The future direction of the national beef checkoff was discussed in-depth by members of the South Dakota Farm Bureau as they gathered recently for the organization’s 97th annual meeting.
John Anderson, Deputy Chief Economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), came from Washington, D.C. to speak to the group about the events of the past few months, including the October announcement by USDA that it would be initiating a new, different national beef checkoff that would operate separately from the current dollar-per-head checkoff.
This USDA decision came after the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group, comprised of Farm Bureau and 10 other ag organizations, had worked for nearly three years to find common ground in improving the current checkoff. The working group had drafted a Memorandum of Understanding, but the National Farmers Union officially withdrew from the process in mid-September, prompting Sec. Vilsack’s announcement of a new, separate checkoff track.
According to Anderson, Farm Bureau is hearing from many members who have concerns about the potential confusion of concurrent checkoffs, plus questions about higher administrative costs and lack of producer input in a USDA-led program. Despite the desire of some to oppose the new checkoff outright, Farm Bureau will be responding with official, detailed comments in response to the series of questions posed by Sec. Vilsack on how a checkoff should be structured.
“Let’s take a hard look at these questions, and let’s give him honest feedback on these questions,” Anderson encouraged, stating that the better time to give the overall idea a yea or nay is when the official rules for the new USDA checkoff are published in the Federal Register.
“We really want to see this process done right, so that it protects the integrity and credibility of the checkoff,” Anderson said.
After the session with Anderson, beef producers within the South Dakota Farm Bureau sat down together to formulate their response to Sec. Vilsack’s questions. In its official comments, South Dakota Farm Bureau consistently expressed the desire for the state-level Qualified Beef Councils to maintain their authority. SDFB believes:
-- The board of directors for a national beef checkoff should be made up of Qualified Beef Councils.
-- Decisions including the size of the board and terms of office should be left up to the control of these states.
-- The assessment should be a set amount, and any proposed increase would need a 2/3 vote of the Qualified Beef Councils.
-- Rate adjustments cannot be made independently by the checkoff board, but must require a producer referendum.
-- Qualified Beef Councils should collect the assessment and make recommendations for its use at the state level.
Ed Blair, Farm Bureau member from Vale, S.D., commented that he is a believer in the state system of beef councils.
“In my mind, you’ve got to have a strong state checkoff,” he said.
Bill Slovek, rancher from Philip, S.D., pointed out the excellent return on investment from the current beef checkoff, by some reports as high as 11 dollars for every 1 dollar invested.
“Our current checkoff not only isn’t broken, it’s one of the best ones out there,” Slovek commented.
In its delegate session, members of the South Dakota Farm Bureau passed a resolution that reiterates support for the current national beef checkoff and the Federation of State Beef Councils. This resolution will go on for consideration by the national delegate body at the AFBF Annual Meeting in January.
South Dakota Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general agriculture organization, representing more than 14,300 farm, ranch, and rural families across the state.