Just how do you change a governance structure for a producer organization formed from a merger with a 200-member board in ways that satisfy not only members but USDA? That's a question the leadership at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has been working through since the initial framework was approved by more than 94% of those voting at the January 2010 meeting.
The aim is to finalize the changes to organization's governance by the July summer meeting and put it to a final vote, but to meet that deadline the group will have to clear a few hurdles. First, it must satisfy USDA that the appropriate "policy firewalls" are in place. USDA has a track record of keeping checkoff funds out of the policy-making business, the key is defining how that works, according to Steve Foglesong, NCBA president, Astoria, Ill. "The problem we're having here is defining the firewall," he says. "We believe the accounting firewall is in place; we're audited every year and it's all overseen continuously."
The challenge is what "say" can people who pay into the checkoff have regarding policy issues that may impact their operations. Defining the other firewall will require more work, he notes.
The issue came to a head last week when Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to Foglesong questioning key areas of the governance framework. The organization met with USDA officials Thursday to discuss those concerns and Foglesong believes the group answered those questions. Foglesong notes the written response is the next step and staff is already gearing up for that.
In addition, six major farm groups expressed concern about the new governance structure and NCBA will meet with them Wednesday to discuss key concerns. A key concern expressed by those groups was that NCBA would become a more exclusive, rather than inclusive, group. "We have 660 producers sitting on state beef council boards that represent a wide range of the industry," Foglesong points out. "They include members of many different organizations including R-CALF, U.S. Cattlemen's Association, Farm Bureau and others."
During a conference call discussing the USDA meeting, NCBA officials noted that taking part in association committees in the past required that you be an NCBA member or part of a state beef council. Under the new governance structure, issues forums on important topics will be open to everyone - expanding inclusivity.
The governance structure is undergoing change and new documents will be posted online as they become available. To check out the proposed governance changes in their original form, visit Proposed Changes at NCBA's website.