A task force put together by the Nebraska Cattlemen has embarked on a tough sell this summer and fall, but one that merits consideration by the state's beef producers.
Led by Thedford rancher Dave Hamilton, the task force has proposed a state-based beef checkoff of $1 per head, an assessment that would be in addition to the existing national beef checkoff fee, which also is $1 per head.
Thus far, seeking the state checkoff is not the official policy of the Nebraska Cattlemen. Association membership last December during their annual convention called for a series of nine information meetings this winter and spring to explain the proposal and get an idea of how producers think about it. They also plan to survey beef producers.
Those meetings are just about over, and the task force is assessing its next step. If the group's members believe adequate support, based in part on meeting input, exists for a state checkoff, then plans call for a referendum of all beef producers late this fall. And should that vote prove favorable, a bill to enact a state beef checkoff would be introduced in the 2014 Legislature.
In my view, that's a lot of hurdles to climb considering time constraints and questions about details such as how a referendum would be set up, how checkoff monies would be spent and who would administer it--even if the referendum passed.
The task force recommends that if a state beef checkoff is enacted, it would be mandatory, but with a right of refund by a producer.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
First, why does this group believe a state checkoff is needed? This was a frequent question at the meetings, including the one I attended in Wisner.
Hamilton is a low-key rancher who has been an active member in beef organizations for many years. He once was a member of the Nebraska Beef Council, which determines how to spend the state's 50-cent share of the $1 per head national checkoff. He handled the meetings this winter in a professional manner, getting support but also taking some criticism for the idea.
The task force, put together nearly a year ago, lays out three key reasons why it believes more revenues are needed.
•Inflation since the national checkoff was enacted in 1985 has reduced revenues from $1 to 47 cents. That means beef promotion, education and national and international marketing program funds aren't as effective as they could be, the task force says.
•Since 1985, the national inventory of beef cows has dropped from 39 million to 29 million today, a loss of 10 million head. That's resulted in lower checkoff collections.
•The industry must adjust to changing attitudes and tastes of consumers who desire to know more about where their food comes from. They demand more convenient beef products, but know little about how food is produced. This requires changes in how beef is marketed, Hamilton says.
Additionally, the beef industry's response to the attacks against agriculture and meat consumption by extremist groups must be refined and beefed up, if you will. Those groups do in fact want meat off consumers' plates and have no real concern about the need and desire for more animal protein in developing nations.
Several producers at the meetings wondered why the national checkoff rate isn't increased to address these needs rather than creating a new checkoff in Nebraska. Hamilton said there is interest expressed at the national level in doing so, but responded that a Nebraska checkoff would be able to move faster through the implementation stages.
There were the inevitable questions about the impact of checkoffs, as in "what has it done for me?" That's a difficult issue to quantify, regardless of what checkoff you're talking about and doesn't take into account what beef demand and visibility would be without the many checkoff-funded programs.
Complaints arose more than once from some producers about what they believe is an inadequate firewall between the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Cattlemen's Beef Board as far as spending of checkoff dollars is concerned. The latter entity administers much of the 50-cent share of state beef checkoff dollars that go outside the states.
Concerns about spending of checkoff dollars at the national, even the international level, are not new, and those raising the concerns may not be in the mood for a new state checkoff which would allocate funds to programs not only in Nebraska but also to national organizations for promotion and education.
Cattlemen also expressed concerns about administration costs and staffing for a new checkoff.
But whatever your position, let it be known to the Nebraska Cattlemen Task Force. They want your input before making a decision.
Some good reasons are being offered for more checkoff dollars. But there also are valid questions about the process of a state checkoff and how those new monies would be spent.