A pair of organizations aligned with independent cattle producers Wednesday condemned as improperly close the Kansas Livestock Association's affiliation with a council responsible for handling $9 million to $10 million annually from the state's beef checkoff program.
Questions were raised about lack of publicly available financial records regarding operation of the Kansas Beef Council, which purportedly existed under a "dubious" legal structure and shared office resources with KLA. The Organization for Competitive Markets, of Lincoln, Neb., and the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, a rival to the KLA, demanded the Kansas Legislature and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work to decertify the Kansas Beef Council until it was formally separated from KLA.
"We support the beef checkoff program, but we strongly object to the way it is being administered, the way it is being collected and the total lack of transparency and accountability to the cattle producers who are forced to pay the federal tax," said Greg Davis, president of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association.
He said industry distrust could lead to demands for elimination of a $1 checkoff on every head of cattle sold in Kansas for use to promote the domestic cattle industry.
Joe Maxwell, executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets, said Kansas lawmakers should take responsibility for administration of the checkoff in Kansas just at it would funding tied to other federally mandated programs.
"The state's family farmers deserve no less," Maxwell said. "It is just unimaginable that the state of Kansas is allowing this taxpayer abuse."
Matt Teagarden, CEO of KLA, said in an interview that accusations leveled by the two organizations were misguided. He said the groups' concerns about collecting and allocating revenue from the checkoff were unfounded. A forced separation of KLA and the Kansas Beef Council would be unwise, he said.
"I think that's a bad idea. The majority of Kansas cattle producers would think that's a bad idea," Teagarden said.
He said the Organization for Competitive Markets had long objected to concentration of ownership in the beef industry and found allies within the Kansas Cattlemen's Association and support from the Humane Society of the United States.
Organization for Competitive Markets asserted in a report that Kansas checkoff dollars were being used to prop up KLA by contributing to office rental payments and employee salaries. That allowed KLA to gain undue lobbying influence in the legislative arena despite a law forbidding checkoff funds to be allocated for anything other that cattle market development and promotion, the report said.
Davis, of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, said KLA represented less than one in four of the state's beef producers and KLA shouldn't have been granted operational control of the Kansas Beef Council.
"This is taxation without representation, without transparency and with no sensible system of accountability," he said. "It is nearly impossible to make heads or tails of the financials that are available."
Nicole Pfrang, a fifth-generation cattle farmer and secretary of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, said the idea of creating research and marketing tools to help producers, packers and retailers made sense 30 years ago.
"Too bad it did not work out this way," she said. "When you have a big pot of money, greed always enters the picture. Beef checkoff monies are often used for retail and packing interests. Is it any wonder why we have lost our faith in the beef checkoff?"