Shewmake legislation to support ranchers passes Senate

OLYMPIA – In one of its first actions of the session, the Washington State Senate passed legislation today to support ranchers and Washington’s beef industry.

SB 5150, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham), would provide additional funding for the Washington State Beef Commission and its promotional efforts on behalf of ranchers and dairy farmers by raising the checkoff fee paid on the sale of each head of cattle.

“Ranchers asked me to sponsor this bill, and I was happy to have the chance to support our beef industry and our rural economy,” said Shewmake. “The beef commission plays an important role in supporting our food system – our ranchers get about $12 in benefit for every dollar the industry spends on the commission. This is a small step that will have a big impact.

“Washington ranchers care about producing a high-quality product that is safe to eat, treating their animals humanely, and ensuring their practices are as sustainable as possible. The beef commission helps ranchers with that mission, and I think that’s important to everyone, whether they prefer hamburgers or veggie burgers.”

Commodity commissions are organizations through which producers collaborate on efforts that benefit the entire industry, like research and development, marketing and communications, and advertising. Producers pay for the commission through assessments based on how much they produce. Washington has commissions for agricultural crops like apples, potatoes, raspberries, and more, and the Washington State Beef Commission is the organization that supports ranching and the beef industry.

The checkoff fee is currently $1.50 on each head of cattle sold in Washington, with $1 going to the state beef commission and 50 cents going to the federal beef commission. The fee hasn’t been raised since 2000. Shewmake’s bill would raise the total fee to $3 per head of cattle, with the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board still getting 50 cents and the state commission receiving $2.50 instead of the current $1.

Shewmake’s bill also allows the commission to perform scientific research to support environmental stewardship and improve production techniques in the beef industry.

Robert Holt, President of the Whatcom County Cattlemen’s Association, sent a letter to Shewmake endorsing SB 5150, writing: “I believe this additional investment is critical for producers. Investment in the Beef Checkoff has not changed in Washington since 2001. At the same time, the inflation-adjusted purchasing power of the original producer-initiated $1.00 Beef Checkoff has declined to $0.55. As the beef industry faces more challenges from our protein competition, activism, and declining revenue, addressing these challenges with state beef checkoff dollars has never been more important. I believe this additional investment will be well spent in promoting new innovations in the industry, highlighting beef’s positive impact on the environment, consumers tastebuds and consumer health.”

The Washington State Beef Commission, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Cattle Feeders Association, and Washington State Dairy Federation all testified in favor of the bill in committee.

The bill was passed by the Senate last session, but the House did not vote on it before the 2023 legislative cutoff. The bill is now headed back to the House for consideration. Its progress can be tracked here.