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Agricultural News

Machiavellian Mashers at CBB, Part Two- Commentary from Steve Dittmer of the AFF

Wed, 30 Mar 2011 22:00:10 CDT

Machiavellian Mashers at CBB, Part Two- Commentary from Steve Dittmer of the AFF Steve Dittmer has been a journalist down through the years that has covered the beef cattle industry. A few years back, he went out on his own and formed a group that is known as AgriBusiness Freedom Foundation.

Earlier this week, Dittmer began a three part series on what he believes is going on at the Cattlemen's Beef Board and why he believes that this could be vey bad for the beef cattle industry as a whole.

We are reprinting his email newsletter that has put out a three part series on the strange happenings at the Cattlemen's Beef Board.

Here is part two entitled Machiavellian Mashers at CBB- Part Two   

Part I of this series covered the genesis of the state and national beef checkoff systems, the historical background of consolidating national beef organization for efficiency and unification purposes and the unprecedented handling of minor accounting errors in a manner suited to most damage the credibility of the industry, the CBB and its main contractor, NCBA. Now for nuts and bolts.

Before we get into issues raised in a recent executive session that has fooled no one, lets consider some other issues:

The CBB leadership clearly and absolutely stated in April of 2010 that the firewall between policy dollars and projects and checkoff dollars and its projects had never been broken. Yet they had to be aware at the time of audit results that they were to trumpet in a few weeks as an "extremely troubling" breach. The money, of course, has been repaid and accounts straightened. So which is it? Firewall breached or not?

Related to the above, after regular audits and a special more comprehensive audit, accounts have been squared. Yet R-CALF is evidently not satisfied, as a communication from CBB leadership has indicated they feel the board must deal with another letter since the February convention from R-CALF requesting another CBB investigation of NCBA and policy activities.

NCBA has not been accused in any of the material we've seen of not doing the jobs or accomplishing the goals set forth in their contracts with CBB.

Certain CBB board members have voiced questions about why NCBA is the prime contractor with the CBB. From answers supplied by CBB staff and membership, they have concluded the NCBA has concentrated the most talented, experienced and efficient group of people familiar with the beef industry's needs in one place. We've always asked the question another way, "Do you want the chicken experts handling our beef promotion?" Board members have also been informed that NCBA will work on a "cost recovery" basis - in other words, NCBA does not have stockholders or owners to show a profit to. They exist to get the most bang out of cattlemen's dollars, whatever chore you put them to.

We have seen written evidence of certain involved parties whose goal was to bring down the NCBA as a prime contractor for the CBB, period.

A report from the CBB Executive Committee regarding recommendations from the Rules and Responsibilities committee regarding procedure revisions was shared with the full board in July 2010. However, we have seen written evidence that some CBB leadership -volunteer and staff -- has been for some time working on their own plan for reorganizing the group structure for the entire beef industry on their own. This plan has not come up through normal committee channels, could involve problematic amendment of the Act and Order and certainly would be contrary to the spirit and intent of the industry organization consolidation of the last 40 years designed to efficiently leverage cattlemen's dollars. The only committee working on this plan apparently kept no minutes, seemed to purposely operate under the radar and was a committee that appeared to be unrelated to such a far reaching undertaking. Later timelines for this "Administration Subcommittee," whose members are not named, refer to "producers perceptions" regarding whether the Federation of State Beef Councils was a separate entity from the policy division of NCBA. The timeline refers to "comments" and "complaints" without specifying where this input came from or how it was solicited. Much of the interplay was related to the interactions with NCBA's Governance Task Force in 2008-2010.

This reorganization plan would involve the creation of a new Federation board and staff (more bureaucracy), the stripping of CBB contracts from NCBA, assumption in some fashion of NCBA headquarters and staff in Denver involved in CBB contract work and the relocation of all NCBA policy work and staff to Washington D.C. The key would be to absolutely separate NCBA from anything to do with the CBB, Federation or state beef councils.

Rather than being regarded as the organization that coordinated efforts with other national farm lobbying organizations to get the national checkoff enabling legislation passed, the cattlemen's group that worked the hardest to get the checkoff referendum passed, NCBA is regarded by a faction within the CBB as the ultra enemy of the checkoff, to be removed from the picture at all costs. NCBA's "arrogance and audacity still know no bounds," was one quote revealing their attitude and true focus. NCBA has not been absolutely perfect in this relationship, according to board members we've talked to. But in addition to have spearheaded the effort to bring the checkoff into existence, it also provided key leadership in the issues management campaign that together with checkoff funding kept the cow that stole Christmas from taking the whole industry down. They also led and paid for a major part of the industry's portion of the legal effort that defended the checkoff all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, otherwise the checkoff could have disappeared. And if the checkoff amount is ever going to be increased, who is going to lead that effort, if not the largest cattle policy group in the land? Wouldn't NCBA be the group that would carry that water for the industry? The same group factions within CBB would rather pour boiling water over? Nothing we've seen or heard justifies at all the attitude of those who insist NCBA must be cut out of the picture.

USDA personnel have been witness to some of this shadowy activity and doubtless are puzzled and concerned. Others at USDA doubtless feel vindicated, as with the change in administration, some officials who don't like checkoffs at all now have more ammunition, should they wish to do something.

Some board members have become more and more concerned about the procedures used by the nominating committee, especially regarding geographic representation, the degree of organizational seasoning of nominees selected and the degree of dedication to beef demand building as a priority.

At the February industry convention in Denver, some things came to a head. Some CBB members had become concerned about representation of cattlemen's interests among the leadership and the Executive Committee. Presently, for example, of the three officers, two are from one state, Arkansas, which, nice as it is, barely ranks in the top 20 in cattle and calf numbers (#17), has no significant feeding presence and contributes far less to the checkoff than states like Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, California, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Oklahoma, which count no one among the officers. Even the 12-member Executive Committee counts no one from Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado or Missouri - all top cattle number states, while Arkansas again has two, Virginia one and Vermont one, although the latter represents the dairy industry, which has fewer larger cow number states to pick from.

The USDA has been no help in this regard, as it has had to recite chapter and verse from the current administration's politically correct Diversity code. That means it is much more important to current high political officials that people, geography, size and type of operations that do not represent the mainstream of American agriculture be afforded representation than those who have the most cattle and provide the bulk of the money to run the operation. In fact, several people have noted that an usually high number of nominations sent to this Administration's USDA officials were rejected, and second nominations required, apparently to achieve some pattern of "diversity" that better suited the goals of political correctness imposed upon the beef industry by this administration's USDA.

A good friend of mine was fond of saying that in cattlemen's organizations - which depend on money from the largest number of satisfied cattlemen funders to survive - "Them that pays the gold makes the rules." Instead, we have people playing games to make sure that the states representing far more than half the checkoff funds get shut out. It doesn't take too long for cattlemen providing that huge a share of the money to get unhappy with little or no representation among the leadership.

This commentary is written by Steve Dittmer, who has given us permission to reprint this newsletter commentary in full.




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