America got a reality check on Sept. 11. As reality checks go, they don't come much bigger. But with the horror and devastation has come a newfound solidarity.

A resolute American people — bound by firm determination — have been awakened. If there is a positive side to be found in the terrorist attacks, this newfound resolve will serve.

In this time of national crisis and international unrest, our day-to-day lives become dwarfed by the looming challenge to rid the world of extremists willing to cause harm and chaos at any cost.

Our President, our government, is pleading with all Americans to dig down deep, make sacrifices, redouble commitments to our families, our work, our way of life.

On September 20, as President Bush addressed Congress and the Nation, he appealed to all for patience, understanding and unity. Since his inspired speech, I've attempted to apply his plea to the pork industry, as a whole, and to my goals, personally.

Pork Checkoff

Focusing on the pork industry, the issue that looms largest is the staging of the pork checkoff referendum and all of the legal wrangling that occurred before and after. This is the most divisive issue the pork industry has faced in recent decades.

Is this the time and the place to raise this issue again? I think it is. In just 18 months, the USDA will poll producers, asking if they want another referendum on the pork checkoff. Rephrased, the question will be: “Are you willing to contribute to the future strength and development of your segment of American agriculture?”

With all that has happened since Sept. 11, I am left wondering if the differing viewpoints on the checkoff question are really so far apart. Isn't it true that all have benefited from this self-help program — albeit to different degrees?

Before these questions are answered, I also think it is important to recognize the attitude and atmosphere in Washington has changed. The retrenching of our military and intelligence forces comes at a cost. With this shuffling of the budgetary deck, agriculture will be dealt a new hand too. Commodity support programs will be scrutinized closer. Foreign trade issues will be drawn to the forefront. Our allies in the War on Terrorism will get new considerations. A new farm bill will be written.

Lamb Checkoff Proposed

The take-charge-of-your-life, be-aware-of-your-surroundings challenge issued by President Bush will spill over into policy making.

This attitude was reinforced, I think, by a recent USDA-AMS (Agriculture Marketing Service) news release that called for public comments on the establishment of a new, industry-funded, lamb promotion, research and information order. AMS, the regulatory arm of the USDA that oversees commodity checkoff programs, stated: “an order would provide for assessments on sales of lambs and sheep, and an industry board to carry out promotion, research and information programs designed to increase the demand for lamb and sheep. Under the proposed program, lamb producers, seedstock producers, feeders and exporters would pay an assessment of one-half cent ($.005) per pound when live lambs are sold.”

Sound familiar?

Need I remind you, it was about this time last year that then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman put up $4 million to anyone submitting proposals for competitive marketing and promotion projects designed to increase sales of U.S. lamb?

The wool and lamb producers had a checkoff, lost it, and now the USDA is recycling the idea. Government dollars appear to be a poor substitute for a fair-share contribution.

Prepare to Pitch In

Let's be realistic here. I think it's pretty clear that as more dollars are allocated to snuffing out the threat of terrorism and biological attacks, the American people will be called upon to step up and invest in their futures. I believe commodity checkoff programs will be viewed as one of the ways American farmers can do their part.

The mood in Washington is forever changed. Everyone is being asked to pitch in. In agriculture's case, a plea to support education, research and promotion of the commodity you produce seems warranted.

Are you up to the challenge? Are you willing to pitch in to help keep our segment of American agriculture strong?

The fate of the pork checkoff hangs in the balance. The working agreement scribed by the USDA and NPPC early this year provided for a June 2003 poll of producers to decide whether another pork referendum should be held. Your response could have a resounding impact on all crop and livestock commodities with similar self-help programs.

We must invest in our future and the futures of the generations to follow. I hope each of you will think hard — and rise to the challenge of helping yourself and the pork industry.