Get serious on Checkoff

Opinion
Nov 15, 2013

It’s hard to think about investing in the beef industry’s future when cattle and beef values are already so high. As a whole, we need to breed more heifers and produce more products. Then we need to sell more of the high priced product. My concern is that beef prices will move higher and we will shun many consumers from eating beef.

 

As an industry, we are producing a more consistent beef product than ever before. Technology and research has allowed that to happen. But, realize that in 1970, 65 percent of the population lived in middle class neighborhoods and today only 42 percent of Americans do. Is a shrinking middle class good for anyone’s business or industry? We thrive on consumers and especially ones who can afford to eat beef.

The beef industry has come a long way since the 1990s when we made the decision to be more consumer-driven. That concept helped us realize many of the attributes consumers wanted in beef products, and your Beef Checkoff program can take a lot of credit for that.

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, we were in what I call the “genetic revolution.” Cattlemen tried every breed of cattle in the world to try and respond to consumer demands for leaner beef. But, at the time, cattlemen were getting the wrong market and production signals and we lost a bunch of consumers.

It has taken us a good 25 years of solid research and a strong promotional push to get back on track.

My point is, even though the supply side of the cattle business has taken care of many of our demand problems, should we continue to invest a buck a head for beef research and promotion? When the Beef Checkoff programs started, producers were selling steer calves for a couple hundred bucks a head and producing lighter cattle. At the time, a buck a head was a heck of a lot more than a buck a head today.

Now we’re selling steer calves for $800-1,000 per head and producing bigger animals, but we’re producing fewer of them. I do want to bring it up again that if the industry really sees the value in the Beef Checkoff, they should consider funding it a little better. Two or three bucks a head shouldn’t be a deal buster in today’s markets, or even moving to a percent system. There are still things to learn about producing, processing and selling beef, and keeping those profits coming back to the ranch.

We still have a lot of low value cuts and byproducts to which we can add value, and a number of new markets to open up where we can sell beef. If you stop and think about it, the easy part of beef research and promotion has been done. I would suggest we’re getting into the harder, more costly parts of the program going forward, like this sustainability piece.

It’s no question that the Beef Checkoff has created more political division in the beef cattle business than we could have ever foreseen. But I still think cattle producers have benefited from the research conducted by the program and it would be a good idea to get serious about it and fund it properly.

Every time you see that Checkoff logo, it has to make you feel good about the industry you’re in. We are all beef industry advocates and Checkoff-funded research has provided everyone in the industry positive tools to promote cattle and beef production to consumers.

The Beef Checkoff has been fairly quiet ever since a somewhat radical executive committee took the opportunity to focus on advocating against the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) participation in the Checkoff Program for being the largest organization conducting the Checkoff’s work. This is where everything went viral and the politics over the Beef Checkoff became ugly.

Beef producers have spent a lot of money trying to sort out the pros and cons of the program, and the people who run the program, and it was all money wasted! Both camps have suffered. And for many reasons, I don’t think the perceived rub between NCBA and the Checkoff is over, which is sad.

In my mind, you either need to crank it up and fund it or it will die a slow death. It’s time to get serious. — PETE CROW

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