While there are literally thousands of issues on the beef industry’s radar screen today, the clearest message I picked up at last week’s Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, TN, was that producers are tired of all the infighting. They want the industry and its organizations to remain focused on those things that truly matter.
The checkoff may have been at the brink of collapse not that long ago, but it appears that producers, voluntary leaders and staff have stepped forward to put an end to it. Sure, there will continue to be changes and it will take some time to heal bitter feelings. And, certainly, there are still folks who would like to continue to foment disunion, but they have neither the voice nor the support they once enjoyed.
That doesn’t mean, however, that policy making will ever be anything but a messy process. But, the thousands of local cattlemen groups affiliated with various state cattlemen groups, and all those groups affiliated with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocition (NCBA), will continue to engage in the process to develop policy that represents the majority of producers and, hopefully, is in the best interest of the industry.
I’ve yet to join an organization that develops policy that is 100% in line with my thinking. Reasonable people will always disagree. Yet, it was obvious last week that people – aware of what it had cost the industry – were looking beyond the infighting.
Those of us engaged in beef production have too much in common, and too much at stake, to speak with multiple voices. We need to speak and act together. Sadly, when minority groups began to break off on their own, the industry became more polarized; suddenly, sustaining the new organizations and/or movements became more important than even the initial agenda.
That’s why we’ve seen, and continue to see, such ludicrous rhetoric. Just this week, for instance, I read comments inferring that NCBA was somehow packer-controlled or manipulated. I’ve been to more than 20 state cattlemen’s conventions and probably 15 national conventions and have yet to see policy shaped or brought forth by the packing industry.
I’ve sat in on hundreds of meetings and have watched producers vote based on what they thought was in the best interest of the industry. Like most folks, I’ve disagreed occasionally, but anyone who’s watched the process knows what a grassroots effort the policy process truly is.
I recently also read comments by those who continue to want to create a chasm between the national beef checkoff and NCBA; they claim that 80% of NCBA’s budget is funded by the checkoff, which essentially means all producers – via their mandatory checkoff contributions – are being forced to fund NCBA.
First of all, there are two sides to NCBA. There is a checkoff side and a policy side. The checkoff side works as a cooperator with the checkoff and is totally separate from the policy side of NCBA. The checkoff side was created to make us more effective in our demand-building efforts by allowing for greater coordination, more efficiency, and more focus around a unified industry vision and strategic plan. By all accounts, it’s worked tremendously.
Those checkoff dollars are being spent on building demand under programs decided and administered by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and others who have no relationship with the policy side of NCBA. And, anyone who takes the time to understand the structure of the organization and the firewalls in place will understand that the policy side of NCBA is and remains distinct.
I sense that the majority of producers have decided to ignore those who wish to create division within the industry and have dropped out of the democratic grassroots process. Rather, they want to get refocused on the issues that will advance this industry, build demand and increase industry sustainability and profitability.
Perhaps that means that the outside groups that must create animosity to survive will have to become even more shrill to be noticed. But, it appears that the industry realizes that it has too many challenges from within and from outside to be bogged down in internal power struggles.