A few weeks ago, I interviewed an angry Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. She ‘desk-tipping’ with the decision by the Missouri Beef Industry Council (MBIC) to ask that the state checkoff be doubled to $2.00/head.
Perry and the MRCC called the request a full-blown industry crisis and decided to take the issue to court. You can read the interview by clicking here.
In the interest of good and fair journalism, I asked Mike John to respond on behalf of the MBIC. He’s manager of John Ranch, Inc., a commercial cow-calf operation headquartered in Huntsville, Missouri and director of MFA Health Track Beef Alliance in Columbia, a feeder cattle source and process verification program. A beef industry leader at every level, he’s served as President of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) He was president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and Chairman of the Missouri Beef Industry Council. He has also served as a board member and scholarship chair of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Foundation.
If anyone could effectively and articulately explain the controversial decision, it is Mike John. I posed many of them same questions and this is what he had to say for himself and the MBIC.
Q. Let’s start with a description of Missouri Beef Industry Council (MBIC). Give me the basic ‘who, what, why’ of the group.
A. MBIC was created after a state referendum was passed at around the same time as the first national check off. When the legislation was created and approved by the state legislature, it included language allowing a $.50/head collection through the MO Dept. of Ag that was refundable by request. There was also a provision that stated if a national mandatory check off was passed, the state program would be suspended. The state legislature in the 2015 session removed the language from the statute that suspended the state check off, laying the ground work for re-establishing a state beef check off that was basically approved but never implemented.
The original state checkoff also established the format for electing the MBIC board of directors which is basically that 3 organizations in the state supply nominations for regional directors with alternating terms. Registered beef producers would then vote on the nominees. Over the years, additional seats have been added for Missouri meat processors, livestock markets, and dairy representation. The purpose of MBIC has never changed and because it was the state affiliate of the national check off, all of the funds allocated for in state expenditure have followed the federal act and order that established the national check off.
That basically means the funds must be spent for research, education and promotion. One of the most important realities is that any of these expenditures MUST support all beef with no bias for any particular live animal production method AND no production research has been funded to my knowledge.
Q. Before I ask about the MBIC initiative, let’s talk about the national checkoff. When it was first established in 1985, it was set at $1.00/head where it still is. That 30-year-old dollar in today’s money is worth just 50 cents. Do we need to revisit the program on a national level, instead of state-by-state?
A. I think states have begun to more frequently seek their own funding in response to all of the challenges directed at the national checkoff. Also since producers are regionally different, I think more autonomy is also of interest. Finally, I think many states believe it will be impossible to pass an enhancement at the national level and so a state program is the only hope for enhancing generic beef promotion.
I am a huge proponent for an increase at the national level but an honest assessment of what that entails means that to be successful it will require huge investments and the cooperation of USDA and the administration. After all, any activity resulting from check off expenditures is “government speech”.
If you make an honest assessment of the damage to beef demand that anti-meat, animal rights, and anti-corporate ag groups have caused, the industry needs to connect with consumers at an unprecedented level and we can’t do that effectively with the limited funds that are available. If generic beef promotion that is designed by federation and beef board directors isn’t funded, who will fund it? For those that are unhappy with those efforts, I have to ask what is their plan. I have always contended that if we don’t do it this way, will it just be private promotion funding? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like that either.
Q. The Missouri Beef Industry Council is asking for an additional dollar per head in check off funds and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center has chosen to fight it in court. They have several objections including the decision to override the committee’s recommendation that the increase be just fifty cents. Their press release used language like “disenfranchises voters, discourages producers from registering and voting, dilutes the vote of many producers and undermines the integrity of the election.” Without trying the case here, what was the intent behind MBIC’s decision?
A. The intent behind the MBIC board’s decision to seek approval of $1/hd. state refundable checkoff is that they know better than anyone how much funding they need to be effective given the parameters they have to work in. The committee they refer to was an attempt to be more inclusive, but from my perspective, asking people who oppose the basic premise of the organization is merely an exercise in frustration anyway. I’m pretty sure they didn’t agree with the $.50 either.
Q. Would you respond to this question I asked in my interview with Rhonda Perry: “In a January 19 editorial published by the Columbia Tribune, Roger Allison, a cattle farmer and executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, wrote, ‘I have heard from hundreds of beef producers across the state who oppose this checkoff — especially at a time when net farm income is expected to drop by 38.2 percent this year, the largest single-year decline since 1983.’
Those are some frightening numbers that would suggest now is not the time to ask for an extra buck. What about the oft-repeated claim that every dollar invested in the check off returns $11? With that kind of R.O.I., isn’t it time to fatten the kitty and go ‘all in’?”
A. First I’ll address that the executive director of the rural crisis center has heard from “hundreds” of producers. How would you define a “cattle farmer”? I know producers with 10 head who are passionate (about) the industry promoting beef to consumers and I know producers who manage thousands of cattle who understand that neither of them can spend the time or money to effectively communicate the safety and nutritional value of beef to a grocery shopper in New York City.
It is incredibly short sighted to claim that “I sell cattle, not beef”. If Walmart or McDonalds can’t sell it, there’s no point in raising it. The added cost of only selling locally grown product will starve a significant portion of the world’s population eventually. There is virtually no way to feed the worlds growing population without genetic science and commercial economies of scale production.
Next: I don’t know the numbers but if net farm income is indeed dropping 38% this year could part of that be the massive increase in farm income in the last few years? Gee, is agricultural profitability suddenly cyclical?
I take offense to the claim that checkoff spending hasn’t increased consumer demand for beef. The rate decline that spurred the need for the checkoff was definitely slowed and, in some cases, eliminated due to the efforts of the check off. What about the first quarter of 2003 after the BSE cow? Consumer demand actually increased the first quarter of 2004 due to checkoff funds being used to prepare for the possibility of a US case. I don’t know what the “all-in” level of funding is but I feel completely confident that the return has been remarkable from the very limited funding now being utilized. More funding will definitely result in greater beef demand.
Q. Let’s assume for the moment, that the MRCC law suit stops the referendum. What are you prepared to do as a next step?
A. Next step might be to build coalitions of the willing. I think that would be a shame since retailers and foodservice providers believe that the entire industry works together to improve beef quality, safety, and affordability. What I mean by a coalition of the willing would be a privately funded effort targeted to a specific product for a specific market instead of the current generic promotion that enhances demand for everyone’s beef. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.