The National Farmers Union board of directors voted on Saturday, September 6 to formally withdraw from the beef checkoff working group.

NFU President Roger Johnson said in a statement:

After three years of pushing for real reforms in the beef check-off program, NFU has decided that the process has become a bridge to nowhere and a waste of time and resources.
The working group was designed to bring together vested parties from across the beef industry and to attempt to reach a consensus on substantial reforms that would make the check-off a stronger, more effective tool for the beef industry.
Sadly, it has become clear that in reality, there is no willingness from key players within the group to allow real reforms to take place. NFU remains willing and eager to engage with others who are interested in reforming the beef checkoff, such that it operates in a manner like other checkoff programs.

In its resolution, the NFU board added:

The following reforms are necessary:

  • The Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (CBB) must have the authority to carry out checkoff projects on its own, similar to other checkoff oversight boards.
  • The CBB must be allowed to enter into checkoff contracts with non-policy organizations and private companies, such as ad agencies and public relations firms, in order to prevent policy-driven organizations from using checkoff dollars to fund overhead for political activity.
  • The beef checkoff must be completely refundable.
  • A referendum on the continuation of the beef checkoff must occur every five years.

The board recommended that USDA consider rewriting the beef checkoff program under the generic Commodity, Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996.

In a speech to the NFU Fly-In on Monday, September 8, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “It is unfortunate that the groups that met for a considerable period of time could not reach consensus. The issues are both the amount of money to be raised and the decision-making process about how it is spent and who spends it.”

The checkoff is overseen by the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, but is essentially run by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The NCBA has proposed raising the checkoff to $2, but other farm and cattle groups have said they will not agree to that unless the process for managing the checkoff is made more transparent and other groups can get part of the checkoff budget. They also maintain that the checkoff subsidizes NCBA, which promotes policies with which they disagree. Vilsack urged the creation of the working group to try to resolve these problems.

The working group consisted of:

  • Livestock Marketing Association
  • National Livestock Producers Association
  • U.S. Cattlemen’s Association
  • National Farmers Union
  • American Farm Bureau Federation
  • American National Cattle Women
  • Meat Importers Council of America
  • National Milk Producers Federation
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
  • Federation of State Beef Councils
  • Cattlemen’s Beef Board

“The lack of consensus,” Vilsack said, “leaves the possibilities of continuing “what we are doing, which is satisfactory to no one, or delegating to me the responsibility to see if there is a new avenue that can be approached.”
“If I exercise that discretion at the end of the day it will ultimately require producer involvement,” he said. “Producers don’t get off the hook by delegating it to the secretary of Agriculture.”

Vilsack also signaled that he will not have a lot of patience in dealing with groups that dislike his proposal. He said he hoped that after five years as secretary, people realize “I do not shy away from tough decisions. The status of the working group is now unclear, but word has it a proposed meeting in September has been canceled, and efforts are under way to set up a meeting in October.