A mature tree is a majestic sight. The way it branches out and adapts to the changing elements as it grows is an impressive testament to its strength and tenacity.

But when you look at a tree, you can’t see the layers of growth. You forget about the rain, the sun and the nutrients required to help the tree prosper and mature to the point where it is today. You can’t see the age rings, the scars or the vibrant grain until you cut the tree down. Then it’s too late, what you have is a dead tree.

If you vote “No” on Sept. 19-21, during the checkoff referendum, what you will have is a dead checkoff program. It will be too late to recognize all the projects, programs and promotions that checkoff provided.

As independent businesspersons, it’s easy to think that you’ve reached your accomplishments by yourself. Truth is, no one accomplishes anything alone. If you raise hogs on slatted floors, if artificial insemination is part of your breeding program, or if you use the fat-free-lean index, you’ve benefited from someone else’s efforts – and checkoff.

There’s no way to illustrate all the areas of your business that checkoff touches, but you do need to think about what you will lose. So, here goes:

From 1979 to 1985, U.S. pork consumption dropped 22 percent. In 1987, “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign began to re-educate consumers. Public awareness of the campaign is now at an impressive 87 percent. Pork consumption has since stabilized around 50 pounds per person per year.

Today, pork is on more restaurant menus than ever before. From 1996 to 1999, total foodservice volume grew only 8 percent, but pork’s contribution grew by 17 percent. More than 54 percent of all U.S. pork is sold through foodservice.

This year, bacon sales have kept foodservice trends smokin’, especially in the fast-food arena. Bacon sales have added about $10 to your spring/summer hog prices.

Foreign market development has exploded. Not only is the United States no longer a net pork importer, U.S. exports equal nearly 7 percent of annual production. In the last decade, U.S. pork exports increased nearly 275 percent according to USDA. A University of Missouri study shows that exports added $3.22 billion to producers’ coffers from 1987 to 1999.

This year, U.S. pork exports are 14 percent ahead of last year. The U.S. Meat Export Federation forecasts a 67 percent increase by 2005 – provided checkoff helps out.

Dietitians, doctors and food editors influence a lot of people. Checkoff has funded research that lead to things like pork’s nutritional profile, which is now used on product labels and to calculate nutritional data on recipes.

Understanding consumer-purchasing patterns in the supermarket is important to increasing sales. Projects like Category Management have shown retailers that pork is a profitable item and which cuts deserve more case space.

Checkoff provides the seed money that has allowed production research to flourish. Segregated early weaning, split-sex feeding or 25 pigs per sow per year would still be ideas on the drawing board without checkoff dollars to get the research rolling.

The Terminal-Sire-Line Genetic Evaluation Program, the Maternal-Sow-Line Genetic Evaluation Program and the Quality-Lean-Growth Modeling Project are specific examples of checkoff-based research that you can apply to your herd.

Since 1994, more than 180 checkoff-funded producer education programs have occurred on the national level. State associations have implemented hundreds more.

Consumers and society will continue to put demands on food safety, environmental responsibility and animal well-being. You wouldn’t have the Pork Quality Assurance Program or Environmental Assistance Program without checkoff. In the past three years, checkoff has funded $1.6 million in manure management research.

Foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine fever have surfaced in other countries recently. The U.S. government doesn’t have the money nor the manpower to prevent or control those diseases in the United States. Industry has to play a role, and that requires checkoff.

You simply can’t do these kinds of things without a national checkoff program. So, before you head out the door to vote on Sept. 19-21, think long and hard about what you have to lose.