A Nebraska Cattlemen task force this spring made the right decision, at least for now, to back off from pursuing for a state-based beef checkoff in Nebraska. After more than a year's worth of background work, public meetings and a survey, task force members decided against seeking legislative action in 2014 on a $1 per-head state checkoff, one that would have been in addition to the $1 national checkoff.
The drought's harsh impacts on cattlemen and poor market conditions were cited as the reasons to stay the course for now. Dave Hamilton, Thedford rancher and task force chairman, said 60% of those who were handed in surveys at the input meetings opposed the additional checkoff.
It wasn't only the assessment of another $1 per head that bothered cattlemen. Some were concerned about checkoff collections in non-brand areas of the state as well as how national checkoff dollars are used by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Nebraska's beef producers have spoken, and that's why the task force sought their input. But it doesn't solve the problem the beef industry faces in the need to respond to the ever louder anti-meat and animal rights movements in this country. Somehow, the industry must figure out how to fight back more effectively against the misinformation being spread to consumers who seemingly are willing to absorb whatever these groups spew. It will take more dollars to fight back with better information programs that include producers themselves.
It's not just the regular suspects—extreme animal rights activists, environmental groups, celebrity vegetarians, and dieticians and scientists with personal causes—that attempt to turn consumers away from beef and other meats. USDA has had its part in it, too.
Remember, the "Meatless Monday" promotion in a USDA cafeteria newsletter by an agency staffer. Plus, the constant "healthy school lunch" barrage the agency pushes at every chance. Healthier eating is fine, but USDA appears to be squeezing protein-rich foods like red meat out of the picture.
The mandatory federal checkoff, created under the 1985 Farm Bill, raised $85 million in 2005, but the checkoff will only take in $78 million in 2013 for beef promotion, education and marketing. Twenty-five percent fewer cows nationally than just 10 or 15 years make a big difference in checkoff revenues. And that $78 million has much less buying power today because of inflation than it did 10 to 20 years ago.
Other states have looked at adding state-based programs. But it doesn't have to come from new state programs. With enough support from the states, a proposal to increase the national checkoff might be a possibility. The money would still come out of producers' pockets, but at least more bureaucracy would not be added at the state level.
Thedford ranch Hamilton directed the task force and did an admirable job of conducting the meetings and explaining the task force's intent, in an even-handed way. While the task force backed off for now, Hamilton is right to encourage beef producers to not only stay involved, but also to protect their industry.
"We want to continue to grow beef demand," he said at the spring Sandhills Cattle Association Convention, covered by Nebraska Farmer field editor Curt Arens.
In an article to appear in our July issue, Arens quotes Hamilton, "We have to do what we can to better communicate our message to consumers."
Nebraska beef producers shouldn't let others define their product's attributes. They can't ignore their adversaries and they shouldn't leave the idea of additional checkoff revenues, from either a state program or at the national level, stay on the shelf forever.