back of his horse. The flames of his actions are being fanned in part by a pseudo-environmental organization masquerading as an agricultural group.
A Long Record Of Defying Progress The Billings, MT-based Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) has a long record of defying progress in the cattle industry, agriculture and the other resource industries in the region. With scattered agricultural membership, NPRC is staffed and maintained largely by anti-business, anti-development and pro-environmental activists bent on keeping agriculture and our economy sequestered in an 1800s mentality.
For 30 years, NPRC has stood in the way of reasonable development, while paving the way (so to speak) to the city for hundreds who would love to make their living from the land.
Seldom is NPRC not at loggerheads with the traditional agricultural organizations when it comes to policy and the economics of agribusiness. They rarely support laws or initiatives that will help build infrastructure in agriculture, energy development, transportation or mining.
It's no surprise that NPRC members would oppose the current approach to the checkoff - an approach that looks at the big picture of beef promotion and research. But, we cannot mom-and-pop our way through this business. It takes Wall Street, and it takes Hollywood. It takes calculated research, and it takes risks. And, it takes money.
Of course, it is also no accident that this recent act of defiance is being choreographed at a time when the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) is pursuing a referendum on the checkoff. They know what they're doing - and we know why they're doing it.
The livestock markets, pure and simple, see themselves being left in a cloud of dust as the beef industry charges into a new era. No longer is the local auction barn the center of an area's livestock marketing activity.
This is no knock on the auctions, the people who run them or the people who are trying to keep them alive. It's just that there are inefficiencies in the cattle business that cannot keep up with the structure of the industry.
Paul Engler said it best recently when he pointed out that you don't see any chickens being taken to an auction market. But, therein lies the rub.
Outfits like NPRC and the LMA hate people like Engler. He's big, he's successful, and he's aggressive in business. And, he's gotten big by getting rid of inefficiencies.
We've screamed for decades that we have too many middlemen in this business who only create cost and do not add value. Now that we have computers and satellites replacing the gavel and the sale ring, there is a mad scramble to say "Whoa, this is not the way we envisioned reducing inefficiencies."
We Need A Common Vision Truth is, we cannot direct the course of change when everyone has a personal agenda. We can only direct the course of change with a common vision.
The auction market owners see their ox being gored. They are losing business to direct marketing supported by new technology, and they are losing out to the streamlining created by a growing list of production and marketing alliances.
They see the checkoff as the villain. But, the only villain is a changing world.
We're never going to all see the beef industry through the same eyes. It's too big, too structurally diverse and too spread out geographically for that. But, in order to survive as an industry and prosper individually, we need to open our eyes to what's going on around us and figure out where we can fit in.
I remember once when gathering bulls we had an old boy who refused to come out of the thorn bushes and head for home with the rest of the herd. He just kept burying himself deeper and deeper into the brush. We finally rode off and left him. He nearly starved to death before he came out and wandered home.
We've all been in the same fix as that bull. As an industry, let's not wallow in the bushes and get left behind. Let's look up, do our jobs, carry our own weight and reinvest some of what we get out of it for the good of everyone involved.