By the time the gavel comes down sometime tonight, Sept. 10, the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC) will have spent about $40 million. That is probably no problem to the people who wander the halls of Congress, but to the 20 people on the committee, who run cattle ranches, feed lots, dairies and important livestock industry companies, it’s an unimaginable number of greenbacks.
Today is decision day on 15 authorization requests (ARs) from contractors, who have ideas for selling more beef and keeping the industry sustainable. It was one of these ARs that produced the original “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” campaign that lit the fuse on one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever.
The virtual meeting of the operating committee began Wednesday at 8 a.m., with the committee and dozens of interested parties video networked in a virtual meeting. Hugh Sanburg of Eckert serves as vice chairman of the committee. Sanburg is a member of the nationwide Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB).
“The BPOC ‘September decision’ is no easy task,” said Greg Hanes, CEO of the CBB. “The committee, appointed by their peers, currently holds representation from 16 different states. This versatile group is tasked with a very important and serious job: to select and fund the best Beef Checkoff programs for the following fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.”
Colorado’s Sanburg said, “There are actually 20 individuals that serve on the operating committee. I believe the members will look at each proposal with an open mind and their only interest is to recommend the most prudent expenditure of the checkoff funds.”
With the committee coming together from diverse geographies, the question of special regional interests come to mind. “It’s quite the opposite,” Sanburg said. “Since the checkoff program is national in scope, the committee will look to fund the AR’s that most benefit beef demand.”
Sanburg said he and other committee members have not been lobbied during their deliberation and were left alone to do their work.
This year’s decision day is being conducted under a sort of microscope after the organization survived a major court battle questioning the board’s expenditures. When their court fight failed, the R-Calf organization that had mounted it began a nationwide petition campaign aimed at shutting down the checkoff program. Their issues are related to claims of money misspent. Nonetheless, the committee of 20 is hard at work.
“Membership on the operating committee is not for the meek,” Haynes said. “Every year, contractors typically bring many millions of dollars more in ‘asks’ than the budget allows.”
Hanes elaborated, saying that dividing checkoff dollars between promotion, research and education projects — down to the penny — is often accompanied by lively debate, difficult decisions, and unfortunately, even cuts to great programs. The members weigh and sift each proposal, separating the “wheat from the chaff” by focusing on what they believe will best support the industry now and in the future.
Sanburg agrees and said he expects some lively debate on the proposals they will be acting on.
According to Hanes, contractors presented their preliminary ARs in July to more than 200 beef producers on checkoff committees, asking for honest feedback and comments on their ideas and projects.
“Those committees obliged, providing pages of comments and suggestions and even rating every potential program,” Hanes said. “Following those presentations, contractors then took that feedback home and adjusted their projects to best ensure that they meet the needs and wants of those producers who pay into the checkoff. Still not all will make the grade and become part of the checkoff program.”
The operating committee’s work on the actual proposals began 20 days ago. “There are 15 authorization requests from various contractors. Yes, the committee has a very detailed document to review that was sent out 20 days prior to the meeting as well,” Sanburg said.
He pointed out that comments from the various checkoff committees that reviewed and rated the ARs this summer were part of the package that he reviewed.
The proposals come with all kinds of ideas and budgets. There are new ads campaign ideas, new overseas marketing pushes, promotional plans to develop more beef recipes and so on. Two things that are not in the mix are lobbying and political campaigning. No checkoff dollars may be used for such activities.
To further ensure the transparency of the procedure, every final vote for an AR must be passed by a two-thirds majority.
“The committee has to pass any recommendations by a two-thirds vote. The committee’s recommendations then have to be approved by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board’s Executive Committee and subsequently the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service also has oversight to make sure all proposals comply with the act and order,” Sanburg explained.
The items given a green light today and approved by the other levels of scrutiny will show up in the checkoff budget as early as October.