Thirty-Five Years of the Beef Checkoff: How the National Research and Marketing Program Works

DENVER – Thirty-five years ago, the Beef Checkoff program became a reality. Established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill, the Beef Checkoff is funded by producers and beef importers who pay a $1-per-head assessment on animals they market or import. The national marketing and research program has one primary goal: driving demand for beef. While the Beef Checkoff has been around for more than three decades, it’s a complex program that can be difficult to understand, even for those in the beef industry.

“The Checkoff and its contractors have been the force behind many beef industry milestones that have influenced how beef is purchased and consumed,” said Hugh Sanburg, 2021 chair of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), the organization that oversees Beef Checkoff collection and program funding. “Thanks to the farmers and ranchers who’ve funded this program over the years, we’ve been able to help improve beef quality and shelf life, identify and control pathogens like E. coli and launch impactful beef marketing campaigns. While we’ve had many successes, explaining how the Checkoff works remains a challenge.”

The Beef Checkoff consists of multiple efforts, committees and contractors spread across numerous focus areas, including promotion, research, foreign marketing, industry information, consumer information and producer communications. Currently comprised of six program committees, 101 CBB producer/importer leaders and countless new and ongoing Checkoff-funded programs, the Beef Checkoff is constantly evolving.

“The Beef Checkoff believes in honesty and transparency in all communications,” said Greg Hanes, CEO of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. “That’s why we’ve developed a series of Frequently Asked Questions about the Checkoff, what it does, how it works and what kind of oversight is in place to ensure Checkoff dollars are being spent appropriately. We want people to feel confident in the program and how it works on their behalf.”

> Who decides what happens to Beef Checkoff dollars?

The 101 members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board facilitate the Beef Checkoff program. Appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, these individuals represent nearly every state across the country. The vast majority are cattle producers who take time away from their own cattle operations to voluntarily serve on the board and make informed decisions that they hope will positively impact beef demand, producers in their states and the entire beef industry.

> Does the Checkoff take a stance on governmental or regulatory policy issues?

No, it does not and cannot. According to the Act and Order that created the Checkoff all those years ago, as a national, producer-funded program, the Checkoff cannot use funds to influence or lobby for government policy or action. Some contractors – the organizations that carry out research and marketing initiatives on behalf of the Beef Checkoff – have legislative branches or policy-focused areas, but they cannot fund those activities with Checkoff dollars. By law, Checkoff dollars are only utilized for promotion, advertising, research and education.

> Can I see how Beef Checkoff dollars are spent on various programs?

Yes. Everything thing from CBB’s annual audited financials, contractors’ yearly authorization requests and monthly Checkoff program updates are available on CBB meetings are also open to every producer who pays into the Beef Checkoff. While some meetings involve the entire 101-member board, other meetings consist of smaller committees and groups, and every beef producer is welcome to participate in the proceedings. Also, producers can sign up for The Drive e-newsletter to see monthly updates on different Checkoff programs and projects currently funded by producer dollars. This fall, the CBB will also launch a new way for producers and others to learn about the Beef Checkoff with “The Drive in Five,” a five-minute video series that takes a deeper dive into topics from the most recent newsletter.

> Can the Beef Checkoff do anything about low cattle prices?

The Beef Checkoff cannot control short-term prices or ensure individual operation profitability. It cannot single handedly turn around a down market. Instead, the Checkoff promotes beef on national and international levels and finds new market opportunities to grow demand for beef. Through consumer advertising, marketing partnerships, public relations, education, research and new product development, the Checkoff was designed to stimulate others to sell more beef and encourage consumers to buy more beef.

“The Beef Checkoff’s 35th anniversary has shined a spotlight on how different the beef industry would be if the program had never come to fruition,” said Hanes. “Certainly, the Checkoff has united producers, beef industry organizations and other stakeholders together with the common purpose of driving beef demand. With their ongoing support, we believe that the Beef Checkoff can continue to positively impact the beef industry for many more years to come.”

To learn more about the Beef Checkoff and its programs, subscribe to The Drive newsletter, view current financial statements or read additional Frequently Asked Questions, visit

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The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The Checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national Checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.