BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Board of Animal Health is supporting a proposed increase in the state's cattle brand inspection fee, although a ranching group official wants more information about how the fees are spent.
The board on Tuesday backed raising the charge from 75 cents to $1 per animal, which would be the first increase in seven years. Board members agreed to drop an earlier proposal to charge a minimum $5 fee for inspecting five or fewer cattle at one time.
Brand inspections are done to prove a rancher's ownership of livestock that is being shipped out of state. Most are sent to feedlots or slaughterhouses.
Almost 1.36 million inspections were done last year, according to the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, a private organization that handles the state's program and employs its staff. The group expects its number of inspections to rise slightly next year, to 1.375 million, said its director, Julie Ellingson.
Inspection fees charged to registered feedlots and livestock markets just outside North Dakota's borders will not change, Ellingson said. Those represent less than 10 percent of the number of inspections done annually.
State Veterinarian Susan Keller said a public hearing is planned, probably in late June, to solicit comment about the increase. It also must be reviewed by a legislative oversight committee that examines proposed rules from state agencies. Supporters of the increase hope it will take effect Oct. 1, Keller said.
Selfridge rancher Allen Lund, who is secretary of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota, a rival group to the Stockmen's Association, said an audit of how the association spends its inspection fee income should be done before the charges are increased.
"I don't think the process is probably as transparent as it should be," Lund said. "If they're asking for more money, we should know where it's going. ... Maybe those overhead costs can be cut down."
Ellingson said the association already undergoes regular audits. Inspection fees are paid first to the state treasurer, who then remits them to the association for its expenses, Ellingson said.
"We are being good stewards of those funds, and there are a lot of checks and balances to make sure that happens," she said.
The presidents of North Dakota's two largest farm groups, the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union, said Tuesday they had not heard complaints about the proposed fee increase.
"The fact that I haven't heard anything means that it's probably, for our members at least, not a very big issue," said Robert Carlson, president of the Farmers Union. "People are busy in the field, and beef prices are relatively good right now."
The Farm Bureau's president, Eric Aasmundstad, said he considered the association's brand inspection program to be "a pretty big issue."
"If it takes another 25 cents a head to keep it going, I don't think people are going to squawk too loud," he said.