Montana beef promotion in jeopardy

Last month, the United States District Court for the District of Montana issued a decision that could have major implications for the beef industry inside the state and beyond.

By Angel Wyrwas

Last month, the United States District Court for the District of Montana issued a decision that could have major implications for the beef industry inside the state and beyond. Judge Brian Morris upheld a lower court’s decision that the beef checkoff program, as currently operated, violates the First Amendment rights of the state’s cattle ranchers. As a result, the Montana Beef Council (MBC) will only be allowed to collect funds from producers who voluntarily opt in to the program.

The Beef Checkoff Program ( was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. It assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the $1 and forward the other 50 cents to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval. The Montana Beef Council was created in 1954 by cattlemen as a marketing organization for the Montana beef industry and is organized to protect and increase demand for beef and beef products through state, national and international beef promotion, research and education, thereby enhancing profit opportunities for Montana beef producers.

But it is important to note that the federal board that handles the beef industry’s checkoff program is reminding producers that they still need to pay after the judge’s injunction. “I understand that many social media properties, especially those in Montana, are claiming that Montana producers can stop paying the $1 per head checkoff,” CEO of the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board Polly Ruhland said in a release. “This is not true. Producers who refuse to pay the checkoff are in violation of federal law.”

The difference now is that the total of $1 per head will be forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects. “I understand that there are complaints about the federal checkoff program,” said Wanda Pinnow, the Vice President of the American National Cattlewomen, “but I believe the intention behind the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) lawsuit is to get rid of checkoff dollars but all this did was take money away from our state.”

For the time being, producers will have to be intentional and proactive if they want a portion of their checkoff dollars to go to the Montana Beef Council. “Producers will need to fill out the Montana Producer Request to Retain Beef Checkoff Assessments Form,” said Pinnow. “Forms can be obtained by calling the Montana Beef Council at 406-656-3336 or let me know and I’ll send them directly.” The forms may be filled out monthly or annually depending on preference.

In 2016 the Montana Beef Council used money from beef checkoff dollars for in-state education and promotional programs, including health professionals, athletes, classroom education, farm fairs, environmental stewardship award program, consumer radio and print advertising, innovative beef contest, barbecue cook-off and statewide retail and foodservice partnerships. However, this is only a partial list of how the checkoff dollars were spent in Montana.

“With this injunction the Montana Cattle Women will not be able to have the K-12 beef education in the schools,” said Pinnow. “Schools throughout the state cannot afford to buy beef cuts for their Family and Consumer Science labs without our support. The cheese burger/beef by products in school session will no longer be funded.  It really hurts our programs.”