Over the years, BEEF has carried a number of articles chronicling the efforts of progressive livestock auctions throughout the U.S. On page 54 of this issue you'll find another such story, this one on the Joplin Regional Stockyards in Joplin, MO. There, owner Jackie Moore is coordinating the use of value-added health programs among his smaller clients to allow them to compete against operators whose larger lots of uniform cattle traditionally have provided them with a marketing advantage.

While alliances, grid and formula pricing and direct buying have reduced their dominance, local auction markets still play an extremely vital role in providing their clients with not only a marketing venue but insight into how to compete in a changing beef industry. With their keen understanding of marketplace needs and demands, and innovative programs, progressive auction markets can help to tune thousands of producers into the business opportunities available as a result of today's change.

That's why it's disappointing to see the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) call in late February for a producer referendum on the national beef checkoff. While LMA certainly has the right to press its agenda, it's irresponsible of LMA to work toward a referendum and foment distrust and suspicion among the segments, while offering no alternative.

The LMA move jeopardizes the beef industry's most significant tool for addressing demand and foreign competition challenges. It will also flush away $3 million in checkoff reserve funds, as well as countless people hours, to the referendum effort. Never mind that the latest survey of producer attitudes on the checkoff found 70% of producers satisfied with the checkoff.

Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry, says the loss of his industry's checkoff a year ago has brought catastrophic change. Lamb imports have increased to a 28% share of the U.S. market. In 1993 it was 7.5%.

"There's no question that one of the real frustrating items is not having the program and dollars to bang back at the foreign competition every time they get an account or get into a store," he says.

Concentration and consolidation are worldwide business trends. To stand as an obstructionist before clearly defined and dominant trends not only ensures your demise, but likely those you serve.

The challenge for market operators, as for all cattle producers, is to give up the "business as usual" mentality and seek opportunities within changing industry dynamics. Apparently, LMA is willing to risk it all in hopes of reincarnating "the good old days."