Last week the Beef Checkoff made industry news for less than pleasant reasons once again as the Cattlemen’s Beef Board announced the resignation of CEO Tom Ramey. The minute the release hit the industry airwaves, the chattering classes hit stride.
Any time someone announces a resignation for “personal reasons,” or “to spend time with family,” I generally assume that person was forced out. In this case, I have no earthly clue, primarily because I haven’t asked.
Just because I haven’t however, doesn’t mean others haven’t. Do a quick scan of the internet, and you can find any number of blog posts and opinion pieces suggesting that the Beef Checkoff and its primary contractor, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, are either fighting World War III, conspiring to give us all mad cow disease, or organized and operated by Bernie Madoff.
Facetious though my last statement may be, the point remains: the internet is rife with speculation and accusation over presumed ills and corruption within both/either the CBB and NCBA.
Here’s the issue on my mind, however: some of the accusations and speculation may be accurate, and at the moment, I don’t care. What I do care about is the fact that an extremely vocal group of hard-headed cowboys are working, perhaps unintentionally, to shut down the entire checkoff system as we know it.
Let’s be very clear: if there is corruption within the checkoff system, I want it rooted out. I, too, pay the Beef Checkoff, albeit not on a par with my brethren of more significant headage.
The undisputed fact remains that the Checkoff has paid dividends year in and year out. Demand for beef is stronger because of the Checkoff than before it existed. This is not only true of the beef industry, but of any of the major producer-funded industry promotions groups structured under what I generically call the “checkoff system.”
Anytime a public entity – in this case a politically-appointed board – divvies up money among private contractors – in this case NCBA, et. al. – there will be “winners” and “losers.” Relative to the situation at hand the winner, according to those foaming at the mouth over this most recent series of issues, is NCBA as the Checkoff’s primary contractor. The loser, therefore, is everyone else who wants Checkoff money, but doesn’t receive any currently.
There are a few groups you can easily think of who fall into this category.
Two primary antagonists exist in my mind when it comes to this debate: those who just plain don’t square to the idea of a Checkoff in the first place, and those who wish they got Checkoff money and NCBA didn’t.
The first group doesn’t, generally speaking, like the fact that they are mandated to pay into the Checkoff. They either don’t believe in pooling resources to build demand, or they just want to put their money under their mattress at night, I suppose.
The other group is much easier to understand: they’re jealous, and/or greedy.
I will, as a matter of conscience, stipulate that there are rational, concerned producers out there discussing this situation who fall into neither of these two clubs. They are the folks who want their Checkoff dollars spent wisely, efficiently, and honestly.
Most of us, I think, fall into this category.
Every time those in the first two groups start their propaganda machines to point out alleged corruption within NCBA, however, they are either intentionally or unintentionally pushing for the destruction of the Checkoff program as a whole. The beef industry isn’t alone in this issue: the soybean industry has gone through its own “family feud” in recent years. Having reported on that story in-depth, I am especially conscientious as to the potential pitfalls facing the entire Checkoff system.
There exist two facts of which I am confident:
1. If corruption exists within the system, the producers charged with stewarding both CBB’s and NCBA’s interests will find it and root it out. And, as a side note, the USDA will serve its statutory oversight role with fervency and zeal.
2. Even if NCBA is forced to repay (more) funds due to issues over allocation of checkoff monies, they are still better positioned than the vocal minority of other detractors/organizations to continue growing demand for beef.
I hope the beef industry can cull the troublemakers from our own herd, mend fences where necessary, and keep riding the horse named Checkoff to further prosperity on down the trail.