AMES, Iowa – In what is something of a Christmas present to most cattle producers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Tom Vilsack has decided against the creation of a second beef checkoff.
Over the last three years, cattle industry groups have been unable to come to an agreement on how, exactly, to enhance the current beef checkoff program. On September 30 of this year, Vilsack stepped in to indicate he would use his authority to introduce a second checkoff program.
After Congress rejected it with a rider on a spending bill and a solid month of public comments on the issue, Vilsack decided Thursday to discontinue efforts to make a second checkoff.
Iowa Cattleman’s Association CEO Matt Deppe says his organization is relieved at the outcome, but adds the current $1 dollar per head checkoff amount isn’t doing as much as it used to.
“It’d be since the late ’80s, he says, “when it was initially put in through referendum in the [1985 farm bill], it’s been a dollar. And so, statistically if you add inflation, let’s say, to the buying power of that dollar, it’s only worth 50 percent of what it was initially. And so that’s ultimately the big challenge.”
On an early December teleconference, more than 90 percent of ICA members voted that they support the current checkoff, and 99 percent said the government should not initiate a new checkoff without a vote from producers.
Deppe says a second beef checkoff, generating a second dollar per head for each beef animal, would have created too many unknowns.
“There were no guarantees it would work in line with the current system the way it is,” explains Deppe. “And so we had no guarantees that for instance, in Iowa we had that local control; that producer-controlled piece to the state beef council, and through our producers’ pockets, and also the input they give as investors in the checkoff. And so, that’s what’s concerning. Longer term, you know, asking the question ‘How do those two dollars, separate dollars if you will, pair up for the same needs?'”
The second checkoff would also have been in effect for three years before a producer referendum would allow changes to it.
Deppe says now industry groups will continue to hammer out the issue at the national level, while here in Iowa, cattle groups are exploring a state-level checkoff that could plug into the federal program.
To hear more about the future of the beef checkoff, click the audio player above this story.