The United States Cattlemen's Association board of directors recently voted to support an overhaul of the Beef Checkoff program, citing concerns about governance and disagreement among groups represented on the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group.
The BCEWG includes representation from the American Farm Bureau Federation, American National Cattlewomen, Cattlemen's Beef Board, Federation of State Beef Councils, Livestock Marketing Association, Meat Importers Council of America, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, NFU and USCA.
USCA and NFU began the BCEWG in 2011 at the request of the Secretary of Agriculture to address governance issues with the Beef Checkoff. NFU withdrew from the group earlier this month.
Originally, the two groups requested that the Secretary of Ag write a new Beef Checkoff Order under the 1996 Commodity Promotion Act, but after three years of meetings to come to a consensus, USCA says little progress has been made, and USDA should step in to implement reforms.
"The Secretary's actions are needed and timely and USCA looks forward to engaging with USDA and members of our industry in rewriting a new Beef Checkoff Order in a manner that addresses the needs and interests of all US cattle producers," USCA President Jon Wooster said in a statement. "USCA is hopeful of achieving meaningful Checkoff reform and have been since we first initiated these discussions with National Farmers Union three years ago."
According to Wooster's statement, the USCA is requesting that the checkoff reform include: periodic, scheduled referendums; a complete separation of the Federation of State Beef Councils and any policy organizations; and no increase in the per head assessment until substantial, recommended enhancements are made.
A memorandum of understanding created by the BCEWG to reflect recommended changes doesn't meet these requests, Wooster said.
"USCA has whole-heartedly engaged in this process since the beginning, but believes the process has exhausted itself and we will now shift our focus to supporting Secretary Vilsack's stated intentions," he said. "U.S. cattle producers deserve and need the most effective Checkoff program possible and too much time and energy have already been spent in the working group without a solution being reached."
The National Farmers Union on Sept. 6 provided its own list of recommendations for checkoff reform, also including a referendum policy and non-political stipulations.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, during NFU's Washington, D.C., fly-in last week, addressed the issue of turning the checkoff over to the USDA: "Either we continue doing what we're doing, which is satisfactory to no one, or you delegate it to me – the responsibility to ultimately see if there is a new avenue that can be approached."