Missouri beef producers seem to be almost equally divided over a proposed $1-per-head state beef checkoff, and those opinions were heard during a public hearing Wednesday morning.
The MEC Building on the Missouri State Fairgrounds was filled for almost two and a half hours as beef producers from across the state, both male and female, young and old, gave testimony to Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce regarding their stance on the proposal.
“I was really impressed with the turnout,” Fordyce told the Democrat after the hearing. “… I don’t know what the sign-in numbers are, but we had a lot of people here and that’s what makes for this healthy discussion, it’s certainly positive. Lots of points on both sides and we will have a decision on the referendum in the next week to 10 days.”
This proposal was created by the Missouri Beef Industry Council, who petitioned Fordyce for a referendum of beef producers. It would be a new checkoff for the state, while beef producers across the country have been paying a $1 federal beef checkoff since 1988.
“Beef producers created the (federal) checkoff as a self-help promotion, research and information program,” the MBIC website states. “It was approved in 1988 by 79 percent of beef producers in a referendum after grassroots input shaped the program. In recent producer attitude surveys, approximately 70 percent of cattlemen approve of the checkoff.”
The checkoff funds are used to help communicate with consumers about the beef industry and beef products. According to the MBIC website, this is done through direct advertising, cooperative marketing, public relations efforts, education programs and new product development assistance.
Those in attendance Wednesday were given a few minutes, if they desired, to state their case for or against the proposal. Several of those in favor of the new state checkoff said they thought $1 per head was an investment for producers, citing information from MBIC that states every dollar invested returns $11.20.
“I’m very proud to be part of agriculture, and anyone who knows me knows I think that is the most important industry we have in our state. I’m in favor of the beef checkoff,” said Roger Cordes, a lifelong Pettis County resident, owner of a century farm, and president of the Pettis County Farm Bureau. “I think that we need to promote our industry and our product, but more importantly, whether you are in favor or against it, I am in favor of you letting us go through and having a checkoff vote and let the chips fall where they may.”
Cordes was referring to the next step in the process. It is now up to Fordyce if this proposal will come to a vote of Missouri beef producers, a decision he said he plans to make in the next seven to 10 days. Many of the people who spoke Wednesday didn’t offer a stance on the proposal itself, but rather made their case to have Fordyce allow a vote.
If Fordyce decides a referendum is in order, per state statute, there will be a 60-day registration period to allow interested producers to register to vote. Ballots will then be mailed to those who registered and there will be a two-week voting period, after which ballots will be returned to the Department of Ag and counted. Fordyce told the Democrat the state does not have a stance on the issue, but rather is a “neutral election judge for the referendum.”
Pettis County Eastern Commissioner Brent Hampy was one of the last people to speak, and since so many others had spoken before him, he simply said he supported the referendum and that points had already been well-made.
Some of the opposition said they were unhappy with how MBIC has handled the checkoff and that the organization is “untransparent” with how the funds will be used.
A task force was formed earlier this year to look into the idea of a state beef checkoff, which recommended to the MBIC a 50 cent checkoff, but the Council decided to go for $1.
A member of the task force in attendance Wednesday said she had talked with dozens of producers and only two were in favor, but those odds weren’t the case Wednesday — of the roughly 100 in attendance, the speakers were evenly distributed with it almost alternating perfectly between pro and con. The last 15 or so speakers were all in favor of the proposal.
Others offered the idea of a voluntary state checkoff, while a few said more hearings needed to be hosted before anyone makes a decision.
There have been small efforts to increase the federal checkoff with no results, so several states have instituted state checkoffs to promote beef within the individual states, said David Dick, Pettis County Presiding Commissioner, past chairman of MBIC and beef checkoff task force member.
“Because obviously over time the cattle herd has declined — some of that has been weather, some has been economic — so we’ve got a smaller number of cattle which you’re collecting that on, and then the way we market our cattle is different so we’re not collecting as much,” he explained. “So the idea was to supplement that with a state checkoff because here in Missouri we have to promote in Kansas City and St. Louis, huge markets, but we don’t have the dollars to do that. … That dollar is stretched pretty thin.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.