Elizabeth Harsh and Frank Phelps of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc. met with the Ohio Farmers Union full Board of Directors in early December to promote the upcoming vote to double the amount of Ohio’s state beef checkoff from $1 to $2.
Harsh, executive director of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc. and Phelps, vice president of the organization said the additional $1 levied per head would remain in Ohio.
Both the Ohio and National Farmers Unions have standing policy stating that the organizations only supportive marketing checkoffs that are “voluntary at the time of delivery.”
While the discussion was cordial and OFU’s leadership and county presidents appreciated the duo’s visit, there was a great deal of skepticism as to the national and state beef checkoff programs’ efficacy, especially for independent, small producers.
Mardy Townsend, president of the Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake Counties Farmers Union and herself a grass-fed beef producer asked Harsh whether the checkoff money that stays in Ohio could be earmarked to specifically market Ohio-raised beef. Harsh said the Ohio Beef Council, which makes the checkoff spending decisions, does maintain a freezer beef directory to which family farmers may submit their contact or marketing information.
She couldn’t guarantee that the additional dollar being sought for the checkoff could be use for Ohio-raised beef marketing to bolster local and regional sales in retail outlets, but agreed it was an idea that the Beef Council should consider.
Country of Origin Labeling was brought up which is an important consumer and marketing topic for Farmers Union members. The Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc. is affiliated with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. which is fighting USDA, consumer groups, the National Farmers Union and others to repeal COOL.
Other OFU county presidents told Harsh that for organic producers and others exempt from marketing checkoffs, the fact that the Ohio Beef Checkoff is collected despite their exemption and farmers are forced to engage in a cumbersome rebate process is a problem.
In discussion after Harsh’s presentation, the OFU Board reaffirmed the standing policy that the organization will not support checkoffs which are not voluntary at the point of delivery. The resolution was offered by Executive Committeeman Joe Logan.
The Ohio Dept. of Agriculture held a pro forma hearing Dec. 6 to allow the statewide referendum on the checkoff increase. A little noticed provision in the state budget passed earlier this year changed the terms of checkoff referenda. That language now calls for a simple majority in favor to enact changes to the checkoff program. In years prior, including a failed attempt to raise the checkoff amount in 2012, a two-thirds majority was needed to raise the checkoff amount.
In a letter to ODA, OFU President Roger Wise said that OFU opposes the increase. In addition to making some of the points expressed in the meeting with Harsh, Wise pointed out that U.S. beef consumption – and meat consumption in general – have been on the decrease for several years and neither the national nor state checkoffs have done anything to change the direction of that trend.