Jolley: USDA, NCBA, CBB, Governance – Oh, What A Mess!


That old saying, “There are two things you never want to see made – laws and sausage,” came to mind as I watched the twists and turns of this whole new governance thing. Laws are actually the result of politics and the good folks at NCBA got mixed up in that mess when they suggested a change in governance earlier this year.

On the surface, it made sense. They wanted to be able to move more quickly. They used the word ‘nimble’ several times during the early stages. Trimming the number of hands on the till from a few hundred to a few dozen certainly seemed like a solution.

Except the USDA didn’t quite understand how it would work. Six very influential organizations were pretty sure they understood and they didn’t like it. Pointed letters were written and mailed and NCBA knew they were going to have a fight on their hands.

NCBA’s bosses trekked off to Washington to explain it to Vilsack’s team and began a charm offensive with the six disgruntled organizations. Word was that it was working although Bill Bullard at R-CALF sent a note to me saying he wasn’t ready to go along with the idea just yet.

Thursday afternoon a very large and very fresh meadow muffin hit the fan with enough force to stop everything. CBB’s board of directors unanimously passed a resolution questioning the structure of their continued relationship with NCBA.

Was it a direct slap at the proposed new governance structure? I talked with CBB Board member Hank Maxey who said the concept had been discussed for several years. Although the Governance issue didn’t start the discussion, the combination of the proposal along with the concerns expressed by the USDA did put in on the table.

“We’re sworn to act in the producer’s best interest,” Maxey said, “and we thought separation might be the best way to continue doing that.”

Maxey was quick to point out that the CBB board just reflected the sense of the 11 members and it was still to be ratified. The vote will come during the NCBA Summer Conference in late July. The resolution was passed by two members from Texas, as well as members from Georgia, California, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, Nebraska, Florida and Virginia.

So, a resolution passed unanimously by the CBB Board of Directors sounded like a slam dunk to me. I was preparing this story Friday morning when I received a note from Mike Deering at NCBA. There will be a press teleconference this afternoon. Subject: NCBA Governance. Participants were Scott George, NCBA Federation Division Chairman; Patti Brumbach, Washington State Beef Commission; Marilee Johnson, Illinois Beef Association, and Richard Wortham, Texas Beef Council.

I called in. It was a fascinating exercise in gently phrased annoyance. Shortly after the press hung up, a release was emailed. Subject: “NCBA Calls Timeout on Governance Structure.”

The press conference revealed a sense of disappointment with the CBB’s resolution. Although the speakers tried to be politically correct, Johnson was blunt; expressing that she was particularly ‘disheartened’ by the Board’s action and pointed out the long standing importance of a national partnership.

Unless NCBA elects to continue the timeout indefinitely, the week’s event could signal a lengthy and costly struggle over the issues of governance, finances and that Chinese wall that is supposed to stand between their policy making role and the CBB’s charge to promote beef consumption.

The press release said NCBA was “suspending plans to proceed with changes to its governance structure to allow the Federation of State Beef Councils an opportunity to clarify its role and intentions to all industry shareholders.”

Scott George maintained that they were not turning their back on revising the governance structure. The timeout was called to allow more time for them to assure U.S. producers that the proposal would “foster unity within the industry.”

“We want to do this right. The Federation effectively represents all cattle producers paying into the checkoff,” said George. “Quite frankly, it is impossible to do so when there is so much controversy driving a divide within the industry. We have critical issues affecting this industry that requires us to be united, not divided. We are calling a timeout to clarify our role and wishes to all shareholders.”

Stay tuned. This controversy has all the hallmarks of being a long and painful episode in the necessary relationship between the NCBA and CBB. So far, few people seem to buy into George’s unity idea. It will be a difficult sell that must be completed before the Convention.

Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for and


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