In January 2019, with the enactment of California’s Senate Bill 965 triggering a vote of the state’s cattle producers, the California Cattle Council was formed. The much-discussed Council, set apart from other similar checkoff programs with a unique optional refund provision, has now been operational nearing six months.
Development of an organizational framework and the deployment of initial projects are giving dairy and beef producers the chance to finally see their collected dollars in action.
Per California state law, the $1-per-head assessment, authorized by the council’s implementation to be collected at point of sale in addition to checkoff fees on animals weighing over 200 pounds, can only be spent on projects within the state of California that focus on live cattle production issues.
Since early November, the California Cattle Council has been collecting the statutory assessment on all qualifying cattle sold within the state, and project funding is now underway. In December, the Council released an initial call for “shovel-ready” project proposals.
The following month, the initial list of proposals granted funding was released, with projects supported from institutions such as the University of California (UC) Cooperative Extension, UC-Davis, the Cattlemen’s Foundation, the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, among others.
Project topics and objectives varied widely, including dairy sustainability, grazing for fuel load reduction, water quality outreach and ranch tours and education for key policymakers and influencers. While initial awards were granted prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, the Council has also recently announced that in response to the pandemic, the group is partnering with the CCA to develop and release a cattle industry resiliency campaign.
Aimed at underscoring the industry’s strength and flexibility, both in situations such as a public health crisis as well as with fire, drought and other challenges faced yearly, their goal is to remind decisionmakers that the cattle supply chain is strong, safe and available, and consumers that they can be confident in the meat and dairy on their plates.
In addition to funding initial project proposals and emergency COVID-19 response in their first months, the Council has also recently wrapped up their strategic planning process. According to Council leadership, primary objectives prioritized in the plan include industry advocacy, research, issues management and crisis response.
During the planning process, several key themes repeatedly arose, one of those being partnerships. Council members emphasized their desire that the organization not morph into a bureaucracy with its own project implementation staff, but instead work to infuse dollars into campaigns where infrastructure for completion already exists, ensuring producer money is spent on meeting primary objectives, not funding bloated overhead.
The producers on the strategic planning task force also focused on the agility of the organization, seeking to build a foundation for quick action in the age of viral social media and the 24 hour-a-day news cycle.
One way they did this was by laying the groundwork for a war chest; setting aside dollars in the budget that can be quickly mobilized for larger, more impactful campaigns when the need arises. This reserve will be maintained to ensure a rapid response in the event a major hot-button issue—such as calf hutches—surfaces to target consumers and key decisionmakers in a quick and meaningful way.
While it is clear that the Council’s missions and projects will continue to evolve as the organization grows, in their funding of initial proposals and development of their strategic plan, beef and dairy producers paying into the system are offered an early glance at what the future will hold for the California Cattle Council.
Council members have emphasized an effort to avoid being duplicative of the work of other industry organizations and instead enhance resources in their stated mission of tackling issues beyond just the consumption of beef and dairy.
While the rest of its first year will undoubtedly bring more big moves and decisive direction, the California Cattle Council’s first six months give cattle producers an idea as to the organization’s focus and action moving forward; working toward their stated vision of Californians viewing beef and dairy production as an essential part of the Golden State. — Jenna Chandler, WLJ correspondent