Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.
It’s what’s for dinner on a regular basis at my house in Central Kansas. It’s also a suppertime mainstay in all 50 states of the United States. And thanks in part to the Beef Checkoff Program, it’s increasingly becoming the featured item on plates of the nearly 96 percent of the global population residing outside our borders.
Last year, your checkoff dollars were used to promote U.S. beef in more than 80 countries around the globe. The U.S. Meat Export Federation, a contractor to the checkoff, used checkoff dollars along with resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s market development and access programs and industry partners to connect U.S. beef producers with international buyers, to educate chefs, food service and retail personnel, and consumers about different cuts of beef and how to properly and safely prepare them, to uniquely advertise and position U.S. beef products in international markets, and to help eliminate barriers to expanding market access.
And it’s working. Since the Cow that Stole Christmas in 2003, beef exports have increased from $809 million in 2004 to a whopping $6.157 billion last year (a record most expect will be broken again this year).
While there were no doubt multiple factors over the past decade that have influenced global beef demand - from the growing middle-class population, especially in Asian countries to changes in government policies and the fluctuating currency values around the globe. But the Beef Checkoff Program, and its contractors like USMEF, were there each step of the way capitalizing on those events and promoting your high-quality U.S. beef and beef products.
For example, when Japan began accepting cattle 30 months of age or younger (previous age restrictions were 20 months or younger) in early 2013, the checkoff was there to promote your beef. And it worked. From January through August this year, the U.S. exported more than $1 billion of beef and beef products to Japan. For the first time since 2003, Japan is the top export market for your beef.
That’s not all. In an effort to help exporters comply with a growing list of regulatory requirements, the checkoff has developed an International Nomenclature Guide to Beef Cuts to provide equivalent names for the most common U.S. beef cuts for 33 different countries and regions. It’s also hosted buyers’ missions in the United States to showcase our industry to our overseas customers, with a recent group of meat importers from Hong Kong taking a gate-to-plate tour of the industry through Kansas and Nebraska. From January to August, exports to Hong Kong were up 30 percent in volume and 50 percent in value. The checkoff also played an essential role in rebuilding consumer confidence in U.S. beef in South Korea, and in growing our exports to Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. Your beef checkoff dollars are working.
The list of examples could go on for pages, but all else set aside, exports add to your bottom line. Export value per head of fed slaughter reached nearly $327 in August. That is a 29 percent increase from August 2013.
Without the checkoff’s investment in foreign market development, foreign beef demand would have been 6.4 percent lower, according to a recent economic analysis of the Beef Checkoff Program conducted by Dr. Harry Kaiser of Cornell University.
No if’s, and’s or but’s about it – that’s a success. Yet, despite all of this positive, record-breaking, income-generating work, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is considering writing a rule to create a second beef checkoff, one that would fall under the umbrella of the 1996 generic commodity checkoff program.
If one is good; two is great – right? Not necessarily.
The current Beef Checkoff Program was established in the 1985 Farm Bill and created with input and support of beef producers to help increase demand for beef. And it works, especially from a foreign market perspective. Beef demand around the globe is growing and is expected to continue to do so (you’ll read more about global beef trends throughout this issue of Drovers CattleNetwork).
Creating a second checkoff, one that will have more government involvement, jeopardizes what has taken 30 years to build. Plain and simple. I wasn’t privy to the conversation when the Secretary’s plan was hatched – was it politics or does he really think two checkoff programs will further increase demand? That’s something I may never know.
But Mr. Secretary, with all the true challenges facing your agency – why put your focus on creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? Mr. Secretary, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
See this article, along with more on global beef genetics, cattle transportation and our 2014 “40 Under 40” class of honorees in the November digital edition of Drovers/CattleNetwork.