Forget the governor’s race. All across Texas people are voting over beef.
Friday is the final day for ranchers and others who deal in cattle to vote on implementing a Texas beef checkoff, a tax charged each time a cow is sold. There’s already a national beef checkoff that levies a one dollar assessment on the seller per cow.
The vote today is on a proposal to create a Texas checkoff, also for a dollar. If the proposal passes, most ranchers in the state will pay a two-dollar tax for each head of cattle they sell.
The government doesn’t collect this tax. The money goes to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board which then gives some of it to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. That industry group uses it to fund beef-related research and to promote beef. The same group also lobbies Washington on behalf of the beef industry. Supporters of the checkoff argue that the tax has raised the price of beef over the years by creating demand.
“Every time the price of beef goes up, it helps me,” says Texas Rancher Curtis Younts Jr., who supports the checkoff.
But the Texas vote has become about more than a one-dollar tax. Many are viewing it as a referendum on the way beef is taxed and promoted in Texas and the US.
Money raised by the one-dollar checkoff ranchers currently pay is shared between state and national beef groups. All of the funds from the second dollar proposed for the Texas checkoff would stay in the state.
“What it would allow the Texas beef council to do is to spend that money as they see fit to promote Texas beef,” says Younts Jr.
Space on the Table
There is a war for space on the American dinner table, and supporters want to raise the checkoff because of increasing competition from other meats. The high price of beef relative to chicken and pork (marketed as “the other white meat”) are making some beef producers nervous that the one dollar tax isn’t going as far as it used to.
But the current scarcity of beef — the very thing that has driven prices up — has convinced others that raising the tax is a bad idea.
“Promoting beef with extra dollars when we don’t have the cattle counts here will not do anything to promote beef inside the United States,” says Laurie Hannan, a dairy owner and cattle dealer in Martins Mill, Texas. “It will, perhaps, bring more beef in from outside the United States, and they do not pay a checkoff.”
Importers do pay the checkoff at the national level. But Hannan does not believe they will pay a Texas Checkoff. Her problem is not just the extra dollar she will need to pay, there’s even a way ranchers can get reimbursed, although it involves paperwork and tight deadlines. Her “beef,” if you will, is with promoting a product that’s hitting levels of scarcity we haven’t seen since the 1950s.
“If we generically promote beef and we don’t have it here, there will be the encouragement to bring in beef from outside the country,” says Hannan.
That echoes a broader criticism that checkoff promotional campaigns benefit larger producers and meat packers over smaller cattle operations. For some, the vote is a referendum on the way beef is promoted in the U.S.
But supporters, like Curtis Younts Jr,. say current cattle scarcity makes raising the tax all the more important.
“Yes, the cattle numbers are down. The revenues to promote are down because of that,” he says.
Both sides have the rest of today to vote on the proposal. Anyone who owns cattle or who owned any since last June 6th is eligible to vote on the Texas Checkoff.
They can do that at any Texas A&M AgriLife County Extension Office.