Closing The Gate: Logic Eludes Checkoff Deniers

Closing The Gate: Logic Eludes Checkoff Deniers

Despite overwhelming support, 71% according to the latest survey, a vocal minority of producers continue to seek an end to your beef checkoff. It’s amazing, really, that some folks can’t be convinced a $1 per head investment in their business is providing a benefit.

We could make a long list of the program’s accomplishments in the past 30 years. For instance, muscle profiling research added several dollars to the value of a carcass, and the Beef Quality Assurance campaign improved the overall quality of retail beef products. Of course, there’s the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” advertising campaign that many professional pitchmen call “iconic.” In truth, a recent study calculates the beef checkoff returns $11.20 for every dollar invested.

None of those matter, however, when mentioned to a checkoff detractor. Indeed, they’re eager to spend much more of their own money fighting the checkoff than the program will ever cost them.

Today, the primary argument against the checkoff tends to carry a populist theme, one where the program is said to flow money to groups and organizations that work against family ranchers. For proof, checkoff deniers point to USDA statistics that suggests cattlemen are exiting the business. The 2007 Census of Agriculture counted 764,984 operations with beef cows, and the number declined nearly 5% by the 2012 Census to 727,906. Those numbers suggest 20 ranchers a day are closing the gate for the last time.

Sad, for sure, but there’s nothing to suggest the checkoff is the culprit. In fact, if you want to stop the decline in ranch numbers, the only remedy is to stop getting older. The 2012 Census of Agriculture puts the average age of America’s farmers at 58.3 years, roughly 2% higher than 2007, and the trend has been 2% higher every five years since the 1982 census when the average age of America’s farmers first exceeded 50. Reality is that ranchers are leaving the business because they are retiring with no subsequent generation interested in carrying on the legacy.

Still, the argument is promoted that checkoff dollars are used to further the interests of big packers, retailers and millionaire ranchers instead of small and medium-sized producers. One rancher described it like this to a Midwestern metropolitan newspaper: “What’s good for packers isn’t usually good for the little guy, and vice versa.”

Hogwash. Such arguments don’t square with current market conditions. In the past year, for instance, feeder cattle and calf prices notched record highs on several occasions. Meanwhile, packers stopped buying red ink by the barrel—and started ordering it by the wagon load.

The true measure of the health of your business is consumer demand, which has remained strong this past year even as retail beef prices skyrocketed, ending December at a record $6.15 per pound. No, the checkoff can’t take credit for all of that demand increase, just the majority of it. 

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Spell Check

Pam Potthoff
Trenton, NE
2/26/2015 10:47 PM

  And how much has been demand increased since the beginning of the checkoff? Your argument about current demand is flawed because beef consumption per person has actually gone done since the beef checkoff began. d4cb71

Steve Newcomer
Hays, KS
2/26/2015 11:06 PM

  These "check-offs" whether for livestock or grains are just another way to grow government, line the pockets of the Associations, their Lobbyists in DC and around the country. It's just another ILLEGAL TAX forced upon producers whether they want to pay it or not, it is just stolen from their paychecks! It should be a voluntary program. If you wish to be a member of the association and contribute, fine. Put YOUR money where YOUR mouth is. You're just like the DC Establishment. You like spending OTHER PEOPLES MONEY! Producers should have the OPTION to participate, THEN even most of those 71% WOULD NOT!

Bob Standifer
Birchwood, TN
2/25/2015 10:29 AM

  I am not sure logic as anything to do with disagreeing with someone. To me the 11.20 return on investment is similar to fuzzy math. Is the 11.20 return based on the increase in the sale price of beef for the producer since the 1980s? If so would not the drought, certified angus beef advertising and many other breed associations have an effect on the increase in value as well. One of the arguements for the check off is the beef numbers are down. I am betting we all will agree the numbers will come back and the price of beef will drop. Economist call it supply and demand. When this happens is the checkoff going to drop the extra dollar since the numbers are back up? When people want money and they refer to it as investments it reminds me of politicians wanting to raise taxes. I believe the cattle producer started this back in the 1980s but since then the check off as moved farther away from the farm and closer to Washington DC. there are more than the producer in the supply chain for beef why can't you include the packers for say 1 dollar for every 2000 in carcass weight? "Let's spread the cost out to the entire supply chain not just the producers"


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