No dartboards. No crystal balls. No coin flips. I've heard lots of theories on how decisions about your checkoff dollars are made. Most are not accurate.

Like the decisions we make about our own businesses, the process we use to decide how to spend checkoff dollars is both orderly and instinctive. It starts with hundreds of producers who sit on joint committees to set strategies that are likely to have the greatest impact on short- and long-term beef demand.

These are called “joint committees” because both the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), whose 104 members are appointed by the USDA Secretary, and the Federation of State Beef Councils are represented. At the Cattle Industry Annual Convention held each winter, these committees establish industry priorities.

At these meetings, producers can bring to the table their own promotion, research and education ideas, as well as suggestions from friends and fellow farmers and ranchers. Some ideas may be “out there,” but all are considered on their merits.

Checkoff decisions also are influenced by consumer research, the industry's ability to play a significant role in the outcome, and whether we can afford to conduct the project. Equally important, State Beef Councils weigh in, sharing input based on their own critical field experience and the potential merit of specific ideas.

These folks are our “boots on the ground,” and their ideas are integral to the planning process. We have to remember, however, that for every new idea we fund, we may have to give something up.

The Joint Budget Committee then crunches the numbers to compare project costs with projected revenues. It's a sad reality that there are always more good ideas — ideas that could provide great return for beef producers — than the checkoff can afford.

Staff at the various organizations contracting with CBB then take the ideas discussed at the committee meetings and flesh them out. The ideas come back to the committees at the Cattle Industry Summer Conference in the form of draft funding requests from potential contractors. While all checkoff meetings are working meetings, this one takes on special energy, as this is where the committees make their recommendations on projects to be funded during the next fiscal year.

The committee suggestions go to the Operating Committee, which by law has representatives selected from both CBB and the Federation of State Beef Councils. This important 20-person committee recommends the CBB program budget in May of each year. Here the ideas are also weighed against the industry's long-range plan, current industry goals, and the potential return on investment to the payers of the checkoff.

In July, CBB either approves or rejects the budget recommendation from the Operating Committee. The budget also is submitted in July to USDA for approval. USDA officials have been present at all the major discussions, and can recommend rethinking any ideas that may run afoul of the law or of the Beef Act and Order, which governs how checkoff dollars can be spent.

In September, the Operating Committee convenes once again to approve projects for the year. Each of the projects conducted are constantly reviewed by producers — by leaders, in committees at the annual meeting and by the Evaluation Committee, which formally looks at checkoff efforts to determine how much “bang” we're getting for our buck.

It may not be as quick as throwing darts at a board, but it is more thoughtful and effective. That's what my fellow producers expect of me and other CBB members, whom they trust with making the best use of their checkoff dollars.

Dave Bateman is a fourth-generation beef producer from Elburn, IL. He was first appointed to the Cattlemen's Beef Board in 2000. He now serves as chairman. For more, visit www.beefboard.org.