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Beef Checkoff

Riverton – “The perception of an interaction between people and animals, for many people, is their relationships with their pets,” commented University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 12.

There are TV channels devoted to dogs, fresh and refrigerated products available for pets and countless toys and trinkets that pet owners can buy.

“Some people don’t understand the distinction between caregivers and taking care of animals versus the relationship between a rancher and the cattle he or she relies on,” he explained.

Perception

This may be one of the reasons that producers have to bridge the gap between actual production practices and consumer understanding.

“From a management standpoint, we have to be creative. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) are focused on animal wellbeing and providing some management ideas through different segments,” Paisley noted.

Retailers see that their customers are concerned about animal welfare, and they want more information. 

 “This is being passed back to us in the industry,” he said.

Opinions vary from one extreme to another – from urbanites who are subjected to countless examples of negative media to kids who grew up on a ranch and can not imagine why anyone would doubt that livestock are well cared for.

“Hopefully we are not all extremists one way or the other,” commented Paisley.

Awareness

Producers need to be aware that consumers may not always understand how agriculture is practiced.

“We understand agriculture, and we know that productivity and growth is driven off the health and wellbeing of an animal,” Paisley said. “We know we do our best to provide that, but I think explaining that to the consumer is pretty important.”

Understanding the negative perceptions that exist is the first step toward improving consumer understanding.

“Some negative perceptions say that we exploit animals and all of our operations are corporately owned. We are all driven by profit and not animal wellbeing. Antibiotics contribute to our illness problem, and production is negative for the environment,” he described.

Fighting back

To combat some of these ideas, different factions of agriculture are creating voluntary auditing programs to evaluate and standardize their practices.

“The United Egg Producers have come up with some of their own guidelines and their own certification,” Paisley noted.

McDonalds and Walmart also have their own auditing services now.

“JBS Swift in Greeley, Colo., Cargill in Fort Morgan, Colo. and many of the other packing plants now have, at nearly all times, an independent auditor watching how cattle are being handled to make sure everything is being done humanely and realistically,” he explained.

Auditing

Auditors watch holding pens, truck unloading and alleyways, making sure there is enough space and no injuries.

“They keep track of everybody using any kind of prod, and they keep track of vocalizations. If an animal bellows, they make a note of it,” Paisley added.

Tyson packing plants have established their own guidelines and no longer accept animals that have not been certified by their farm-check system.

“Now we are seeing where some of these feedlots are passing some of these efforts back down to the cow/calf producers,” Paisley explained.

Through these programs, protein sectors such as the beef industry are addressing animal welfare issues. They are talking about the issues and trying to improve consumer acceptance.

“We are seeing a lot more interest in doing BQA certification, cattle handling guidelines and transportation guidelines,” stated Paisley. “All of these types of things are continuing to be important.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

After their meeting in December, the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) finalized and released a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the members of the organizations involved. 

“All of the organizations went back to their members to review MOU, and we had a follow-up meeting on March 12-13,” says Scott George, a past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association who has been integrally involved in the discussions. “After we reviewed what our organizations decided seven of the eight groups involved in the discussions agreed to sign on.”

The BCEWG has worked over the past several years to search for solutions to improve the beef checkoff across the nation, and this latest MOU, signed on March 13, will be given to lobbyists for each organization in Washington, D.C. to introduce this legislation for Congressional action. 

“We will work to find people to sponsor a bill in the House and Senate and work with the Ag Committees,” George continues. “It has been interesting to see all of these groups coming together to get this done.”

Checkoff changes

The MOU describes a number of changes to the beef checkoff to enhance the checkoff and would provide more support for the beef industry. 

One of the major changes is the increase of the checkoff from one dollar to two dollars per head.

These funds would be collected just as they are today.

Fifty percent of funds will go to the national level and 50 percent staying with the state beef councils. 

“We want to make sure the one dollar we have now stays the same,” George explains. “The second dollar will be refundable. If producers don’t like the increase, they can ask for the second dollar back.”

“That is a really important provision,” he continues of the refund provision. “There are several reasons for it.”

Refund mechanism

George notes that it is important for producers who aren’t supportive of the additional dollar to have a refund provision. 

“The fact that producers have the right not to participate is important,” George says. “We also hope the refundable dollar will help move the checkoff through Congress.”

Because some members of Congress aren’t particularly supportive of checkoff programs, a refundable provision could be helpful. 

One of the challenges of a refundable extra dollar is the mechanism by which a refund would occur, but George notes that groups are working together to sort out the details.

“It is a collaborative process to try to figure these details out,” he says.

Operating committee

Another major change is in the structure of the checkoff. 

“At the national level, the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC) decides how the dollars collected in the checkoff will be spent,” George explains. “The groups on the BCEWG wanted to be involved in the selection of the BPOC.”

As a result, the BCEWG proposed a restructured joint nominating committee.

“We proposed a joint nominating committee,” he says. “There will be seven representatives on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and seven representatives from the Federation of State Beef Councils, just like there are today.”

However, the BCEWG also added seven industry representatives to sit on the committee to interview candidates for the BPOC. 

“It would take a two-thirds majority vote to take the names forward,” George comments. 

George emphasizes, “This is an inclusive move to try to get the industry more involved in checkoff programs. This is a wonderful tool to help get people closer to the checkoff and increase their understanding of what is happening.”

Referendum

Another important change highlighted in the MOU is the addition of a producer referendum. 

“In the current program, if 10 percent of producers sign a petition and ask for a referendum, that referendum is triggered,” George says. “We are leaving that measure in place, but we are also adding another component.”

Similar to the soybean checkoff, a periodic referendum would be instituted. Under this situation, every five years, the Secretary of Agriculture would designate a location and time period for producers to go to to sign up to petition a referendum. 

“This particular referendum could be to continue the checkoff as is, increase the assessment rate or end the program,” George notes. “This gives us the opportunity, as we go forward, to change the collection rate without requiring congressional action.”

“These changes are pretty substantial,” George says. “We’ve worked a long time, and we’ve worked hard accomplish this.”

Benefits of the beef checkoff

With no shortage of time and energy behind the work that the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) has completed, Scott George, a cattle and dairy producer from Cody and past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, notes that he is passionate about the checkoff and its impacts on the industry, and the effort has been worthwhile.

“This checkoff has been the greatest salvation for the beef industry,” he comments. “I’ve seen the benefits it brings to us in the industry.”

When the checkoff was originally developed, it was created with the idea of fairness, state involvement and a good collaboration between the state and national level. Those principles have held strong throughout the implementation of the beef checkoff.

“The beef checkoff has turned the tide for beef consumption,” George says. “We have addressed safety concerns, such as E. coli O157:H7 and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and we continue to work on issues like Salmonella because they are safety concerns, and they are important.”

He notes that the checkoff has provided funds for human nutrition research, consumer education and new beef products development, as well as addressing other aspects of raising beef like beef quality assurance programs.

Checkoff dollars have also gone into improving export markets, which adds value to producer’s cattle, with research showing that exports add $300 per head.  

“This is really important,” he says. “We have worked in all of these areas and it has paid off. The latest results show that producers receive an $11.20 return for every one dollar invested in the checkoff.”

“We have strong demand for our product,” George comments, “and if we didn’t have this checkoff, I doubt many beef producers would be in business today.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cody producer helps lead beef checkoff at national level
Cody — Cody dairy producer Scott George has been involved full-time with his family’s milking operation since 1977 and he says he’s slowly worked his way through National Beef Federation leadership until he landed as Vice-Chairman early in 2009.
    “The Wyoming Beef Council has to have representatives from every aspect of the beef industry, and there are few dairymen in Wyoming so I became involved with that board,” says George of how he got his start.
    George’s parents homesteaded the family’s current home place midway between Cody and Powell in 1947 and began with their dairy herd in 1954 after they needed to diversify their crop farm. Today the farm employs several people full time, milks over 400 head each day and produces its own forage for the dairy herd.
    George’s new role as Vice-Chairman of the National Beef Federation means more travel away from the farm, and more time spent on conference calls and keeping up with current events.
    “This year I’ve already been to a national beef safety meeting, where representatives from every aspect of the beef packing, shipping and retailing industries were present, all in one room,” he says.
    He details how the meeting focused on everything from the science of how to make the perfect hamburger – using a perfect mix of frozen, chilled and fresh ground beef to maintain an ideal chilled temperature – to how to best market beef in a supermarket’s beef case.
    He says one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. beef industry today is the overabundance of middle meats. “With recent consumer trends the number of people purchasing the middle cuts of beef out of the case has dropped, which means we now have this large supply of beef with nowhere to go,” he says. “The Beef Federation has worked with supermarket managers to bring the prices of those meats down so they’ll move and get the supply chain moving again.”
    He says one of the biggest challenges is getting the supermarket managers to drop their prices, which they don’t want to do because when they raise them again to match rising beef prices their customers will object.
    “Instead of lowering their prices to meet the current beef market they enjoy those increased profit margins while they last,” says George, noting that he is pleased to have noticed a drop in beef prices at local grocers.
    According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the checkoff has helped drive consumer interest in beef middle meats. It says beef retail sales are up four percent over this time last year, so now more checkoff dollars are being directed toward further middle meat promotional efforts.
    The checkoff continues to target middle meats with a campaign to remind consumers that beef is a great choice for every meal occasion, whether the meal is served in a restaurant or prepared at home.
    George names that campaign as just one of the areas the National Beef Federation currently spends beef checkoff dollars.
    The biggest challenge, he says, to the beef checkoff program today is rising costs. “We don’t even do TV advertising anymore, because we just can’t afford it. We’ve had to move to strictly print and radio advertising,” he notes.
    He says one of his biggest regrets, with budget cuts, is that the Federation’s been forced to cut valuable programs, including youth education, of which George was chairman.
    “We’ve already gone through and cut programs that weren’t as effective. Now we’re to the point where we’re cutting the good programs that have been very successful,” he says. Another program that hasn’t made the priority list is the Beef Ambassador program, and George worries the Beef Cook-Off will undergo close scrutiny in the near future.
    “The Cook-Off is an excellent program that gains beef an hour of national publicity on the Food Network, but I’m afraid they’ll let that one go, too,” he says.
    George says the over-supply of beef in the U.S. hasn’t affected the cow/calf producer in Wyoming yet, but he expects to see negative effects this fall. “Right now the feeders are losing $300 per head in their lot, and when it comes time to buy calves again this fall they won’t want as many, and that’s when our producers in Wyoming will start to see it,” he says.
    Of the dairy industry, George says it’s experienced the same challenges as beef in general. However, he and his family continue to manage their herd to the best of their ability through new tools both commercially available and invented and manufactured locally for their operation.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Producers continue to have very favorable attitudes toward the beef checkoff program and have been very consistent in their support over time,” stated Dan Hoffman of Aspen Media and Market Research in a Jan. 23 memorandum summarizing the results of the national 2015 Beef Producer Attitude Survey.

Survey results showed that three out of four producers approve of the program and support has ranged from 69 to 78 percent over the last five years.

“Just 11 percent disapprove of the checkoff, which is the lowest it has ever been since polling started 28 years ago,” noted Hoffman.

Approval

Producers who are aware of the beef checkoff program are more likely to favor it, which has been a consistent finding across surveys.

“Producers who are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ well-informed are more likely to approve the checkoff, especially those who say they are very well informed,” he commented.

Eighty percent of this group approves of the beef checkoff program, while only nine percent disapprove. Only 60 percent of those who say they are “not too well-informed” approve.

“With little knowledge, it can be difficult for producers to understand the benefits of the program,” he explained.

When producers were questioned about their familiarity with the program, 89 percent noted that they were aware of the checkoff.

“The reality, however, is that about one in three producers know little or nothing about it,” commented Hoffman.

Eleven percent of producers surveyed throughout the U.S. were not even familiar with the name.

“The 11 percent of producers who did not recognize the checkoff on an unaided basis were read a subsequent description of it,” noted Hoffman. “In total, the unaided and aided name awareness of the checkoff is very high, 93 percent.”

Positive results

Seventy-two percent of surveyed producers believe that the beef checkoff has improved their profitability, and 73 percent agree that the program is headed in the right direction.

“The overall value of the checkoff is viewed favorably, regardless of the economy. About eight in 10 believe the checkoff has helped contribute to the positive trend in consumer demand for beef over the years, and about the same number feel it helps even when the economy is weak,” he explained.

Of the producers surveyed nation-wide, 76 percent believe that the program does a good job of representing their interests.

“In evaluating the checkoff’s performance in representing their interests, the vast majority of producers think the program is in tune with what they want from it,” stated Hoffman.

Wyoming survey

In Wyoming, extra questions were added to the survey in a practice known as a “heavy-up.”

“We are happy that we saw a big jump in the number of people who have seen or heard of the checkoff in Wyoming,” said Ann Wittmann, executive director of the Wyoming Beef Council.

Beef checkoff awareness among producers in Wyoming is 97 percent, 10 percent higher than the national average.

“We do a survey every two to three years, and results have been fairly consistent with what we have seen before,” commented Wittmann.

Transparency

In Hoffman’s Wyoming memorandum, he explains that producers were asked about the Wyoming Beef Council’s transparency and accountability to producers.

“If they have an opinion, Wyoming producers are much more likely to agree than disagree that there is transparency and accountability. There are, however, about one in five producers who lack familiarity and say they are unsure,” he said.

Sixty-two percent agreed that transparency and accountability exist within the Wyoming Beef Council, while 17 percent disagreed, and 22 percent were unsure.

Funding areas

“The Wyoming Beef Council funds different checkoff program areas, but they wanted to determine whether producers have any preference about how this is done,” added Hoffman.

The three program areas included in the survey were national promotions, international promotions and advertising to build demand for beef in Wyoming.

“Of the three, the clear priority is to use funds for national promotions,” he noted.

Forty-seven percent of producers favor funds for this part of the program. Nineteen percent indicated priority for Wyoming beef awareness, and 23 percent prioritized international awareness.

“Wyoming producers also were allowed to identify other areas for funding, but only four percent did so,” Hoffman continued.

Visibility

Producers were also questioned about the visibility of checkoff information in printed materials and radio advertising.

“Awareness is generally as high as two-thirds of producers who have seen at least one advertisement,” indicated Hoffmann, in reference to printed materials.

Thirty-seven percent recalled hearing a radio update or advertisement about the program.

“This approach is not as visible as printed advertisements, although it does reach a plurality of producers,” he explained.

The Wyoming Beef Council will review the results of the Beef Producer Attitude Survey and set future goals for the checkoff program based on the results.

“We will be announcing our goals, most likely, in April,” commented Wittmann.

Goals and tasks will be identified at the Council’s upcoming budget planning meeting.

Polling producers

“The survey is fairly time-consuming. We try to keep it short and succinct,” said Wittmann.

The survey was administered by an independent contractor, who many producers were reluctant to speak to.

“Producers don’t share information easily. It is the nature of our business,” commented Wittmann, “but we spoke out until we got enough responses for statistical accuracy.”

She explained that the program belongs to the producers who are paying for it.

“I believe in having strong data to give us feedback, so we know what we need to change and where we can improve,” she said. “It is critical that we get the data and respond to it appropriately.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alterations being discussed on the national level

Casper – Increasing the checkoff and management of the program has received a lot of debate at the national level, but what do people here in Wyoming think?
    “I think it should be increased,” says Douglas rancher Aaron Clausen, “but the increase should go toward advertising for domestic product.”
    “I think it’s a good program,” says Thermopolis rancher Jim Wilson. “I would accept the increase to $2 if they put in Country of Origin Labeling. To me that’s the deciding factor”
    “I think the checkoff has got to go up,” says Tom Wright noting support for a $2 fee or more. He also supports structural changes as outlined by a multi-organization task force that reviewed the checkoff following the lawsuit over its legality (See sidebar).
    “At a time when I’m told the Australians are levying $5 per head, yeah I think we ought to go to $2,” says Wright. He also says importers should pay and be involved in the program. “The fact is that 15 percent of our beef is imported and if we’re going to promote beef we’re going to promote them so they might as well pay.”
    Midwest rancher Frank Shepperson supports the increase, but would like to see a portion of funds directed to promoting U.S. beef. He’d also like to see the 1986 charter date removed so a broader array of organizations can contract to carry out programs funded using checkoff dollars.
    As much as she hates the thought of paying more, Converse County rancher Terry Henderson says there probably should be an increase. “The program was created to benefit ranchers and if that benefit is going to continue we’re going to have to keep funding it at a more appropriate level,” says Henderson.
    Casper rancher Bill Keith says the timing is poor for an increase. “I think they ought to wait a while,” he says noting uncertainty surrounding the drought. “Ranchers are having a tough time with the drought and they’ve cut their numbers. Let’s leave it where it is and see how things turn out.”
    “It would probably work while the calf prices stay up,” says Clara Wilson who ranches along the Cheyenne River in northeastern Wyoming, “but if they would go down, the $2 a head would most likely remain. And I have a problem promoting Mexican, Canadian and other foreign beef.”
    Doug Cooper, Casper, says any increase should be accompanied by periodic referendums. “I think the checkoff should be targeted toward specific beef products and away from generic advertisement,” says Cooper. “We don’t go to the restaurant and say bring me a beef. We ask for a steak.”
    “I also think the checkoff should promote American products, but sadly that is a complicated issue,” says Cooper. “At the minimum we should be able to promote cattle raised, fed and processed in the U.S.”
    “I think that a beef promotion and marketing program does have value and based on what it is now there has been value,” says Gillette rancher Eric Barlow. “I don’t mind going to $2, but the producers have to have a voice in doing that. I think that second dollar should be explicitly for U.S. beef and state of origin beef.”
    Wyoming’s agricultural organizations have policy on the checkoff, most often asking for some changes to accompany any increase.
    “We’d only support an increase if there’s a producer referendum to support it,” says Scott Zimmerman of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Of his group’s checkoff policies in general, he says producers should have the opportunity for a refund.
    “We think it should be charged not only on domestic, but also imported, product,” says Zimmerman. RMFU doesn’t necessarily believe a seat on the board of directors overseeing expenditures should accompany payment.
    The Wyoming Stock Growers Association has policy on its books supporting the recommendations of the industry-wide task force (see sidebar).
    Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says their national organization is supportive of the increase. “I’d like to see us focus a little more on products raised in this country,” says Hamilton. “If we’re going to start labeling our products it would be a good time to tell consumers the difference.”
    While her organization doesn’t yet have specific policy Moorcroft rancher and Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) president Judy McCullough isn’t supportive of an increase. She’s critical of what she describes as too close of a partnership between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and checkoff dollars. “When I see my calf prices double I’ll think about it,” she comments. “When they passed the checkoff they said it was to increase our calf prices. They were about a dollar then and they’re still about a dollar.” McCullough also says she’d like to see promotions limited to U.S. beef.
    Jennifer Womack is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..