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Agribiz: State considers establishing cattle commodity commission

POSTED: November 6, 2013 8:30 p.m.

Cattlemen in Georgia are working to organize a state commodity commission for beef, a step other states are considering as well.

Around 15,000 people in the Peach State can request a ballot through the end of the year to establish the commission and tack on a $1 fee for every head of cattle sold.

“I think this is a time for cattle producers to invest their own money in something that benefits the overall industry through beef promotion, research or education,” said John Callaway, who chairs the Georgia Farm Bureau’s Beef Commodity Board and has served as president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association in the past. “I think you only have to look at what has happened with the national beef checkoff and the success we’ve had with that to see we could do even more with just a little more money.”

The 1985 Farm Bill allowed producers across the country to vote to assess a $1 per animal surcharge in order to promote beef — a decision 78 percent of cattle owners agreed with. Today, half of the assessment goes to the national organization and half to statewide associations, but the money comes with some strings attached.

The fund cannot pay for production research, for instance. A statewide checkoff could pay to fight invasive pests, such as the Bermuda grass stem maggot, which has grown worse over the past three years.

“Last year, we lost our whole last cutting; everybody in our area lost a cutting,” Callaway said. “We just don’t have a good handle on that one (pest) yet.”

Other states such as Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee, already have commodity commissions for beef, while Florida, Mississippi and Kentucky are working toward a vote.

Cattlemen in those states face the same challenges as Georgia’s producers, said Josh White, executive vice president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association. A dollar is worth less now than it was when the national assessment started in the 1980s, and cattle producers are trying to reach a larger audience of consumers.

“We are trying to promote beef to more people with less money,” White said. Over the next few months, the cattlemen’s association and others will repeat the message at sales and other events.

The last ag census counted around 16,000 cattle owners in Georgia, but White assumes that number has declined as cattlemen age, high commodity prices lure some farmers to grow row crops instead and some parts of the state have high property values despite the downturn in real estate.

Producers can request a ballot by going to the Department of Agriculture’s beef commission site. Ballots will be mailed out in late January/early February. At least 25 percent of the requested ballots must be returned for the vote to count, and two-thirds of the ballots must favor the commission. Like the other 12 commodity commissions in Georgia, the beef commission will require a referendum every three years.

Not many cattlemen have requested a ballot, Callaway said, but he’s not concerned.

“I haven’t even requested a ballot ... but I fully intend to,” he said.

Written by: Allison Floyd, GrowingGeorgia.com

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.


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