Let’s Increase Our Investment in Beef

February 8, 2014 05:09 AM
Greg Henderson cropped

America’s shrinking cattle herd has become the driving force behind record prices, but it’s also squeezing the meager budget that promotes your product. Harvest-ready steers traded for about $2,200 per head last month, which is three times their value when cattlemen approved the checkoff in 1985. Yet, the same $1 per head was collected on those steers as it was 30 years ago.

This year, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board will invest about $38.5 million on your behalf to fund programs for research, beef promotion, consumer information, industry information, foreign marketing and producer communications. That sounds like a lot of money until you realize the budget has been shrinking, and this year they cut $1.15 million from proposals to balance the budget. While the budget shrinks, so does the value of those dollars. For example, the $1 collected today has less than half the buying power that it did when it was adopted in 1985.

A logical solution would be to raise the checkoff. That’s exactly what producers in eight states think, too. Producers in Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington have already approved an increased checkoff at the state level, and North Dakota cattlemen recently asked their state legislators to raise the state’s checkoff to $2.

Now is the time. There are no plans, however, to seek an increase to the checkoff on a national level as the "climate does not favor" such an effort. That’s a diplomatic way of saying that a vocal minor­ity of checkoff deniers would work fervently against those efforts.

It’s unfortunate that after 30 years, there are still those who refuse to accept the significant value their meager investment has generated. By all measures, the checkoff program has been a tremendous success while being handicapped with a small budget in a society that increasingly demands media creativity to break through the clutter. Think advertising doesn’t work? Don’t try to sell that idea to Coca-Cola. The soft drink maker spends more than $3 billion each year on advertising, which is about 7% of its $48 billion revenue.

Advertising, however, merely begins to describe the value of your checkoff. Two items funded by your dollar that have clearly paid huge dividends are new product research and issues management. New products—flat iron steak and buffalo beef wings, for example—have increased the value of the carcass. Issues management efforts played a key role in easing consumer concerns about U.S. beef when a case of BSE occurred a decade ago. Cattlemen were ready with a solid, unified voice.

Left unattended, the value of your $1 checkoff will continue to shrink. Cattlemen in eight states have already charted a course by increasing their checkoff. Now is the time to work for similar action in your state. Visit www.beefboard.org to find the list of state beef councils and contact your representative to learn how you can increase your state’s checkoff.

greg henderson

Editorial Director, Beef Today, writes from Mission, Kan. Contact Greg: ghenderson@farmjournal.com

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