Deadline extended for producers to request checkoff ballot
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 01/19/2014 8:10 PM
The deadline for Minnesota beef producers to request a ballot for the checkoff election has been extended to Jan. 17.
"After holding public hearings with producers we have decided this extension will make it easier for the maximum number of Minnesota beef producers to participate and make an informed decision about this important referendum," said Dave Frederickson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "I strongly encourage all of Minnesota's beef producers to get involved and request a ballot."
Several of the people who attended a Dec. 5 videoconference on the proposed increase were vocal in asking why more hasn't been done to inform beef producers about the upcoming vote.
This summer, the Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council voted to ask producers in Minnesota to approve an additional $1 per head checkoff on beef, dairy and veal animals. The checkoff excludes animals sold for breeding. The entire additional $1 per head collected would stay in the state. The $1 per head checkoff now collected is split with 50 cents staying in-state and the remaining 50 cents sent to the Cattleman's Beef Board. If approved, $1.50 would stay in Minnesota and 50 cents would go to the Cattleman's Beef Board.
The additional funds raised through the state checkoff would go toward issues management, improving the image of beef and telling the story of producers. The money could also be used for beef production research. Money collected under the federal checkoff cannot.
It would also be a voluntary checkoff, meaning producers could request a refund through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
An effort to get producers signed up for the vote has been going on since the decision to pursue the increase was made, said Karin Schaefer, executive director of the Minnesota Beef Council. There are about 1,500 producers on the list, Schaefer said, as of Dec. 6. Because the timeframe to request a ballot has been delayed, the vote will also move from February to March.
Schaefer said there are an estimated 14,000 beef producers in Minnesota. In order to vote, a producer must certify he or she is eligible. Eligibility requirements include that a person must be age 18 or older, share in the risk or loss of cattle production and file a form 1040 Schedule F. Only one vote per farm entity is allowed.
The primary way to request a ballot through Dec. 5 was to go to the raisedwithpride website. After the videoconference, both the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Beef Council put informational tags on their websites. The beef council website directs producers to the MDA website where they can sign up to receive a ballot.
A person from Farmers Legal Action Group said it was problematic that the only place to request a ballot on the MDA site didn't mention the checkoff, rather it only mentioned a director election. The only place to clearly request a ballot online was a promotional website, she said, which taints the election process.
Schaefer said the raisedwithpride website may have been the most prominant online ballot source, but most ballot requests have come through postcards provided to producers at producer events or through requests made via phone.
"To date, we have only received about 50 producers requesting through the raisedwithpride.com site," she said.
Adam Warthesen from the Land Stewardship Project said the Nov. 22 press release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on the videoconference contained no phone number or web address for a person to go to for more information. He was also unable to find anything on social media. He wondered if there is enough time for producers to get ballots considering there is so little information available about the election.
Schaefer said they had over 30 media pickups from a press release sent out this summer. The Minnesota Beef Council staff walks a fine line between promoting and educating about the checkoff. They have been to auction barns and annual meetings in an attempt to inform producers and register more, she said.
Producers must take the lead in requesting a ballot because the beef council can't ask auction barns or the National Agricultural Statistics Service to turn over names of beef producers because of privacy protections, Schaefer said.
Warthesen said there hasn't been enough outreach to producers and he requested additional time to request ballots.
Bruce Miller from Minnesota Farmers Union said the union has concerns with the timing of the current election format and asked a delay be considered. He also requested that the ballot request form be located online on a neutral website.
A cattle producer at a remote site – the videoconference was live at eight locations – said a delay until March wouldn't work for cow-calf producers because of calving season.
If a majority of producers vote to increase their checkoff, it will take effect July 1, 2014.
To ensure producers are on the list to receive a ballot by mail, they can request it in one of three ways. The MDA's website has a ballot request form: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/ballots or producers can call the MDA at 651-201-6013. Lastly, they can request a ballot by calling the Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council at 952-854-6980.