Checkoff Perceptions and Digressions
Jul 27, 2009
By Steve Cornett
About half way through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association summer meeting in Denver it struck me that we aren’t going to have a new national checkoff law for a long, long time.
Instead, we’re going to add a new layer of voluntary and state level promotion programs with funds going to the state beef councils rather than the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
It’s not the ideal way to fund beef promotion. There will be a certain number of remora guys not paying but enjoying the fruit of others’ salesmanship. States with lots of cattle and not many consumers will raise more money than they can spend usefully in-state while places like Connecticut will get zero.
We’ve been through all this before, beginning before the Great Depression. It began with voluntary programs—packers and some producers paying voluntary per-head assessments. By the time the current law was passed, many states had mandated their own checkoff programs. Perfect or not, they raised quite a bit of money and developed a bicameral sort of system that involved in-state beef councils which developed and supported a national program.
Last issue, we wondered about ways to make NCBA more umbrellaish. That’s what they want—and should want—to do. They want to, and should, be THE cattle industry group. The suggestion here was that the policy folks might consider adopting some sort of a super majority requirement before devoting staff time to projects involving intra-industry conflict.
It was clear at the summer meeting in Denver the following week that the suggestion would skip across the waters of NCBA leadership like a ball bearing. NCBA President Gary Voogt told the assemblage that the editorial (click here to read the editorial) had been “passing around,” and he’d given it some thought and he didn’t like it. Not everybody I talked to agrees with him, but you’ll be able to shove a maize fork into my gaping maw should the Governance Task Force report next winter include any such recommendation.
I’m not really sure how much I disagree. My track record and net worth at this late stage of life indicates that I’m not always right. The idea of a national group not taking a position on important issues like COOL and packer ownership of cattle takes some getting used to, at the least.
But, in the sense of “ahem, ahem” it is worth noting that at the same assembly, the executive committee of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board asked for—and got—some distance from NCBA. They felt there was a “perception” among some cattlemen that NCBA leaders should not be sitting in on CBB nominating committee interviews.
That request caused quite a stir, for there is some concern among NCBA folks that the CBB wants a full divorce; that the current leadership of CBB wants to unmerge the merger so to speak.
That’s one reason NCBA members are pushing for voluntary checkoff programs. They see the need for more checkoff-type funds—but they don’t seem interested in trying to get THIS congress to pass a new law in THIS environment. Which is to say, an environment in which there is, shall we say, not a full consensus on how the checkoff should be run and administered.
As I suggested earlier, NCBA’s perceived role with the checkoff has engendered some organized opposition. The splinter groups that splinted after the merger tend to resent the association’s status as lead contractor.
They resent it not because they doubt the checkoff’s benefits, in most cases, but because they disagree with NCBA on policy issues. Even though they are hard pressed to find an example of the “firewall” between NCBA and CBB being breached, they suspect there are such.
That’s what the CBB wants to avoid. Hence their request for a little more arm’s lenghthiness.
But the CBB—like many of us--also thinks checkoff should be amended, primarily because inflation and herd liquidation have about halved their ability to do their job.
But, of course, the CBB can’t lobby. If they did lobby up a new bill, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it to cow owner voters. The splinter groups—who would also like a new law, if only to spite NCBA--don’t have the national reach or lobbying muscle to help much.
So it would be up to NCBA, as it was last time, to do the campaigning for any new mandatory checkoff. But CBB wants their distance, which irritates no few of the people they would need to swing NCBA behind them.
And so, there you have it. Don’t bet on a new checkoff law anytime soon. CBB leadership obviously— and correctly in my opinion—believes the perception of an incestuous relationship with NCBA would complicate efforts to write and pass a new law.
NCBA leadership thinks—also correctly as near as I can tell—that CBB is reacting to a false perception and they believe deep inside their warm hearts (and hard heads) that the merger has been wonderful.
So as near as I can tell they’re both right. It’s too bad that NCBA has pushed so hard on a very few divisive issues and thus made so many fraternal enemies that CBB feels it must desnuggle.
Well, lookie here! We’re back at the same point we left last time. If NCBA’s policy development were more cognizant of intra-industry dissonance, the association wouldn’t have so many enemies casting about for things to cast aspersions about, would it?
And CBB wouldn’t have to worry about false perceptions and we could all have a new checkoff to do the stuff the checkoff does so well.
Not that I’m nagging.
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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