By Steve Cornett
It looks like outgoing members of the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) may get an extension on their terms as USDA struggles to find a sufficiently diverse pool of new board members to replace them.
The snafu is a result of an affirmative outreach effort ordered by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack which has left a backlog of vacating board seats on most of the nation's 18 self-promotion boards.
Vilsack on Thursday announced the overdue members of the National Pork Producers delegate body, which oversees the pork checkoff. But with the CBB gathered in San Antonio for their annual meeting—and many of the members' terms set to expire on Saturday—there may be no replacements.
USDA Undersecretary of Marketing Edward Avalos visited the CBB group briefly in San Antonio's Convention Center on Thursday afternoon. In a quick interview outside the meeting room, he said that "it won't be long” before the members are announced, but didn't promise it would be before Friday.
The checkoff programs are typically overseen by boards composed of members nominated by stakeholder groups. In beef's case, the enabling legislation qualified state groups—primarily state cattlemen organizations, but also dairy and in some cases breed groups—to submit nominees to USDA. In past years, agriculture secretaries have almost always—"always” as far as most of the folks at this meeting can remember—essentially rubber stamped the nominees.
However, USDA Deputy Administrator Craig A. Morris said Thursday that Vilsack "feels strongly” that there should be more diversity—in gender, ethnicity, and size and types of operations represented—on the boards. Apparently, the nominees for many of the checkoff boards don't fit.
Morris said that some nominees on some boards have been "turned back” to the nominating organizations for new nominees, but didn't specify which boards. Most, however, will be accepted, he said, with nominating groups advised to work harder to find diversity in the future.
Meanwhile, back in San Antonio, the CBB leadership has asked outgoing members to plan on staying over. Their legal advisors say that those members will be able to serve until they are replaced.
"If you will stay over,” incoming executive committee president Dan Dierschke told them, "we'll be able to make a quorum” for the annual board meeting this weekend.