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Checkoff charade continues

Beef, dairy honchos pocket huge sums.

Saturday, July 2, 2011 - 10:38 am

You can't make some stuff up. Ten years ago, America's biggest cattle killer, Brazilian firm JBS, was a $1-billion-in-sales, Brazil-only meatpacker. Today, with the help of more than $4 billion in loans from Brazil's national development bank, BNDES, “25 percent of the worldwide trade in beef comes from JBS,” the firm's boss told the Washington Post in mid-April.

That means, according to the Post, JBS is a “$40 billion behemoth that slaughters 90,000 head of cattle a day, employs 125,000 workers and exports to 150 countries. In the U.S. alone, it employs 75,000… and is projecting revenues of $28 billion this year.”

By the way, Reuters reported May 18 that “Brazil's state development bank BNDES will raise its stake in beef producer JBS SA to 30 percent from 17 percent...”

Wow, America's biggest beef packer is 30 percent owned by the Brazilian state bank? Stunning.

Stunning, too, is just how foolish you and I were for not getting into the checkoff game early and with both hands.

And according to the Milkweed, the monthly dairy newspaper published by Pete Hardin in Brooklyn, Wis., the seven top officials at the dairy checkoff's day-to-day operator, Dairy Management Inc., pocketed an average $582,585 in salary, bonus, deferred compensation and other benefits in 2009.

Hardin didn't make that number up; it came from DMI's 2009 Form 990, an Internal Revenue Service filing required of all nonprofit entities.

Bad as that appears, it gets worse. According to Hardin, the seven DMI big cheeses received an “average increased total compensation of $131,308” in 2009 over 2008 even as “U.S. dairy farmers (in 2009) … lost the value of assets equal to 9 million milk cows.”

Unreal. As record losses piled up for U.S. dairy farmers, the checkoff's 36-member National Dairy Board — a group Hardin describes as “primarily professional per-diem collecting directors and managers of big dairy coops” — paid DMI officials nearly 30 percent more in checkoff cream.

Hey, you can't make this stuff up.

Nor can you account for the June 29 resignation of Tom Ramey, CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, the beef checkoff. Ramey, caught in the brushfire of listening in on conference calls of the checkoff's massive contractor, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, saw NCBA and its beefy allies, mostly in Texas, throw gas on that fire until he was fried. Ironically, Ramey's counterpart at NCBA, Forrest Roberts, remains cool and relaxed despite ongoing audits that show his management of NCBA, has required it to repay more than $305,000 of misspent money to the checkoff.

You can't make this stuff up.

Alan Guebert's Farm File appears File appears Saturdays. Contact him at or Alan Guebert, 21673 Lago Drive, Delavan, IL 61734. His website is