Retailers report that the Home Meal Replacement (HMR) category in American grocery stores generated $15 billion in sales last year. By 2002 the HMR category is expected to balloon to $67 billion. Just how much is $67 billion? Assume for a moment that all of the nearly 12 million head of cattle on feed in the U.S. will be ready for harvest tomorrow at 1,200 pounds. And further assume that they're worth approximately $900 per head. That would mean all of those cattle could be bought for roughly $10 billion dollars.

With annual HMR category sales projected to be at least seven times the value of all the cattle on feed within two years, it's easy to understand why packers and retailers are rushing to develop and process new products for that category. And similar trends can be found in the fresh meat case, where all the major packing companies and many smaller ones are announcing branded product launches. Earlier this fall Farmland National Beef launched Farmland Family Entrees(tm), five microwaveable beef dishes aimed at the HMR market. Other companies, and producer alliances, also are launching branded and convenient products in an effort to capture a share of the growing consumer expenditures for beef.

It's no coincidence that beef demand is growing as these new, convenient products hit retail outlets. And your $1-per-head beef checkoff deserves a large share of the credit for helping launch many new products and strengthening beef demand. A report issued last month on preliminary Beef Demand Index figures shows that demand increased 6.17 percent during the third quarter of 2000, as compared with the third quarter of 1999.

According to Cattle-Fax, consumer expenditures on beef are expected to surpass $53 billion in 2000. That would mark the first time annual consumer expenditures exceed $50 billion. The Cattlemen's Beef Board, which administers your checkoff dollars, says an illustration of how beef is starting to recapture the attention of consumers can be found in the sales of new, prepared beef items. Since the industry began its checkoff-funded focus on new heat-and-serve beef products in January 1999, weekly sales of these kinds of products have increased 131 percent, as of Sept. 23, 2000. Thirty-one manufacturers introduced 50 new prepared beef items during the year ending Sept. 23.

"These statistics are further evidence that our beef checkoff programs are on the right track," says Les McNeill, a beef producer from Pan-handle, Texas, and chairman of the beef board. "Over the past two years, beef demand has turned around after a 20-year slide, with consumers buying beef at steady to higher prices despite record-high beef supplies. While the checkoff isn't responsible for the entire turnaround for beef, it certainly is acting as a catalyst for positive change in the industry."

As the evidence becomes overwhelming that your checkoff is working to improve demand for your products and add dollars to your bottom line, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand the motives of those seeking to stop the program. But despite documented success, court challenges proceed and USDA's enforcement arm continues to seek action against an occasional renegade producer who refuses to pay the checkoff. We should not feel sympathetic toward those who are prosecuted and fined for willful violation of the law. The success of the program suggests they are only working to take dollars out of your pocket.