North Dakota Stockmen’s Association opposes ballot initiative, establishes policy at convention

Farm Forum

North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) members voiced their opposition to a proposed ballot initiative that would earmark an estimated $100 million of oil and gas taxes per year for projects that could be used to compete against agricultural producers to buy land and remove it from production. Members of the 84-year-old grassroots cattle industry organization adopted a “Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Initiative” policy, which underscores their concerns about the initiative’s large money grab and permitted uses during the NDSA Annual Convention & Trade Show in Bismarck, N.D., on Sept. 28.

“North Dakota stockmen are proud to be stewards of the environment and the natural resources in our care, but we are adamantly opposed to this seriously flawed plan,” said NDSA President Jason Zahn, a Towner, N.D., rancher. “The most offensive component is that the fund could be used to acquire land, and this would be government-subsidized competition for private citizens trying to make a living.”

He also called the initiative “greedy,” as it would duplicate existing conservation efforts and divert resources away from North Dakota’s critical needs, like infrastructure and schools. “Plus, the initiative would require that 75 percent of the money be spent each year,” Zahn said. “That means that spending would be mandated whether or not there were needs or quality projects vying for the funds.”

Initiative supporters are collecting signatures to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot and amend the state constitution to create the fund. The NDSA is asking its members not to sign the petition.

In other convention policy work, NDSA members underscored their support of the beef checkoff and the need to enhance resources to address industry challenges, ranging from increased attacks from activist organizations attempting to negatively influence public opinion about beef and beef production practices to a consumer base with less knowledge about agriculture, but an increased desire to know more about where their food comes from.

Members passed the “Beef Checkoff Increase” resolution, which cites the industry’s shrinking pool of resources due to a historically small U.S. cattle herd and the fact that, due to inflation, the $1-per-head beef checkoff has only 47 percent of the buying power it did when the checkoff was established in 1985. Members included in the resolution their desire to enhance the current beef checkoff by pursuing a change in state law to create a refundable, $1-per-head checkoff that could be used for research, education and promotion of North Dakota and U.S. beef.

“In recent years, several states have increased their state beef checkoffs to better address the industry’s needs,” said Zahn. “We look forward to doing our part as well to increase beef demand and persuade more people to enjoy more beef more often.”

Zahn said there is ongoing conversation about a possible checkoff increase on the national level. “It’s our members’ intentions that, should the national checkoff increase to $2 or more, that the federal law would supercede any state checkoff increase.”

At the NDSA convention, cattle ranchers also updated their country-of-origin labeling (COOL) policy, affirming their support for labeling of U.S. beef through the channels of free enterprise and entrepreneurship over government-mandated labeling that ultimately diminishes the free-market economic concept. “North Dakota cattle producers are proud of the beef they raise and support the ability to differentiate it in the marketplace, but members have made it clear that the updated final COOL rule has critical flaws that will limit our market potential and cost producers money,” said Zahn.

During the convention, members additionally resolved to continue to work for the permanent elimination of estate taxes and a major reduction in capital gains taxes; to protect individuals’ property rights and privacy from invasive, non-military, non-law-enforcement surveillance drones; to encourage the development of enhanced cell phone coverage in rural areas to meet the communication needs of agricultural businesses; to encourage the Justice Department to vigorously prosecute those involved in the interstate shipment of stolen cattle; and to support North Dakota State University’s animal science teaching programs, judging teams and Veterinary Technology Department.

“Our policymaking sessions are the ‘meat and potatoes’ of our convention,” Zahn said. “I’m proud of the Stockmen’s Association’s grassroots policy process, where every member has the right to initiate and vote on resolutions and decisions are made from the bottom up. The resolutions passed at the convention give NDSA staff and volunteer leaders direction to stand up and speak out for the cattle industry throughout the year.”