On the road again. That's the schedule for a Nebraska Cattlemen working group that's proposed a state-based beef checkoff program in Nebraska, one that would be in addition to the national checkoff now assessed beef animals.
There will be nine public meetings, starting this month, across Nebraska to explain how the current national checkoff works and why the Nebraska Cattlemen is proposing a state assessment, and to seek input on how additional money would be spent, says Dave Hamilton, Thedford rancher and head of the working group.
The meeting schedule is as follows:
Feb. 25, Columbus
March 4, O'Neill
March 5, Burwell
March 11 Wilber
March 12, Wisner
March 19, Arapahoe
March 21, Ogallala
March 25, Alliance
March 26, Thedford.
Hamilton, the NC's Marketing and Commerce Committee chairman, said the proposal suggests a $1-per-head checkoff, which would mean $2 per head when the existing national checkoff is taken into account.
At its December 2012 convention, Nebraska Cattlemen membership called for the upcoming statewide meetings to inform the state's cattle producers of the idea.
Under the national beef checkoff, Nebraska and other states retain half, or 50 cents, of the $1 per-head checkoff. The Nebraska Beef Council collects about $9.6 million under the federal program, but a portion of that amount is returned to other states as so-called "state origin dollars" because the cattle assessed the fee were not in Nebraska for slaughter more than 30 days.
That means about $7 million is available in Nebraska, and half--$3.5 million--is sent to the Cattlemen's Beef Board under the federal checkoff, leaving $3.5 million for the beef council to administer.
Hamilton cited three key reasons the working group believes a state checkoff is needed:
•Inflation since the national checkoff was enacted in 1985 has eroded the buying power of national checkoff from $1 to 47 cents.
•Since 1985, the inventory of beef cows has declined from 39 million back then to 29 million head today. •That's a loss of $10 million dollars.
The cattle industry must adjust to changing consumers who are more discriminating and comes from more ethnic backgrounds. They eat differently, Hamilton says, and demand more convenient beef products, but know little on how food is produced. This requires changes in how beef is marketed.
At the information meetings, Ann Marie Bosshamer, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council, will review the current checkoff program in a 30-minute presentation, followed by Hamilton and Michael Kelsey, Nebraska Cattlemen executive vice president, who will then review the state checkoff proposal.
That will be followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session.
Legislation to create a state beef checkoff could be introduced in the 2014 Nebraska Legislature. However, Hamilton says that next fall, before the 2014 Legislature convenes, a statewide referendum will be held to give cattle producers the chance to say yes or no on the checkoff. "We want this to be a grassroots effort," he adds.
Here are the working group's recommendations to be presented at the upcoming meetings.
•A Nebraska-based checkoff would be mandatory, but with a provision for a refund.
It would be assessed at the same collection points as the current national checkoff program.
•Since it must be created by state law, it would be overseen and audited by the Nebraska Department of •Agriculture. The Nebraska Beef Council would administer it.
•The proposal will be introduced in the 2014 Unicameral if a majority of producers approve it during this fall's referendum.
•If it is enacted into law, periodic referendums could be triggered to assess producers' continued support. For example, Hamilton said that if the national checkoff rate was increased, Nebraska cattle producers could vote whether to keep the state checkoff.
Hamilton says funds could not be used for lobbying to influence legislation or for supporting political candidates.
The working group's white paper that came out in October 2012 indicated that funds from a state-based checkoff "should not be forced into specific categories or projects."
But possibilities suggested within the white paper include funding of beef production research, which is not allowed under the federal checkoff, and creation of a "Nebraska Beef" label program.