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Beef groups to block USDA’s plan for second checkoff

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 13 October 2014

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the inability of a working group to find ways to reform the Beef Checkoff program could lead the USDA to start a second checkoff program for research and marketing.

Vilsack pushed for the supplemental Beef Checkoff program after a discussion with some members of the Beef Checkoff Enhance Working Group on Sept. 30, saying an impasse after three years of effort to improve the checkoff will require intervention by the agency to introduce new beef promotions.

Forrest Roberts, CEO for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), attended the meeting with Vilsack. In a phone press conference, Roberts said Vilsack cited the 1996 Commodity Promotion Act as the authority to create the supplemental checkoff. That authority is different than the 1985 Beef Promotion Act that created the current $1 checkoff, with its 50-50 shared structure between national and state beef councils.

According to Roberts, Vilsack told the group his plan could take shape over the next year with feedback and comments from stakeholders, and implementation to follow in early 2016.

The additional checkoff could be collected for a three-year period followed by a referendum from producers on whether to continue it.

“He said this was not the approach he wanted to take,” Roberts said of the ag secretary. “But he felt that he could model this after some other successful programs in the checkoff commodity area under the 1996 act, as a means to demonstrate how to bring more resources into the beef industry.”

Scott George, former NCBA president and a member of the working group, said the move by Vilsack was puzzling considering the wide support among producers for the current structure. Surveys from the NCBA have put that support at 80 percent of its membership.

Roberts said efforts to craft consensus among the working group had moved in a positive direction the past thee years. But the USDA introduced its proposal just weeks after the National Farmers Union (NFU) withdrew from the group. In a statement, the NFU’s president, Roger Johnson, said the working group’s process had become “a bridge to nowhere and a waste of time and resources.” The NFU recommended that USDA rewrite the checkoff using the 1996 act.

Bob McCan, current NCBA president, said the NCBA membership does not support using the 1996 framework because it will add more administrative costs with collections made by the USDA instead of local beef councils as outlined by the 1985 act.

“We feel like the structure of the 1985 act has worked so well for us for so many years, is far superior for many, many reasons,” he said. “It’s much more efficient; it’s been highly successful; it’s got a tremendous approval rating. That is going to be our direction that we’re going to go for.”  end mark

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