Checkoff Spat Sparks Pushback


OMAHA (DTN) — The Mississippi Farm Bureau board of directors may vote to boot a director off its board because of his role in litigation involving the beef checkoff.

Fred Stokes, a 77-year-old retired Army veteran who has run a small cattle operation in Mississippi, has spent much of his time over the past several years raising Cain against large market forces in agriculture such as meatpackers and seed companies. He was a founder, executive director and president of the Organization for Competitive Markets.

After 40 years as a member of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, Stokes also has moved up the ranks and served for the past three years as the director from District 11 in the state. Stokes said he was asked last month to talk with officers at the state Farm Bureau about his role in the checkoff litigation. Stokes said Mississippi Farm Bureau officers made it clear the group supports the checkoff, does not support litigation against the checkoff and is fundamentally opposed to the Humane Society of the United States, which has helped OCM in the litigation.

Stokes said he originally agreed to resign from the Farm Bureau board but changed his mind after stewing on the subject. “I didn't give up my rights as a citizen when I joined the (Farm Bureau) board,” Stokes said.

Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, did not respond to emails or phone messages seeking an interview. A spokesman for the Mississippi Farm Bureau also did not reply to an email seeking comment. The board did, however, have meeting minutes and a board meeting agenda stating the board was seeking to remove a director.

Stokes stepped down as president of the Organization for Competitive Markets at the group's annual meeting in August. Yet, Stokes remains an OCM board member and was present at a press conference during the OCM meeting when the group's new president, Mike Callicrate, announced he was suing USDA and the Cattlemen's Beef Board over management of the beef checkoff. Callicrate's suit was announced at the OCM annual meeting at the same time the group also announced a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS did some unpaid consulting with OCM before the litigation was filed.

Producers pay a $1 fee to the beef checkoff every time they sell an animal. Last year, the checkoff generated about $42 million for national programs. A portion of the checkoff also goes to individual state and regional beef councils.

After the lawsuit was filed, OCM drew strong criticism from others in agriculture, particularly from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the group at the center of the lawsuit because of its role as the beef checkoff's largest contractor. NCBA denounced the lawsuit and OCM's work with HSUS on the case.

“Basically, Farm Bureau wants to kick me off the board because of my involvement with the suit … associated with HSUS,” Stokes said.

Yet, to suggest Stokes' positions on the checkoff are new would be incorrect. Stokes penned an editorial in the OCM newsletter last year critical of checkoff operations.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau board of directors held an emergency telephone meeting on Monday, Oct. 8, to discuss Stokes' status as a director, according to meeting minutes. Knight informed board members there was no vacancy on the board as previously anticipated. Knight then asked the group's general counsel to explain the process of removing a director. Scott explained if a complaint is filed, then the board had the responsibility to hold a meeting on the matter. The group adjourned after stating that if such a complaint is filed, the board would take up the question of Stokes' seat at the next regular meeting on Oct. 23.

Stokes said he supports the checkoff, but doesn't believe it should be run by an organization that is heavily involved in lobbying, such as NCBA.

Stokes and OCM aren't the only ones getting backlash over the checkoff lawsuit. On Monday, Oct. 8, R-CALF USA complained about its checkoff chairman being excluded from an ad-hoc beef industry working group meeting in Denver put together to suggest possible reforms to the beef checkoff. R-CALF wrote various livestock and farm organizations questioning their efforts to exclude others from attending such meetings.

“R-CALF USA will now, because of your actions, be forced to consider its remaining options with which to carry out its member policies relative to the Beef Checkoff since the option of working with other interested industry groups to have an open and honest discussion of the issues impacting all cattle producers in our great nation, as well as those who import our product, has been stymied by your unwillingness to allow all national groups to participate,” R-CALF stated.

R-CALF is not a party to the checkoff case, but R-CALF had written a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in late August demanding USDA cull NCBA out of the checkoff as its main contractor.

The Humane Society of the United States also has become more involved in attacking meat checkoffs. Last week, HSUS and an Iowa farmer sued Vilsack, arguing USDA improperly allowed the National Pork Board to spend $60 million in 2006 to buy the slogan “Pork, the Other White Meat” from the National Pork Producers Council. HSUS argues the slogan, no longer in use, was not worth anywhere near the value of the sale. HSUS argues the sale was a quid pro quo transfer that allowed the pork board to cash flow its operations. Nonetheless, pork groups also now are incensed by HSUS' involvement in attempting to undercut the current status quo on checkoff programs.

Source: DTN

Posted by Northern Ag Network 

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