This Week’s Column: NCBA Critics Miss The Point

Farmers across the country understand that now, more than ever, membership and involvement in agricultural organizations is a basic and necessary cost of doing business.



With attacks from anti-farm extremists in the environmental and animal rights lobbies, in addition to mounting legislative and regulatory burdens from Washington, farmers increasingly rely on the “strength in numbers” that a robust membership organization provides. One of the most successful of those organizations is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, commonly referred to as NCBA.



Tracing back its organization roots to 1898, the current formulation of NCBA was born in 1996 when the Beef Industry Council and the National Cattlemen’s Association were merged into one unified organization representing all segments of the beef industry. NCBA represents the industry as “the national trade association representing U.S. cattle producers, with more than 28,000 individual members and 64 state affiliate, breed and industry organization members.”



Through those memberships and affiliations, “NCBA represents more than 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders … to advance the economic, political and social interests of the U.S. cattle business and to be an advocate for the cattle industry’s policy positions and economic interests.”



At the Cattle Industry Annual Convention held earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas, a “Governance Task Force” Chaired by two Past Presidents of NCBA released a report recommending a change in the organizations’ structure.



This report, while passed overwhelmingly by members of the various Committees and Boards who heard it, drew sharp criticism last week from a group of farm organizations as varied as the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union. The critics roundly criticized the proposed changes to NCBA’s Governance based on assumptions about how the proposed structure would impact the Beef Checkoff.



Herein lies the problem with criticizing the proposal: the proposed changes are to the structure of NCBA itself, not the Beef Checkoff. The Checkoff program is mandated as part of Federal law, and is subject to continual oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While NCBA is a recognized contractor, the primary such contractor, charged with carrying out the programs and initiatives of the Checkoff, the role of setting the budget and priorities of the Checkoff lie within the jurisdiction of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and State Beef Councils. The relationship of these Qualified State Beef Councils to NCBA appears to be where the controversy rests.



According to the organization, “The NCBA Federation of State Beef Councils Division oversees beef and beef product promotion, research, information and related activities financed by the beef checkoff and similar market development investments. It also functions as the Federation of the 45 Qualified State Beef Councils and carries out the duties and responsibilities assigned to the Federation by the Beef Promotion and Research Act and Order. In this way, NCBA coordinates state-national efforts to build demand for beef.”



Yet again, however, each State Beef Council is responsible for setting its own budgets and priorities; the Federation acts as the body of coordination between these bodies in implementing Checkoff projects across state lines. For example, a State Beef Council in a cattle intensive part of the country, say Nebraska, might want to assist a State Beef Council in a more populous region of the country, say New York City. By working together through the Federation, demand for beef is greatly enhanced.



Cattlemen who choose to be members of NCBA, like myself, ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that our voice is heard through our involvement in the organization. If the dues-paying membership feels the proposed changes in governance are healthy for the organization, then those changes will most likely occur.



The opinions of other farm industry associations, however, are just that: the opinions of people paying dues to other organizations.