January 20, 2015
By: Richard Thorpe III, First Vice President, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
In 1985, the United States Congress passed the Farm Bill, which in-turn created the Beef Promotion and Research Act. Creation of this Act gave American beef producers the ability to create a mandatory “National Beef Checkoff” program if they so desired.
Producers from all sectors of the beef industry believed investing in the future and increasing demand for their product was essential. Therefore, these producers held a nationwide referendum, which passed overwhelmingly with 79 percent of producers voting in favor of making the Checkoff program mandatory.
When the Checkoff was enacted in 1985, I was just beginning my own cattle operation; nevertheless, I knew the program was extremely important for the success of my new business.
Cattle raisers across the country asked for the program to be built on several key principles. They asked that all producers and importers pay the equivalent of one dollar per head each time a beef animal is sold. These funds are collected at the state level by each Qualified State Beef Council.
The Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which consists of 103 beef producers, collects 50 cents of each dollar for national programs, and 50 cents is retained by the State Beef Councils. Each Beef Council has producers who sit on the board to determine how much should be invested in local, state and national programs.
Through the Checkoff, we have made great strides in promoting the beef industry. It has given us the resources to better promote high quality U.S. beef, increase demand in foreign countries and create product-enhancement and beef-safety research programs to address important safety and quality issues. It has allowed us to invest an average of $4 million annually on beef-safety and product-technology research.
Further, the Checkoff has allowed the beef industry to invest more in important research relating to the nutritional value of beef. This reliable research proves that American cattle raisers produce one of the healthiest and most wholesome food products worldwide. It has also enabled producers to implement a national radio and print advertising campaign to deliver positive beef industry messages to consumers.
Additionally, the program has helped us identify successful management practices through Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) to strengthen consumer confidence in beef, and it has allowed us to introduce new products into the marketplace over the years. In fact, since 1996, more than 2,500 new beef products addressing consumer preferences reached the market.
You might notice that there is a trend with the way the National Beef Checkoff is set up. The program was invented, implemented and is overseen by producers. This bottom-up, grassroots approach is what has made the program a success.
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Tom Vilsack announced that he planned to implement a new Checkoff program under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996 that would have turned the current program upside down, therefore making it run from a top-down approach.
Sec. Vilsack’s proposal was developed by the federal government, and it would have given much more power to the Secretary of Agriculture by allowing the Secretary to appoint board members from the general public with no vested interest in the cattle industry, such as groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Additionally, Sec. Vilsack’s proposal did not require importers to pay into the Checkoff, and it would have allowed up to 15 percent in administrative and functioning expenses.
Fortunately, in December of 2014, Congress passed an Omnibus Appropriations bill, which explicitly prevents the USDA from using any funds for a Checkoff program under the 1996 Act. Passage of the Omnibus provided enough leverage to make Sec. Vilsack abandon his plan. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) appreciates the efforts of many beef producers who reached out to their federal elected officials to voice their opposition to Sec. Vilsack’s proposal.
The bottom line is this – grassroots producers have been the foundation of the National Beef Checkoff program since it was established in 1985. With an $11.20 return on every dollar invested in the program, there is no denying it has been a tremendous success.
Nobody knows the beef industry better than the cattlemen and women across the country. We must continue investing in the future of our product so we can continue feeding the nation. I believe it is crucial that we always remember the key principles the National Beef Checkoff was founded on so we can make sure it remains a success for many years to come.
Richard Thorpe III is the owner and operator of Mesa T Ranch, headquartered in Winters, Texas. Thorpe currently serves as the First Vice President of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and he became a TSCRA director in March 2006.