A Cattle Producer Speaks to the Beef Check-Off
By Gary Deering
Source: South Dakota Stockgrowers Association – Aug 2, 2011
Deering is a young rancher from Hereford, SD who is a strong supporter of the cattle industry both in South Dakota and nationally.
Finally, the loud cries of the producers have been heard by the leaders of the Federation of State Beef Councils. For years producers have insisted, and even brought lawsuits, to stop the unethical use of their checkoff dollars.
Producers, in many States, have been fed up with the fact that there are “two hat states”, as NCBA calls them, where the state beef council, as well as the states NCBA affiliate shares the same office and CEO.
It aggravates many that Forrest Roberts, NCBA’s CEO, receives sixty-five percent of his salary from checkoff dollars. I guess we will assume Mr. Roberts lobbies against, Country of Origin Labeling, GIPSA, and other policy issues with thirty-five percent of his time.
Almost every major policy organization including: American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, Livestock Marketing Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Milk Producers Association, R-Calf USA, and United States Cattlemans Association, opposed a proposal from NCBA to restructure the Federation. The restructuring was feared by many to be an attempt, by NCBA, to gain more control of the checkoff. Many State Beef Council Executive Directors lobbied, and at least one beef council, went as far as putting an ad on the radio, in favor of the restructuring
It makes people uncomfortable having many state beef council executive directors also serve on NCBA policy committees.
Producers do no like the fact that the Federation half of the operating committee, (the committee that distributes most of the checkoff contracts), is made up of predominately NCBA members, (NCBA does not think it is fair that the CBB half has started to get some people who are non NCBA members).
Many were outraged when an audit, which looked over a very small portion of the Federations involvement into the checkoff, discovered many misuses of funds by NCBA including; trips, golf tournaments, etc.
The great mythical firewall, as we have been told, is supposed to keep NCBA policy, and Federation issues separate, apparently there must be a fire retardant suit lying around the NCBA, and several State beef Council offices somewhere. So finally with the resignations of, Tom Jones and Tom Ramey, as well as the calling for the resignation of Dan Diershcke, who were all involved in “unethical conduct”, as NCBA President Bill Donald deems it, gives the producers exactly what they have been asking for.
In looking over the list of great misuses of our checkoff dollars, one must wonder what these men were involved in to receive such pressure to resign. There were rumors of lobbying, which there is no denying is unethical, and illegal, if checkoff dollars are involved. I have met Tom Jones and he was always careful what he would say, whether at a checkoff booth or speaking on behalf of the checkoff. The one thing he would never waffle on was, he wanted more transparency within the checkoff, even if that meant less control over the Federation, by NCBA. So again what did these men do? Was it the fact that they spoke out, or the fact they spoke out against the wrong organization? One is reminded of movies like, The Godfather and other mafia movies I have enjoyed watching through the years, as these resignations, and calling for resignations, keep popping up. One must wonder who, and when the next “hit” will come.
As a young producer, and active member of various State and national organizations, I am a huge promoter, and have spoken to producers about the importance, of the beef checkoff. I realize, without the checkoff, we may not have anything promoting our product. I have told people, why it is important to have two divisions within the checkoff. I have talked, many times, of some of the wonderful things NCBA has done with a lot of contracts they have been given. I have also, just recently, tried to persuade a producer why it would be very damaging to call for a referendum of the checkoff. There are many people upset, with business as usual, and we cannot go on like this.
Tom Jones was quoted, in a recent article by Chris Clayton, “the checkoff is broken”; maybe he is right, so let’s fix it. There are approximately one million beef producers in the United States, and not all share the same beliefs, not all are misinformed and not all will remain quiet. We must make room, within the checkoff for all beliefs, or quite frankly it could be doomsday.
My grandfather, who was a man I admired very much, told me, “The cattle industry will never survive”. That seemed crushing to a young man of eighteen, with dreams of taking over a ranch he worked so hard to build. I remember looking him right in the eye and saying, “That is an awful thing to say to me, whatsoever do you mean?” His reply was simple, “cowboys never have, and probably never will get along”. I have spent years after hearing that statement, disbelieving, and trying to prove it wrong, but the reality of it is very scary.
I will not be attending the summer meetings in Orlando. Much of my time, along with most of the one million producers, will be spent in the hayfield or moving cattle to different pastures. I also understand, respect, and thank all of the producers attending, for the commitment to our industry, and time away from your homes and family, whether you share my beliefs, or not. The one thing I will ask is that you do what is best for the beef checkoff, and our wonderful industry, and not promote just an organizational agenda, whatever your organization.
Maybe with strong leadership, and being open to new ideas we can prove my grandfather wrong, I am sure he would like that.