Out to Pasture: NCBA Pushes for a More Nimble Organization

January 8, 2010 10:23 AM


Steve Cornett

Let's hope the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) gets its reorganization right this time. In December, its task force unveiled suggestions for a new structure. The Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) executive committee expressed serious misgivings about whether the changes would help or hurt the chances for industry cohesiveness.

I will keep my opinions on those misgivings to myself. But these are serious times for cattle growers. Last month, I wrote about serious, viability-threatening problems facing the cattle industry. Not just big cattle producers and not just little cattle producers—all producers. Nothing could be more important than an effective and unified voice.

A stronger voice. Sure, there are offsetting opportunities for many of those problems. But the industry has to survive to take advantage of that, and that applies to producers large and small, Republican and Democrat, eastern and western, cow–calf and feeder. I'm not sure that a rising tide will raise all ships in the industry, but an ebbing tide will certainly lower them all.

In such times, a big tent association is more important than ever. That seems to have been the task force's intent, but it doesn't look like they fully addressed CBB's concerns about keeping a bright line between checkoff-funded state beef federations and the dues-supported affiliates.

In fact, CBB leadership argues that the task force has done more, not less, to confuse the matter.

Leaders of the task force say they aim to make the association more nimble in developing policy and be more responsive to the grass roots.

Nimbleness is good. Very good. NCBA's current policy development process is like pulling calves without a come-along. There's grunting and groaning and cussing and bawling and straining, and when it's over, there's too often a bloody mess.

The new structure looks to me like it might take some of the emotion out of the process. In past years, each member organization sent its representatives to vote. If the vote was 51-49, policy—no matter how divisive—was set in stone.

To get more nimble, the task force would have a "house of delegates" composed of 100 representatives from the federation, 100 from the association and 50 from other delegates.

The house of delegates would then elect a smaller board, but with the federation controlling only 40% of the votes, CBB frets the non-checkoff voters could control things. In the past, an admittedly unwieldy system dictated what CBB called a "separation of church and state" between affiliate and federation delegates to minimize conflicts of interest.

We'll have to see how this plays out, beginning at the NCBA convention in San Antonio this month. You would expect the task force recommendation to be adopted nearly intact. But the CBB and NCBA did not part on particularly good terms last year. We'll see how much weight their concerns get this time.

Back to unity. How long is the list of the beef industry's internal disagreements? Structure and trade is about it. But reconsider that list of threats to the very existence of commercial cattle production. It's as if the U.S. decided to have a Civil War during the middle of World War II. You can't effectively fight both wars at once. Let's hope NCBA can come up with a system that everybody can participate in and support.

Steve Cornett, Editor Emeritus, writes from Canyon, Texas scornett@farmjournal.com

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