The industry has long struggled with the dilemma of how to collect funds to build demand, the importance of which virtually everyone understands. However, even the $1 checkoff, which produces a miniscule budget – relative to the size of our industry – for promotion and research, is still being debated. And that’s despite the huge return that producers have seen and are enjoying on their investment.
Beef demand remains the key driver, but there’s been a major shift in the factors driving beef demand. All one has to do is look at the groups aligned against animal agriculture and their tactics. Yes, they continue to attack the industry on a health basis, while competitive proteins attack beef on a consistency and price basis. However, increasingly, these activists are using issues ranging from the environment to animal welfare to attack not only beef production, but beef demand as well.
Even today, the biggest concerns about the market are focused on some outside market disturbance – a disease outbreak, for instance, a food safety concern, or some other event that slows or stops the weak economic growth this country is experiencing. In certain states where the urban vs. rural makeup is decidedly unfavorable to livestock production, the use of initiatives and the political process are a primary tool for these groups.
Because activist groups utilize so many directions to attack livestock production – the environment, endangered species, nutrition, etc. – it’s difficult to imagine that we can continue to sustain ourselves at the funding levels that the industry currently provides itself. In the past, tremendous grassroots involvement by producers helped mitigate the lack of financial investment. But today’s narrow margins, and the free-loader concept, limit investment.
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If you throw in the industry division created over a few issues and the level of demagoguery associated with them, the industry’s investment and capability in issues management are barely holding their own; and this at a time when the need is increasing dramatically. The risk associated with these issues isn’t diminishing, and the industry must do some soul searching and proactive thinking to determine how to modernize its current models to ensure the effectiveness of these programs going forward.
My outside job gives me the opportunity to see these industry groups up close, and the power of their funding almost daily. While I understand their importance, I have to admit that my investment in organizations tends to be more in terms of personal time than financial. I know there’s a cost associated with that as well, but it’s sometimes easier to do than to sit down and write the check.
I’m building our annual budgets as we speak, and I aim to try to build in a budget line that addresses building demand, issues management, and maintaining our overall industry business environment. I know the value of such an investment, but I suspect that I’m like most, and hope that somebody else is picking up the slack. Unfortunately, I think I’m part of a solid majority.
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