Seeking a Grassroots Approach

Cattle group's president-elect is spending time on the road to better involve state organizations in the national mission.

Published on: Jan 30, 2007
John Queen is on a mission. The president-elect for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association wants beef producers to know that the organization is based on a grassroots effort from members. "They are our organization and every producer has to stand up for himself and the industry as we go forward, or we will not survive," he says.

While soft-spoken, he talks tough when it comes to markets and the organization's mission. NCBA was the point "person" when the beef industry endured perhaps one of its worst public relations challenges when bovine spongiform encephalopathy was first found in the United States. Queen is president and owner of John Queen Farms, a third-generation cattle farm founded in 1917 and located in the western mountain region of North Carolina.

Today, the group moves ahead striving to open the doors to free trade and deal with hot topics that impact the more than 27,000 members that make up the group. And Queen wants those members to know that he's listening. "Whether you have five cows or 5,000 your opinions mean the same to the industry and to this association," Queen told Farm Progress recently.

Getting involved

Queen sees the need to get more beef producers involved. Some producers have argued that the organization has been insular and too private. He disagrees and is working to boost membership in the organization. "I see it as an important challenge for us," he says. "Producers need to get involved and witness the process to arrive at the policy decisions we do."

He notes that NCBA has a solid committee process that allows members to take part. This week as the organization's Cattle Industry and Convention kicks off in Nashville, there will be plenty of committee process to observe.

There will be plenty to discuss. With the change-up in Congress and new leadership tackling the 2007 Farm Bill, NCBA members will want to be heard, Queen says. "We work well on both sides of the aisle," he notes.

As for priorities in the farm bill debate, Queen notes that the group sees challenges with potential restrictions to forward contracting and livestock ownership rules. In addition, repeal of the inheritance tax - called the Death Tax by NCBA - remains on the agenda. "There will be less emphasis on the death tax. Our policy is that we want a full, and permanent, repeal of the law."

He knows that the full repeal may be a challenge, and the group did support the last compromise Congress proposed. Queen sees the potential for a new compromise measure for the death tax in this session, perhaps a higher exemption, made permanent. "We need that stepped up basis and the $5 million per spouse was a good number, but this tax has been a terrible expense on our family," he says.

Challenges ahead

Queen sees the road up ahead with more stumbling blocks. Animal rights activists, environmental groups and other issues will grow in prominence as the farm bill debate moves ahead. "The debate ahead will include a lot of other issues too," Queen notes. "The Minimum wage, Social Security reform, welfare issues and immigration will all be part of the debate."

Immigration policy is a hot topic in the beef community since the borders are lined with thousands of ranches that are now a kind of front line for the issue. Queen talks of friends who have dealt with border issues and how that has impacted their operations. "We need an immigration policy," he notes.

Packer ownership issues continue to arise in Congress, but Queen doesn't see the cattle industry headed down the same "vertical" road as other livestock. "The industry wants freedom of choice. I don't think we'll become that integrated because I don't know if companies are willing to invest and own cattle totally from start to finish," he observes.

That freedom of choice extends to his thoughts on Country of Origin Labeling as well. He wants to see that program implemented on a voluntary basis since it could mean added costs and for now the market has not determined who picks up the tab.

Meeting the people

Queen has been on the road all winter leading up to his trip into Nashville. That included a 35-day seven state swing through the Southeast to meet with producers. "We're a member-driven organization, we're not in the hip pockets of a few directors," he notes.

It's a message he delivers as he talks to state groups and he's working to get state groups to communicate more readily with the national organization. In that southern swing he made last fall, Queen found that when he asked producers why they weren't involved in their state association, or at the national level, the No.1 answer was that they'd never been asked. "We are all advocates of our industry and we need to recruit new members to our organization so that we can move the industry forward," he says.

Queen says those groups need to know that all policy decisions start and end with the members of NCBA. The split in the cattle industry that has given rise to the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund - or R-CALF - is a concern for Queen.

"Where do we go with our calves if there are no feeders or packers?" he asks. "Every segment of the industry needs to be involved in this organization."

The farm bill looms, activist groups are getting a new voice in Congress, and cattle producers are going to face significant challenges ahead. "We want producers to join NCBA to help take on those challenges and we're inviting all of them to join," he says.

Learn more about NCBA by visiting www.beef.org.