At least 8,000 cattle producers will be surveyed on their attitudes about the beef checkoff, as part of the settlement of the lawsuit challenging the checkoff that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The largest single attitude survey ever done on the checkoff was agreed to by the plaintiffs - Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Jerry Goebel, Pat Goggins, Robert Thullner, John Willis and Leo Zentner - and the defendants - the U.S. Department of Justice, representing the Cattlemen's Beef Board and the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association.
In May, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled the checkoff was a government speech program and thus was immune from the First Amendment challenge brought by the plaintiffs.
The settlement was filed by the plaintiffs and defendants on March 1 with the South Dakota Federal District Court.
Separately, a stipulation dismissing all outstanding claims in the original suit was filed with the court, on behalf of all plaintiffs except Herman Schumacher and John Smith, who declined to sign the settlement agreement. Plaintiff Ernie J. Mertz asked to be dismissed as a plaintiff.
"There have been several checkoff attitude surveys, but never one that has contacted this many producers," LMA President Randy Patterson says. "With so many industry groups now talking about improving the checkoff, getting the views of a broad cross-section of producers is the logical first step, and that's why we made it part of the settlement."
Under the terms of the settlement:
- The survey will be paid for out of checkoff funds, and any costs expended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in conducting the survey will be reimbursed by the Beef Board.
- The survey will include a "representative sample" of at least 8,000 cattle producers.
- At its discretion, USDA may hire an outside contractor to carry out the development and implementation of the survey.
- The questions to be asked in the survey will be developed with input from a representative of LMA; a representative from the Beef Board; a representative from the Federation of State Beef Councils, and one from USDA. USDA retains final decision-making authority with respect to the survey contents.
- The intent of the survey is to assess producer attitudes toward the beef checkoff program. Survey responses shall not constitute a request for a producer referendum, and the survey shall not form the basis of any claim, by the settling plaintiffs or others, that the USDA secretary is authorized or required to conduct a referendum.
"We have talked extensively with LMA leaders and clearly share the desire for the same end result for the checkoff - to build demand for beef," says CBB Chairman Jay O'Brien, a producer in Texas.
The bottom line, adds CBB Chief Operating Officer Monte Reese, is that "the producers who pay the checkoff need to have an important role in recommending how those dollars are spent - and they need to know that those investments are based directly on their end desires."