Beef check-off truce likely

INNISFAIL, Alta. — Beef producers in Alberta may be approaching an agreement on how to handle a $3 levy collected on every animal sold.

Nothing is official but a plebiscite may be proposed to create a beef industry development fund and an agreed upon division of money among industry groups.

“The biggest hitch is, where would the money be invested? So we’ve come to an agreement in principle with the Alberta Cattle Feeders board and our board. Nothing signed yet. Nothing’s official,” said Bob Lowe, Alberta Beef Producers chair at a zone meeting in Fort Macleod, Alta., Oct. 23.

Now, $3 is collected and $1 is remitted to the national beef check-off agency to fund Canada Beef and the Beef Cattle Research Council. The reminder stays in the province.

Tentatively, of the $2, five cents would go to remitters like auction markets, $1.30 would go to ABP, 25 cents to the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association and 40 cents to a proposed Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund.

A lot of money is at stake.

For the latest fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, Alberta Beef Producers collected $10.35 million and refunded nearly $2.5 million. That $2.5 million is 37 percent of the total collected. The amount of refunds requested each year has changed little since refundable checkoffs were available. Most of the rebates go to feetlot owners. The $1 national checkoff is set to increase to $2.50 in April 2018.

The proposal is to give 65 percent of the money to Canada Beef Inc., 35 percent to the Beef Cattle Research Council and five percent to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association for issues management.

At the provincial level, holding a plebiscite can be complicated.

“It is unknown at this time what the process is for the organizations that want to go back to nonrefundable (checkoffs),” said Penhold, Alta., rancher Doug Sawyer, who sits on the Alberta Marketing Council board that oversees the province’s boards and commissions.

Commodity groups have to apply for a plebiscite through the marketing council and the agriculture minister would approve it, he said at an ABP zone meeting in Innisfail Oct. 25.

So far, only Alberta Potato Growers indicated they want a plebiscite to reinstate their checkoff but there is no further information on how to proceed.

The issue may be confusing among the grassroots who question the dispersal of millions of producer dollars over the years.

Rancher Maggie Dulaney of Innisfail supports the ABP but wants the board to know producers want more accountability and the ability to ask for their money back.

“At present, those who chose to have the right to leave their money with the association or ask for a refund. We have to fight for that. At the least the ABP should be member driven and member sensitive,” she said at the Innisfail meeting.

She believes the organization may have lost its vision from when it was formed in the 1970s and she wants proof that every dollar collected was spent wisely.

“Nobody is suggesting that there hasn’t been good work done by the delegates and the management of the ABP, but over the years of increases in millions of dollars of guaranteed funding, we saw a huge waste of money, fewer grassroots resolutions passed at board level, no accountability when asked for it and no transparency of in-house expenses and a major pervasiveness of entitlement,” she said.

“We have done more with the ABP with a refundable checkoff. We have done more with less,” she said.

It is regrettable that members feel there is no accountability, said ABP delegate Kelly Smith-Fraser of Red Deer County.

“There is zero accountability in the $2.5 million that leaves this industry (in check-off funds). There is zero accountability to those dollars that are going back into people’s pockets and not into the industry and to improve the industry,” she said.

Ryan Kasko of Kasko Cattle Company and vice-chair of ACFA board said the demand for a refundable checkoff was to help facilitate accountability.

“Some of us may have been surprised by how much money actually got taken out of ABP and not put into another organization, so I think with the proposal that we have, we recognize that we need to have stable funding for ABP and Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, as well as other organizations,” he said in Fort Macleod.

“This is kind of the first step in maybe a grander scheme … to come together as an industry and work on areas of common interest.”

Every province handles levies differently.

British Columbia raised its checkoff to $2.50 this year. A cattle industry development council administers the money and the funds are split among the BCCA, BC Association of Cattle Feeders, Feeders and Breeders Association and the dairy sector.

The B.C. government set up a $10- million beef industry development fund about 20 years ago and the interest is used for research and other projects. Funds have to be matched with check-off dollars.

“It brings the industry together much better in a lot of ways because everybody understands what is going on and it is not a fight over those dollars,” said Kevin Boon, manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association.

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