Getting along

Opinion
Jan 21, 2011
Getting along

It appears that Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) have made peace over the recent round of financial discrepancies between the organizations and their contractors. NCBA has always been one of the major contractors to CBB and has implemented a wide variety of programs and research projects for CBB and the Federation. For the most part, NCBA has done a good job implementing CBB’s investments and programs to grow beef demand.

The relationship between NCBA, the Federation and CBB has always been a good one. But there has always been some concern over the years about NCBA’s business arrangements with CBB and the Federation. The call for separation between the organizations is an old story that will probably never go away, which is a shame since the relationship has worked pretty well for the past 15 years.

NCBA, CBB and the Federation have always had a few fiscal discrepancies on how funds were accounted for and when a problem arose, it was quickly corrected without much fanfare. The only reason I can think of why this last round of accounting disputes received so much media attention is because of another effort to disable NCBA by other organizations.

I’m not sure what folks would expect to gain by having NCBA and the Federation separate. The Federation has already made the decision to operate more independently from NCBA, but the term separation needs a bit more definition. Having the groups physically move into separate buildings doesn’t make a lot of sense after all these years.

This last go-round, auditors discovered around $200,000 in accounting errors that NCBA billed to the wrong account or to the wrong division. NCBA made the adjustments, paid what it owed, and moved on. Several years ago, it was the other way around and CBB owed NCBA about $400,000. There wasn’t this much ado about it. They fixed it and moved on. This episode also gave the organizations incentive to improve on their accounting procedures, which look like a nightmare to me.

I suppose it’s easy for some folks to see this as some intentionally underhanded way for NCBA to fund their policy division and make a big deal about the arrangement that has survived for nearly 15 years. The program has been under the watchful eye of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) since its inception. It became a political issue for no good reason.

Now that the issue is on USDA’s front burner, their in-house watchdog, Office of Inspector General, is going to audit the entire system. CBB, NCBA and the Federation will all get a good looking at by the agency. A good dose of transparency may be just the thing to put this issue to bed once and for all.

In the big picture, the beef checkoff has been a good program. It has helped create demand and kept beef in consumers’ minds as a wholesome, nutritionally powerful product that tastes great. The consumer-focused movement that the checkoff created has worked very well for all beef producers.

One thing we don’t need is bomb throwing from other activist organizations in the beef industry. Jealousy is at the root of the internal debate about the checkoff and one group is asking AMS to suspend the CBB’s checkoff investment to NCBA, which will do far more harm than good.

This industry doesn’t have time to spend whipping the checkoff apart. There are far more important issues that we should be paying attention to.

The industry has just received a legislative opportunity to get some things done. The new Congress should be friendly to the beef industry, and all of agriculture. Right now, we have a two-year window to be legislatively aggressive. This industry doesn’t need any of the static created by our own internal activist groups, and I’m sure you know who they are.

What do you want industry leaders to spend time on, the beef checkoff, the Environmental Protection Agency, or public lands issues? The list of items that are vital to the health of the livestock business are long and real. Wasting time and resources over the checkoff isn’t the right thing to do. — PETE CROW

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