In the waning hours before Santa comes to town, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is doing what he can to stay off the dreaded naughty list by announcing he will abandon recent efforts to create another beef checkoff under the 1996 general commodity checkoff law.
Vilsack reportedly cited his reasoning to walk away from the proposal was two-fold. First, language to prohibit USDA from using any funds to create a second beef checkoff was included in the federal spending bill that passed last weekend and the he said there is little to no support in the industry to have two checkoff programs running side-by-side.
For three years, a checkoff enhancement working group comprised of the industry stakeholders met to discuss potential reform of the beef checkoff in order for it to meet the needs of today’s diverse cattle industry and make it more effective and efficient. In October, Secretary Vilsack decided to take the matter into his own hands, and in a meeting with some of the members of the working group, he announced he was considering writing a rule under the 1996 Act to create a second checkoff.
According to various reports, Vilsack claims to his only reason for proposing the second checkoff was “an effort to get folks to understand what was at stake” and that “we will have to wait and see” what the industry can come up with now regarding checkoff reforms. While there is a general consensus about a need for additional checkoff resources, since the $1 per head assessment has not been updated since the Beef Checkoff Program was created in the 1985 farm bill, industry stakeholders disagree about other reforms to the program.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was a vocal opponent of the plan from the beginning, citing concerns that a second checkoff would not only be duplicative but that it would also create confusion in the industry and result in unnecessary government bureaucracy in what should be an industry-led program.
“We greatly appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s action, allowing the industry stakeholders to continue working together to enhance the Beef Checkoff Program,” says Bob McCan, NCBA president and Texas cattleman. “All of us involved in this process have been very mindful of the tremendous producer support of the Checkoff, and we will continue to work with the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group and our members to enhance the program while building on that support.”
NCBA was not the only group to weigh in on the Secretary’s plan to walk away from the second checkoff proposal. The Secretary’s home-state Iowa Cattlemen’s Association was quick to praise the plan to withdraw the proposal.
“We agree with the Secretary’s premise that additional dollars are needed to promote beef, but the process he was using left out a key ingredient: the cattle producer,” says ICA Chief Executive Officer Matt Deppe, adding that the current checkoff has tremendous support among Iowa cattlemen.