“Choate Vote” Results Tallied;  Majority Favor Industry Reform

From the Livestock Weekly

                SAN ANGELO - He’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t a “scientific “ poll, and he knows full well that it was a far cry from a binding vote, but San Angelo order buyer Wade Choate is pleased with his recent tally of cattlemen’s opinions.

                What has come to be called the “Choate Vote” grew from his own dissatisfaction with the way the cattle market has behaved over the last several years.  In May, Choate blew into the Livestock Weekly office in his usual hurried manner and convened a confab over a series of advertisements he proposed to place.  The ads invited cattlemen to answer several questions about the industry in a sort of mail-order ballot.

                Choate makes some wide circles and talks to a slew of stockmen, and the views he was hearing were not those reflected in the polls conducted by various organizations that purport to speak for the industry.  In short, he didn’t trust the message the organizations were putting out, and he wanted some way to gauge the true sentiment of producers.

                It took a couple of weeks for the project to jell, but in the end Choate boiled it down to five questions:  Should cattle be de-listed from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange:  Should the beef checkoff be subject to a producer vote every three years?  Should packers be allowed to own more than two weeks’ supply of cattle?  Should the membership of boards representing cattlemen be limited to cattlemen?  Should American-produced commodities carry an American flag stamp?

                To reduce the chances of ballot-box stuffing, Choate wanted the ad structured as a self-contained questionnaire and chose to count only originals cut from the Weekly itself.  Photocopies would not be accepted.  That would prevent individuals from casing multiple votes unless they had address to multiple copies of the paper, and Livestock Weekly circulates to paid subscribers only; unlike some other publications, it is not distributed in bulk.

                Choate imposed a June 13 deadline for submissions.  Along with a group of trusted friends, he counted that evening.

                “I think I counted them too quick,” he laments, because the larges flush of ballots began arriving shortly before the deadline and they were still coming in well after the deadline passed.  Those that missed the timeframe were not included in his “official” tally of roughly 200 votes, but Choate has counted them as well and reports that they would not have changed the outcome percentage-wise.


The “official results of the “Choate Vote:”

                1.  On the question of de-listing cattle from the Merc, the vote was 158 for and 32 against, an 83 to 17 percent ratio in favor of de-listing.

                2.  On the question of submitting the beef checkoff to a vote every three years, the raw numbers were 180 for and 15 against, a 92 to eight percent ratio in favor of a vote.

                3.  On the question of packer ownership of fed cattle, the vote was 23 for and 169 against, an 88 to 12 percent ratio opposed to packer ownership of cattle.

                4.  On the question of limiting cattlemen’s boards to cattlemen, the vote was 183 for and eight against, a 96 to four percent ration in favor of limitations.

                5.  On the question of identifying American beef and other commodities as such, the vote was 189 for and four against, a 98 to two percent ratio in favor.

                Along with the ballots, Choate received scores of letters, notes and scribbled comments.  Most were favorable. Expressing frustration with the current state of affairs in the cattle business, but he isn’t shy about acknowledging those that weren’t.

                “I think everybody should have their say,” he explains, “which is why I did this in the first place.

                Among the comments was one noting that “It’s against the law to short change or “cold” a check.  How about selling cattle you don’t own at the Merc?

                “There is nothing wrong with the cattle supply; there is nothing wrong with beef demand,” wrote another respondent.  “The only thing wrong is the system, and it is broke because we as cattlemen let the corrupt monopoly break it.”

                Another wrote: “Seems to me you have wrapped up most of our industry’s problems with five short, simple questions...I guess this business has gotten to the point where us independents are going to have to give up some independence and ...walk hand in hand into Washington.  I have a feeling that's what it would take to start getting this business back on track.”

                Some correspondents bridged the gap, such as the one who wrote that “the checkoff is good in some ways in that the beef ads help promote our product.  But then some of the funds are used in some ways to suppress our calf prices.”

                The same writer extended a conditional olive branch to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:  “The NCBA is supposed to be for the cattlemen and sometimes they act like they are.  Then when you really need their pull, it seems they have to protect us from ourselves and go the opposite direction.”

                Others were clearly at odds with the implied intent of the questionnaire:  “We would be broke if we did not have our yearlings hedged this April.  The Merc is the best thing available to a rancher,” wrote one dissenter, who went on to add that “voting is great, but it disrupts the business of Promotion and Research.

                “I’m on the Beef Board,” he continued, “and we’re doing our damndest to look after my and your dollar.

                “Your question are a little biased,” he opined, “but glad you did it.”

                Another wrote, “I feel the checkoff has been very beneficial and is responsible for new products on the market.  I’m glad you ran this poll.”

                And another: “Surely you and I have been to enough roundups to know that our industry, not to mention producers’ problems, are much too complex to be solved by simple “yes/no” answers.”

                In regard to de-listing cattle, he wrote, “Yes, if the current contract terms are not changed. No, if the contract is changed so that physical delivery is a viable option for producers and a discipline for speculators.”

                On packer ownership: “Yes, if all transactions are fully and promptly  disclosed. No if the current secret contracting regime is continued.”

                The respondent conceded that he could indeed answer one of Choate’s question “with a simple yes or no.  Yes, we should re-authorize the checkoff on a regular basis.

                Choate himself responded to those who took the time to write with a letter thanking them for their opinions. “It kind of makes this effort worthwhile,” he said.

                “I am not totally against the checkoff,” Choate continued.  “I think it has a place in our business.  I am not totally opposed to the NCBA.  I think we have a wonderful young follow  at the head of it now whose name is Terry Stokes.  I  have known him almost all of his life.  However, the NCBA has to get its credibility back among the real cowmen or other associations will have to represent the cattleman.”