The resignations in the last 2-3 weeks of the CEO and chairman of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) put the checkoff into a position where trust can be regained. The resignations hopefully will also prevent the checkoff from again serving as the base from which to launch political attacks.
But the resignations merely put us in a position to begin to address some of the real and substantive issues that do exist. They don’t fix the problem.
The bottom line is the checkoff has been a huge success, the state beef councils and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the primary contractor, have done great work on behalf of the industry and building beef demand. The program is underfunded, however, and more dollars are needed to accomplish what is needed to be done.
That means we have to remove the obstacles that are real around the checkoff. Some of those – like avoiding a situation where the executive committee pursues an agenda contrary to the industry’s interests – are structural and would require a change to the Act & Order; similar to what would be required to raise the checkoff assessment.
Before anyone would want to attempt that type of change, the industry has to build a strong consensus on the direction it wants to take, and clear up any problems and misgivings. That appears to be a long ways off after recent events, but some sort of industry working group that would look at these issues makes sense.
Beyond making adjustments to the Act to make it more efficient, responsive and effective, there are other issues the industry can begin dealing with today.
Certainly, we need to refocus on the activities the checkoff is designed to do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t simultaneously look at ways of addressing the concerns people have about the checkoff. The most important thing is to not get bogged down in the red herrings.
The CBB has done a solid job of spending our dollars and ensuring compliance with the Act & Order, and it will continue to do so. When I talk to people with concerns about the checkoff, many of these concerns center around disagreements with NCBA policy and a belief that NCBA is benefitting directly or indirectly by being the checkoff’s major contractor.
I’m not sure how this issue is resolved because they are correct that NCBA does benefit from its affiliation with the checkoff. The organization benefits by garnering some of the credit and visibility for being the primary contractor on checkoff projects. And NCBA’s participation allows it to more efficiently use its own staff.
But the converse is that NCBA needs some benefits; after all, the organization works on a cost-recovery basis with no ability to profit from checkoff activities. NCBA doesn’t even get paid until after their work is completed; not to mention the bureaucratic red tape that’s involved in handling checkoff projects.
The bottom line is that there is no other entity to perform this work. And it’s difficult to attract others to the job when the process is so cumbersome and presents a proposition that’s financially neutral at best. How do we foster or develop the expertise in others to do this type of demand-building work? How do we maintain the efficiency and gains the industry created with this infrastructure? And, finally, how do we get everybody in the industry to step back and look at the big picture of building beef demand?
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know there are very good people serving as voluntary leaders who can and will step forward to get us moving forward again.
I’m not naïve. We’ve seen some of the organizations aligned against NCBA take steps to elevate the drama. And these groups have never been particularly supportive of the checkoff, to say the least. So if the checkoff can’t be used as an instrument to damage NCBA, or if the program could possibly even benefit NCBA, then those individuals and organizations are fine with destroying the program.
The industry can’t let that happen. Nor can NCBA continue to allow its name and image to be attacked for doing the work no other entity has the capability or inclination to do. The solutions become workable if the intent is to build beef demand in the most effective and inclusive manner as possible; they become unsolvable if the intent is otherwise. Hopefully, now the discussion can return to what it should have been all along.