The beef checkoff has had some remarkable successes over the years, says Wesley Grau, a New Mexico rancher and chairman of the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB). And cattle producers recognize that, with more than 78% saying they approve of how the checkoff is being operated, the highest number ever.

But challenges loom, Grau says, and the industry may have to make some tough choices.

That's because of the ongoing decline in cattle numbers in the U.S., and the resulting drop in checkoff revenue. And the drought-driven liquidation seen in Texas, Oklahoma and other states only adds fuel to that smoking fire.

"We think that crunch is going to hit the CBB budget in 2013," Grau told cattle feeders attending the recent Texas Cattle Feeders Association convention in Amarillo. "We need to save a little money so we don't have to cut back on some very important programs."

The CBB has set back around $1.2 million, he says, in an effort to plan for lean years ahead. But will that be enough? The CBB budget in 2007 was $53 million. This year, it's $42.8 million, and with the number of cows being liquidated, it's likely they'll collect more. But, future budgets are likely to be leaner as the beef industry ponders how to continue promoting beef to consumers with a reduced budget.

Then there's this: depending on who you talk with, a dollar spent on beef promotion now only buys the industry 23% of what it did back in 1985. "At some point, we need to think about how serious we are about promoting beef and doing research in the U.S.," Grau says.

He's confident that question will be answered, but he’s realistic enough to know that it won't be an easy process. The CBB tries to be very inclusive in its representation, he says, giving all beef-related organizations a seat at the table. Then, there are the state beef councils, with all the cattlemen who sit on boards and committees, and individual beef producers. And, they all have an opinion too.

Multiple voices mean multiple viewpoints and opinions about the checkoff, Grau says. "And I firmly believe that if you want to affect change, you need to pull your chair up to the table. Otherwise, it's going to be difficult to do."

So, he encourages cattlemen to get involved. "Be involved in your checkoff. Make sure the decisions about how the beef checkoff program is structured and how it operates comes from the full spectrum of beef organizations and individual beef producers and importers," he encourages.