Cattle

District 38 focuses on purchasing beef raised within a 50-mile radius.

Associated Press

The federal board that handles the beef industry's checkoff fee program is reminding producers that they still need to pay after a judge's injunction.

A U.S. district judge ruled in June that the Montana Beef Council must get permission from producers to collect money through the Beef Checkoff Program.

The program collects $1 per cow sold for promotion and marketing services. Before, half of the money would go to the federal Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. The other half would go to the Montana Beef Council.

The judge's injunction is part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF USA, a Billings-based organization that disagrees with some of the Council's advertising. The Council is now forwarding all the fees to the federal board.

On June 30, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board said that there were rumors about the checkoff fee program losing its mandatory status. CEO Polly Ruhland said in a release that this isn't the case.

"I understand that many social media properties, especially those in Montana, are claiming that Montana producers can stop paying the $1 per head checkoff," Ruhland said in a release. "This is not true. Producers who refuse to pay the checkoff are in violation of federal law."

The "Beef Board," as many call the federal entity, operates under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is responsible for ad campaigns like "Beef: It's what's for dinner."

The Montana Beef Council uses checkoff funds for its own ad campaigns, but it doesn't promote Montana beef or U.S. beef. Instead, the council promotes beef in general.

And because the Council is a private entity, R-CALF USA sued over the organization's automatic collection of fees. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris' injunction signals a tip in R-CALF's favor, though the case is ongoing.

The Council is still "working through the details" to figure out how to get consent to use checkoff dollars, according to a release. In the meantime, it could take a financial hit from its sole source of income — checkoff funds.

"As a result of the preliminary injunction, after assessments are collected from Montana beef producers, if they do not provide prior affirmative consent to the Montana Beef Council, their full assessment will be forwarded to the Cattlemen's Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects," according to a release from Council director Chaley Harney.

The Council's revenue in 2016 was $929,111.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.