With the future of the checkoff in doubt, this is probably a good time to reexamine the program and why the industry felt it was needed in the first place. This industry’s greatest strengths are its people and our product. Likewise, our industry’s greatest weaknesses are our people and our product. That may not be as contradictory as it initially sounds.
Most of us love the independence and freedom that come from the cattle business. It’s created an amazing worth ethos and very strong values and beliefs that have allowed this industry to prosper for hundreds of years. That independent nature has helped cattlemen and cattlewomen thrive, but it’s also hindered us to some extent.
We aren’t like the pork and poultry industries in that we don’t raise our animals in consistent, controlled environments. By grazing our animals, we utilize land in this country that isn’t suitable for farming, and thereby turn sunshine into food. It’s always been a highly diverse, capital-intensive and highly segmented business as a result.
Our structure, especially in a commodity business, became problematic from a marketing and demand-building standpoint. The beef checkoff was written and passed nearly 30 years ago by cattle producers in response to a critical issue – beef consumption was in decline. There was a need for research, promotion and education. The checkoff side of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was created as a means to effectively design and conduct those programs. It created a cooperator with the infrastructure and skill sets required to accomplish the goals of the checkoff.
The results have been impressive, and the success of the checkoff and the merger has surprised both its strongest supporters and critics.
Given the checkoff’s success in strengthening the cattle industry, and overwhelming producer support for the program, the logical question is why do some want to destroy the current program.
It’s complicated, because there are a lot of dynamics in play. Let’s begin with the merger between the National Livestock and Meat Board and the old National Cattlemen’s Association, which created NCBA.
The firewall between the policy and checkoff sides of NCBA has been the most closely guarded barrier of all. In fact, most observers will tell you that NCBA’s membership or policy side has probably ended up subsidizing the checkoff side in a small way. That’s because, if there is going to be any error, it’s going to be on the side of not jeopardizing the checkoff.
And no one seriously believes it to be otherwise. However, this issue has been asserted from time to time by opponents of NCBA’s policy side who don’t agree with its membership positions. Vilsack and his alliance with Farmer’s Union is simply well-orchestrated political maneuvering.
The great irony is that there are real and substantive issues with the checkoff, mainly surrounding too much government control and oversight. As always, government’s response to excessive regulation and oversight is to take more control and usurp more power from constituents.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk one day about what is happening in Washington, D.C., in terms of serving others and solving problems instead of a discussion centered on politics, power and greed?
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Farm Progress Group.
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