Wyoming Beef Council celebrates 50 years of promoting beef
I always enjoy looking back in time and although I don’t usually remember specific dates, I have an appreciation for the social, economic and environmental factors that prompt changes and developments. My interest in history has increased as I’ve gotten older, not just due to my appreciation for the way things used to be, but because I can research at home, in my pajamas, which is frowned upon at the local library.
With the 50th anniversary of the Wyoming Beef Council upon us, I’ve been looking into some interesting facts about the year 1971. In 1971, both Amtrak and Nasdaq debuted in the United States; Apollo 14 and 15 completed successful lunar missions; the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18; the Ed Sullivan show ended and Louis Armstrong died. Also in 1971, Jeff Gordon, Lance Armstrong and Wyoming’s own Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner were born. Other events included the establishment of the Curt Gowdy State Park and thanks to proactive cattlemen and women, the statute authorizing the Wyoming Beef Council (WBC) was passed by the Wyoming Legislature.
Early days of the WBC
The intent of the act was to provide Wyoming cattlemen with the authority to “establish a self-financed program to help market, develop, maintain and expand state, national and foreign markets for beef and beef products.” Concurrently, individual state beef councils were popping up across the country.
By the early 70s, there were nearly two dozen state beef councils in existence. In addition, the Beef Industry Council (BIC) and the National Livestock and Meat Board had been operating since 1963.
One of the first official actions taken by the WBC in July 1971 was to set the rate of collection at 10 cents per head at change of ownership with the funds to be used for promotion and research projects. For comparison sake, 10 cents in 1971 had the spending power of 66 cents today.
In 1971, 1.52 million cattle roamed Wyoming’s open spaces, and the annual revenue of the council was approximately $135,000. One of the first expenditures was a $10,000 contribution to the National Livestock and Meat Board for promotion of the beef industry.
By February the following year, an in-state advertising program was developed and funding for the Wyoming CowBelles beef gift certificate program was approved. Soon after, Wyoming “dimes” were designated to BIC cooperative programs, which purchased advertising in Reader’s Digest, Time, Newsweek, Better Homes and Gardens and other popular publications.
Contributions to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) were made to develop foreign markets. In-state expenditures included support of FFA and 4-H, as well as radio advertising and work with grocery stores. Wyoming CowBelles executed programs as determined by the council as part of their commitment to beef promotion. Other programs and administrative work were contracted through the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
The need for cooperative programs
As the council became more organized and the beef industry became more united on a national level, programs blossomed and outreach expanded. Programs were coordinated with other states and the BIC.
The WBC divided its funds between in-state and out-of-state programs with the understanding that improvement in marketing conditions for cattle required increased demand for the end product in highly populated areas. Many other state beef councils were working toward the same goal, but the industry was lacking a uniform structure that allowed these groups to work together efficiently.
Frequently, efforts to produce materials, reach audiences and develop programs were duplicated and each state had their own message. In short, many organizations with the same goal were singing from different hymnals.
This problem became painfully clear in 1973 when the beef boycott, followed by wage and price controls devastated the market. With few resources and little coordination, cattlemen didn’t have the ability to fight back.
The industry responded to the market crisis of the mid-1970s by successfully ushering the first national checkoff bill through Congress. Although President Gerald Ford signed it into law in 1976, the program was never implemented as it failed to pass grassroots referenda.
This original act proposed a completely different structure than the checkoff of today. The 1976 Act called for a corporate-type structure that did not utilize the already blossoming state-national partnerships as a foundation for programs.
In the early 1980s, two pivotal efforts were made. First, in August 1980, several national organizations commissioned a study to determine if cattlemen wanted a nationally coordinated checkoff and if so, how would they like it to be structured. Sponsoring organizations included the National Cattlemen’s Association, the Beef Industry Council of the Meat Board, American Farm Bureau Federation, Livestock Marketing Association and several state organizations, to name only a few.
Second, individual state beef councils and the BIC began to focus on expanding resources available at the state and national level. The Wyoming Beef Council increased the per head assessment to 25 cents effective May 1981.
Over the next few years, 20 state beef councils increased their in-state assessments. Led by California, four states began collecting $1 per head, before President Reagan signed the 1985 act. By the time the 1985 act was drafted, 39 states had beef councils and total collections had risen from $6.8 million in 1980 to more than $18 million in 1985. States were sending nearly two-thirds of their collections to the BIC to fund national programs.
Creating a national checkoff
Meanwhile, the research results were compiled and provided the blueprint for the 1985 Act. Eighty-four percent of cattlemen supported a national uniform checkoff that was collected on a per-head basis, and they wanted resources to be funneled to expand the existing national and state efforts being conducted by state beef councils, the BIC and the USMEF. Cattlemen were also adamant that since importers would benefit from the program, they should pay.
Armed with new information and a consensus from the industry, the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association took the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 to Congress and it was passed as an amendment to the 1985 Farm Bill. The Beef Checkoff program as we know it today was born.
In 1986, the members of the WBC submitted an application to become the Qualified State Beef Council in Wyoming. With approval, the council began collecting $1 per head, as prescribed in the Beef Promotion and Research Act. The act and subsequent order passed referendum in 1988. Eighty two percent of Wyoming’s eligible voters weighed in and cast a very decisive 77 percent “yes” vote.
In the midst of space missions, transportation development, stock market changes and other minutia, Wyoming cattlemen were pioneers in starting a program that has become a resource for cattlemen across the country; a unified effort with more impact than any individual state program could have alone.
As Wyoming cattlemen and women, I encourage you to celebrate the fact that you had the foresight to establish a structured program, which for the past 50 years has battled a multitude of industry issues including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, activist agendas, nutritional misinformation, media brutalization and endless other challenges.
Yet, the industry has never, since the birth of this program, seen a devastation of the market as seen in the 1970s. This is due in large part to your foresight, your preemptive planning and your contributions to a sound, accountable program that works because of the state-national partnership you determined was important. Good work Wyoming cattlemen and women – happy 50th anniversary.
This article is courtesy of Wyoming Beef Council Executive Director Ann Wittmann. For more information, visit wybeef.com.