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Comment: Checked-off

If you’re confused about how much check-off you will be paying the next time you market cattle you are probably not alone.

It all depends on where you live.

New Brunswick producers started paying the new $2.50 national check-off on February 1, which brings their total to $6.00 per head when the $3.50 provincial levy is added.

This brings N.B. cattlemen in line with those in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia who moved up to the $6.00 mark a few months before.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta started collecting the $2.50 national check-off on April 1, which puts the combined levy for Manitoba at $5.50 and the other two provinces at $4.50 per head.

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Meanwhile Quebec is on pace to start collecting the higher national check-off May 1 along with a provincial levy that currently varies by the class of cattle from $5.04 per head for bob calves to $13.79 for cull cows.

B.C. will begin collecting the $2.50 national check-off on July 1, resulting in a combined deduction of $4.50 per head.

And that leaves Ontario, where the check-off story becomes a little more interesting. Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) is the last organization to sign an agreement with the Canadian Beef Check-off Agency and agree to collect the $2.50 national levy.

And after its annual meeting in late February the BFO board may be even less enthusiastic about taking that step, although their delegates did pass a motion supporting the new national levy and urging the board to do what was necessary to implement the change as soon as possible. Of course, a resolution is at best only an indication of what producers want, not what they will do when their vote takes a bit more money out of their pocket.

Just the same that motion must have raised an eyebrow or two among the BFO board members who invested the best part of a year trying to convince producers of the need to raise their own $3 provincial check-off by $1.50 only to have the delegates reject their plan by the narrowest of margins… a few points shy of the two-thirds majority needed to make a change.

Most of the estimated $1.3 million this rate increase would have brought into BFO coffers was earmarked for the ambitious Regional Marketing Initiative that the association has been counting on to put more home-grown beef into the Ontario market, and spark an increase in the size of Ontario’s cattle herd. They got some encouragement from the slight increase in the cow herd in the January 1 inventory report and a near three per cent rise in breeding heifers.

Unfortunately BFO has been paying it forward running up budget deficits the past two years to support the marketing initiatives file and the Elora research station, and were booking another $1.2 million in the red this year without accounting for a higher check-off. Now without the rate increase some tough choices will need to be made.

Of course, if they had approved an increase in the national check-off, the province does decide how to disperse those funds. Under the current deal Ontario keeps 50 per cent of it for provincial programs. Quebec keeps it all. The Western provinces share it up between Canada Beef, the Beef Cattle Research Council and issues management under the CCA.

The Ontario vote offers something of a cautionary tale to Alberta officials planning their own producer plebiscite this fall to bring back a mandatory provincial check-off.

In February the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association agreed to support the mandatory levy in return for a share of the revenue and a say in the expenditures from a new Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund created with check-off dollars.

As it stands the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) returns about $2.5 million in refunds from the $10 or so million they collect from check-off every year. When the roughly $3.5 million from the national $1 check-off is paid out for marketing, research and issue management the ABP has roughly $4 million to fund its own operation. That includes $1.5 million to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and sizeable amounts set aside to cover legal costs over trade issues and having people at the table when trade agreements are negotiated.

It seems almost a certainty that the bills will pile up so long as the Trump administration is in power. When you have a U.S. Commerce Department willing to justify tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium as a national security issue, a flood of Section 332 actions for every perceived slight over trade in beef, cattle or any agriculture product is easy to imagine. The money to fight those will come largely from the operating budgets of the ABP and the other provincial organizations.

That’s something for Alberta producers to think about should they be asked to vote on the return of a mandatory check-off this fall.

Come to think of it, perhaps that’s something the BFO delegates should have considered this spring.

Oh well, everyone has a right to their opinion in a free country.

About the author

Editor

Gren Winslow is editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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