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Beef Checkoff Changes Will Have to Wait

While a coalition of cattle organizations agreed to work toward changes on the national beef checkoff last year, it looks like Congress may not get to vote on the proposed changes until the next farm bill.

In March, seven groups signed onto changes to the checkoff, a $1-per-head assessment on all cattle sold in the U.S., after years of negotiations. The proposed changes

primarily a doubled assessment – were included in a memorandum of understanding

(MOU) signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American National CattleWomen, the Livestock Marketing Association, the Meat Import Council of America, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the National Livestock Producers Association, and the National Milk Producers Federation.

Two organizations that had participated in the negotiations (the National Farmers Union and the U.S. Cattlemen's Association) opted against signing the MOU, saying issues with governance of the funds raised by the checkoff were not addressed to their satisfaction.

No one assumed that congressional approval for changes to a checkoff program would be a slam dunk, so the seven remaining members of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) had been hoping to attach a rider with the proposed changes to a critical piece of legislation, like the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. However, that didn't happen, and a source close to the BCEWG told Agri-Pulse that the group was advised it may have to wait until the next farm bill, which would hold off final approval of the changes for at least two years, likely more.

Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs with the NFU, recently told Agri-Pulse that NFU would continue to oppose the MOU until the parties address the management of the checkoff, which raised more than $40 million in fiscal year 2014. NFU contends NCBA plays too great a role in checkoff allocation because of its affiliation with the State Federation of Beef Councils and was receiving too great a share of checkoff funds.

In the meantime, some states are already working to increase their assessments, typically by an additional dollar. Some of that money can be sent to the national checkoff, allowing the primary goal of a checkoff increase (added revenue) to be accomplished without having to receive congressional approval.

Already, 14 states have taken this approach. Seven states – Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas – increased their assessment by $1, and seven other states – Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington – upped it 50¢. Checkoff increases are also being considered in other states.

Written by Spencer Chase for Agri-Pulse Communications. 

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