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The National Pork Checkoff Referendum

Livestock Update, September 2000

Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist, Swine, Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center

United States Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman announced in February of this year that a referendum vote of the nation's pork producers would be held to determine if the national pork checkoff program shall continue or be eliminated. After a lengthy public comment period during which over 1000 comments were received by U.S.D.A., the secretary has set the dates of September 19 through 21 as voting days for the checkoff referendum and established all the regulations for the voting process. All pork producers, regardless of herd size or production style, should be interested in this important process that directly affects them. And, they should make all reasonable efforts to cast their vote if they meet the requirements of an eligible voter.

The Current Checkoff In Brief. The current national pork checkoff program has been in operation since September of 1986 after its original establishment by the national Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985. It was at that time that a national referendum was held in which a significant majority of pork producers voted to establish a national checkoff program. The act established provisions for a 15-member National Pork Board that is responsible for oversight of collection and distribution of funds obtained through the checkoff program. This Board is appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and is representative of pork producers from throughout the country. Although Virginia is not a major hog producing state, we have been fortunate in recent years to be directly represented on the National Pork Board by Mr. Bobby Bryan of Dillwyn, Virginia, who was appointed to the Board in 1993.

The pork checkoff rate is .45 of 1 percent of the market value of each hog or pig sold. For example, if a 245 lb. market hog sells for a total of $100 at the point of sale, then 45 cents of this total is "checked off" and transferred to the national pork checkoff fund. Cull sows and boars, feeder pigs and weaned pigs are also subject to checkoff at the same rate of .45 percent of total value at the point of sale. These funds go to the National Pork Board for distribution into programs for the enhancement of pork use and production in the U.S. A proportion of the funds come back to participating state pork associations based on the state's total contributions to the national program.

The National Pork Board has the responsibility of distributing the checkoff funds in a manner that is beneficial to producers and the pork industry. Traditionally the National Pork Board has contracted with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), a national pork producer organization, to develop and oversee programs for effective use of the funds. For example, NPPC is the producer organization responsible for the now widely recognized advertising campaign "Pork, The Other White Meat." In addition NPPC has funded through the checkoff a variety of research and education programs related to pork exportation, food service use of pork, pork quality assurance, manure management on hog farms, swine genetics, swine health and nutrition, youth swine education programs and others.

Who Is Eligible to Vote? The rules and regulations of the pork checkoff referendum published by U.S.D.A. are clear in defining who is eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum. Producers who have owned and sold one or more pigs or hogs at any time from August 18, 1999, to August 17, 2000, are eligible to vote. The phrase "owned and sold" one or more pigs during this period is important. Under this condition, producers who contract with other producers in the raising of hogs but do not actually own the animals are not eligible to vote in the referendum. However, if the producer owns hogs or pigs at any point during August 18, 1999, to August 17, 2000, he or she is eligible to vote, even if the pigs are marketed under a contractual or open market arrangement. Another important consideration under the eligibility rule is that 4-H and FFA youth who owned and sold project pigs during the August 18, 1999, to August 17, 2000, period are eligible to vote. There is only one vote per farm or operation regardless of size or style of production.

When, Where, and How to Vote. In-person voting is scheduled for September 19, 20, and 21 at Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices. All eligible voters are highly encouraged to visit their local FSA office during open business hours on one of these three days to request a ballot and cast their vote.

A second convenient method of voting is by absentee ballot. Eligible voters may request an absentee ballot from their local Farm Service Agency in person or by telephone. The FSA office can mail the registration form, directions for voting and a ballot to the producer. The producer is then responsible for completing the brief eligibility form and ballot and mailing them back to the local FSA office as indicated in the directions of the absentee ballot. To count as a legal vote, absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than September 21, 2000, and must arrive at the FSA office within 5 days of the close of the voting period.

Why Should Producers Vote? The current pork checkoff came about as a result of a significant majority of producers voting to establish a funding mechanism for a national producer self-help program. The Secretary of Agriculture has determined that there is a need for U.S. producers, large and small, to assess if they wish to continue or discontinue with the national pork checkoff program. In order for the referendum to truly reflect the collective wishes of pork producers nationwide, it is critical that a large body of eligible producers go to the referendum polls (FSA Offices) and vote.

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