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The Checkoff Soap Opera Continues

Last week’s hasty retreat by the Executive Committee (EC) of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) to allow for a full discussion by the CBB on the committee’s recommendations to rework the program’s structure were seen by many as a positive sign. The hope was that the political maneuverings might cease and that the message has been received that producers are sick of the political games. I think it’s a mistake to assume that’s the case, however.

Once again, the signal was sent loud and clear that the industry isn’t in lockstep with the EC. But, reading through the emails I received in the past week makes it clear that this is a coordinated campaign that’s become far too personal to merely call a halt and restore the checkoff to an apolitical organization focused on growing beef demand.

I also believe the strategy being followed by most of the industry’s leaders and organizations appears to be faulty. The reasoning was that the vast majority of producers on the CBB, in the qualified state beef councils, etc., all share the same view and are anxious to move forward with building demand. It was thought that this was sufficient in the long run to quell the political agenda of a few. But this has been ongoing for a long time; instead of people stepping forward to rescue the program, we’re actually seeing the power struggle grow fiercer.

Others have hoped that the involvement of the Office of Inspector General would clean things up and allow the industry to move forward. But I’ve been cynical of this view.

The bottom line is that it’s become increasingly clear that the leadership is too ingrained in their positions and political agendas to be able to refocus on what the beef checkoff was intended to be – the mechanism to build beef demand. Reading through the emails, I find it very sad that the one organization that was supposed to be apolitical has become the most politically motivated organization in our industry. The only way for the industry to save the checkoff at this point is for it to step forward and make it happen.

In response to the efforts by the EC, Bill Donald, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and a Montana rancher, recently sent a letter to CBB Chairman Tom Jones detailing the successes of the industry’s long-range planning structure and the successful mechanisms created to build beef demand. He made it known that NCBA was willing and ready to renegotiate the Joint Advisory Committee Coordination Agreement that the CBB board had directed the CBB’s EC and CBB officers to actively pursue.

While the letter was obviously meant as a means for things to begin to move forward in a positive manner, it also served to point out that the industry wants to move ahead and improve the checkoff, not create an entirely new system. History tells us that the letter, like other attempts to move forward, will go nowhere.

It’s time for the industry to step forward and make it known in no uncertain terms that enough is enough. It’s ironic that we’re watching a similar situation play out relative to the potential shutdown of the federal government. At least at the national level, the differences are based on strongly held political beliefs rather than the accumulation of political power. This industry is far bigger than a few personal agendas; we just need to step forward and make sure that message is sent loud and clear.