By Matt Reese
As the general manager of Muskingum Livestock, Denny Ruff talks to many cattle producers and sends no small amount of checkoff dollars to the Ohio Beef Council. He has heard plenty of reasons, rumors and speculation about why the recent 2012 Ohio Beef Marketing Program Referendum did not pass. The referendum was seeking to increase the state checkoff on cattle from $1 to $2 per head.
Ruff thinks that maybe the most noteworthy reason for the referendum failure was that many people didn’t seem to know much about it until just before the late September vote.
“I never really knew it was coming to a vote until just a couple of weeks before the vote was taking place. Now, that could be my own fault for not reading about it somewhere, but I talked with a lot of other people who didn’t know either,” Ruff said.
Ruff has heard others express concerns with the way the current checkoff funding is being spent, concerns about facility costs and overhead for the organization, and concerns with programs that do not necessarily support the commercial cattle producer.
“The main thing is that people do not think the money is going to be spent wisely,” he said.
Another concern is the lack of ability to capture many of the already legally required Ohio checkoff dollars that should be coming in.
“There is no way to track all of the private treaty cattle sales and other cattle sales down here in southeast Ohio and there is no way all of those guys are sending that dollar in for the checkoff,” Ruff said. “I can’t prove it, but I am sure that it is going on.”
Now, Ruff acknowledged the realities of all of these situations may very well be much different, but the perceptions shaped the vote. The bottom line was that, regardless of the facts of the matter, Ruff said confusion, misunderstandings and suspicion contributed to the failure of the referendum.
“It is disheartening to learn the referendum did not pass,” said Sam Sutherly, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) president. “The Ohio Beef Council has an outstanding history of leveraging Ohio beef producers’ checkoff dollars to the fullest extent to promote our product to Ohio’s 11.5 million consumers. These results indicate there is more work to do to effectively communicate how existing checkoff funds are used to increase beef demand.”
According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, 674 votes were certified with 47% of producers representing 51% of the marketed cattle sold by all participants voted in favor of the increase. Voting against the increase were 53% of producers representing 49% of marketed cattle sold by all participants. Producers were able to vote by absentee ballot, at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the OCA office, and at OSU Extension offices.
The OCA will soon regroup and consider options for the course ahead.
“Any action that may or may not be taken will be initiated at the direction of the OCA Board of Directors and our membership,” said Elizabeth Harsh, OCA executive secretary. “That is how the process started last year at our annual meeting where members initiated the effort to set in motion the referendum. It will all be up to them to decide what that next step will be. The next OCA Board meeting is set for early December and that will be the first time they will be together after these results, so I am sure that will be a topic of discussion. It will be up to them where we go from here.”
Of the current $1 per head checkoff, 50 cents stays in the state and 50 cents goes to the national level. If the referendum would have passed, the additional $1 would have stayed with the Ohio Beef Council to be invested in promotional efforts in Ohio. Ohio’s current checkoff income is approximately $300,000 annually (after sending $.50 of every dollar collected to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to build demand at the national level). With the proposed increase, Ohio’s checkoff income would have been approximately $900,000.
Ohio is not the first state to consider an increase in the state beef checkoff. Eight states have already passed checkoff increases, and several other states are considering seeking an increase.