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Right To Repair: Why Wyoming Farmers Are Buying Old Tractors Instead of New Ones

in News/Agriculture
Wyoming farmer Bill Kossert in his 1978 tractor.

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter

Tractors have become so technologically advanced, it’s impossible for farmers and ranchers to fix them, say “right-to-repair” advocates.

Some farmers are lobbying their state legislatures for right-to-repair laws. Others are turning to the Eastern European gray market to snag their own repair software. That’s because manufacturers have a monopoly on repair software in the U.S., advocates argue.

One Casper-area farmer said he’s found a simpler solution: Use old tractors.

“I’m on my way out to the hay field for the harvest right now, and the tractor I’m driving is 44 years old,” Bill Kossert said during a telephone interview Friday. “It still runs great, and it’s got everything I need, including air conditioning in the cab.”

A Lost Art

It used to be practically a given that farmers were their own mechanics, Walter Schweitzer told Cowboy State Daily recently. He’s the president of the Montana Farmers Union and farms near Great Falls, Montana.

“Doing your own mechanical work used to be a skill, even an art,” he said. “To troubleshoot a problem with a piece of equipment, it was a matter of experience, or even a gut feeling.

“Now, you plug it into a computer or a mobile device and it will tell you what’s wrong.”

Held Hostage by Tech

The problem is, tractor manufacturers have a monopoly on their diagnostics software, he said. The software is usually available only to dealers’ repair shops, which aren’t allowed to share it with customers. So, even a minor problem can shut a tractor down and leave a farmer facing huge bills.

Instead of fixing it themselves, they have no choice to use dealer-authorized repair personnel, which not only can be costly but could take days or even weeks.

“When you’re in the middle of a harvest and your tractor stops working because of an electronic problem, you’re sitting there with a 500,000-pound paperweight, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Schweitzer said.

That’s exactly what Schweitzer said happened to him couple of years ago during the middle of a hay harvest. His newer-model main tractor started randomly shutting down.

“I tried changing the fuel filters, I quit letting the fuel tank drop below half-full, but the tractor kept just shutting down,” he said.

Fortunately, he had an older tractor in reserve that he fired up to finish his harvest. The newer tractor had to be hauled into a dealership and run through a series of computer diagnostics. After more than $5,000 in bills, it turned out a faulty computerized fuel sensor had trigged the problem.

“If I had access to the software, I could have just hooked it up and fixed the problem on the fly,” he said.


Montana farmers a few years ago tried to get a right-to-repair bill passed in that state. It was an effort to force equipment manufactures to make their software more readily available to farmers and sharable through dealers’ repair shops, Schweitzer said.

“The equipment dealers aren’t the problem here,” he said. “They’re my partners, we’re all out here just trying to make a living.”

The bill failed, and Schweitzer blames that on large equipment companies “parachuting in lobbyists” from out-of-state.

But all it will take would be one state passing a right-to-repair bill “and the dominos would fall,” he said.

“We had the same fight over the computerized tech in cars,” he said, adding that owners and independent mechanics eventually won.

There’s a growing nationwide movement for right-to-repair legislation, Willie Cade of Chicago recently told Cowboy State Daily. He’s a board member for the Repair Association, which works with farmers’ unions and others in several states to push right-to-repair legislation.

“Farmers have been repairing their own tractors for more than 100 years,” and should still be able to do so, he said.

‘Tractor Hacking’

In their frustration, some farmers have turned to an Eastern European gray market for repair software, Cade said.

The software is for sale on the open market there “because Eastern Europe is looser with regulations than Western Europe and the U.S.,” he said.

Some farmers have resorted to sketchy, online avenues to get their hands on the Eastern European software. That, in turn, has given rise to an underground “tractor hacking” movement in the U.S., Cade said.

Farmers will “hack” into their tractors with the clandestine software and sometimes share it among each other, he said. But it’s not usually talked about openly, because the legality of it is questionable.

“The software itself is legitimate,” he added. “It’s just that it’s not ‘supposed to be’ – air quotes there – used privately in the U.S.”

Schweitzer said he’s doesn’t know of any farmers in Montana or Wyoming who hack their tractors. In addition to being marginally legal at best, it also can cause more problems than it solves.

“The problem with anything you get off the underground market is it’s probably a little sketchy, so you can’t be sure you’re even getting what you need,” he said.

What’s Old Is New Again

Schweitzer and Cade said that like Kossert, more farmers are turning to older tractors, so the market for used agricultural equipment has been swelling.

A Wyoming equipment auctioneer said that jibes with what he’s seen lately.

“We have certainly experienced an uptick of sales in used equipment,” Michael McNamee of McNamee auctions in Torrington told Cowboy State Daily. “Some of this older equipment, the value of it has gone up 25-30%. There’s demand and a lack of availability.”

In-demand items now seem to be older tractors in the 100-125 hp range because those are working machines that can pull attachments.

“That’s where we’ve seen the greatest demand,” he said. “Those can run a baler, pull a piece of tillage equipment.”

Kossert said he has no plans to get rid of his reliable old tractors, and being able to do his own repairs is a huge part of that.

“If you buy something, you should be able to fix it yourself,” he said. “This stuff will last you a long time if you take care of it.”

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Wyoming Farmers And Ranchers Have ‘Tougher Than Ever’ Year

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter

At the start of the growing season, many farmers and ranchers in Wyoming were looking at rising commodity prices and expecting to maybe have a good year. Then, as the cost of fertilizer, fuel, cattle feed and freight weighed on their businesses, the margins those high commodity prices would have produced began to slim.

“It’s tougher than it’s ever been,” said Sage Askin, owner of Askin Land and Livestock in Lusk.

Shipping in all industries faces labor shortages and high fuel costs, and it’s hitting livestock producers hard this year. 

“The freight itself was never anything we used to think about. You just hire a truck. Now we’re having to hunt around and just kind of take what you can get,” Askin said. 

Askin said for some producers, it’s impacting their ability to be good stewards of the land. When you have to leave cows on a pasture too long, it’s not good for it. 

“Everybody does the best they can, but these are things we’re faced with,” Askin said. 

When they can get the trucks to move their cows, fuel and labor costs are soaring, which eats away at their profits. 

Askin said they tried to budget accurately for Askin Land and Livestock’s direct fuel costs, contracting between $3.00 and $3.20 per gallon. Instead, they were looking at $5 per gallon. 

“From a budget perspective, we wildly missed it,” Askin said. 

Those costs, Askin explained, are a big portion of the cost of operations. Being off 70% on their estimations, they’ve had to become more efficient with their fuel usage.

“I know a lot of people have had to increase their lines of credit in order to make up for” the increased cost of fuel and freight, Askin said. 

Drought conditions are hitting alfalfa yields and driving up feed prices. Askin said he’s seen feed prices go from $100 per ton a couple years ago to $300 per ton now. 

Jim Magagna, executive vice president for the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, said that due to the scarcity and cost of feed, many cattle producers are shipping their cattle off to feed lots earlier than usual, which means the quality of the cow isn’t as good as it could have been.

Brett Crosby, owner of Cowley-based Custom Ag Solutions, said, “It was so incredibly dry this spring. There was just no water anywhere.” 

He’s said he’s had neighbors selling off 10% to 20% of their herd earlier in the year, but there wasn’t a good market for them. So, they had to sell off a chunk of their herd to stay viable, but they didn’t get a lot of money from the sales. 

“So that was kind of a double whammy for people who had to sell cows,” Crosby said. 

One of the best indicators of the general state of the cowherd in the U.S. is the number of heifers in the fed cattle slaughter mix. Crosby said the industry killed more females between January 1 and July 1, than the same period of any year since 1982.

Magagna said ranchers in the southeast part of the state, around Wheatland and Cheyenne, got some precipitation later in the year, which will help their cows put on some weight before they’re shipped, but some parts of Wyoming just stayed dry through the season. 

The growers are also facing the same challenges. Beau Fulton grows alfalfa seed, grass seed, malt barley and pinto beans up on Heart Mountain in Park County. 

“Fertilizer and fuel were up so darn much, which I’m sure it’s something you’ll hear from everyone,” Fulton said. 

Magagna said, besides everything else, farm equipment costs are also up. When producers need parts for their machinery, it’s hard to come by, and when they manage to get their hands on what they need, costs are way up. 

The one saving grace for the year is that the commodity prices are up. Those will help make up for some of those increased costs when it all goes to market, but margins are going to be tight. 

Askin said consumer prices are often misperceived as being a boon for the rancher. 

“A lot of people think that beef prices at the grocery store correlate all the way back to the producer. Unfortunately, our share of that is very low,” Askin said. 

Crosby said that due to the weakening dollar this year, the big packers that control much of the meat processing will likely see solid revenues from selling off byproducts on the export market. This will mean the packers’ margins will be better, and so the producer should get a good price per head of cattle. Cattle futures are also doing really well, Crosy said. 

For the meat consumer, Crosby said, prices will be up as all food prices are, but he doesn’t think they’ll explode in the coming year since exports revenues will be good. 

Of course, nothing is for certain. 

Fuller said that farming comes with these challenges every year, and for his own operation, he said it’s not going to be a terrible year. 

“Everything has been fairly good. I’m pretty thankful,” Fuller said.  

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Feds Paid Wyoming Farmers $3.4 Million Not To Farm Last Year

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The federal government paid Wyoming farmers about $3.4 million not to farm certain plots of land last year. 

Used historically as a protector of fragile land areas where erosion and other changes are a concern, the Conservation Reserve Program is a federal program that pays farmers and ranchers an annual “rent” payment not to farm or allow grazing on environmentally unstable land sections. 

Though the program paid millions to Wyoming farmers in multiple counties last October, both the total paid and the quantity of payments are down from the year prior. 

High commodity prices could be making farmers want to farm rather than take the payouts not to farm, according to industry experts. 

‘Pretty Astute People’ 

Wyomingites’ hesitancy comes in spite of added incentives to enroll in the program. 

Citing concerns over climate change, the USDA announced in April 2021 that it would seek to add four million new acres into the program’s designated fallow ground by raising annual rental payments and adding incentive payments.     

But Wyoming’s participation dropped by about $1.8 million when the payments were dispatched that October, down from roughly $5.2 million paid in Wyoming in October 2020. Participation is voluntary.    

Wyoming farmers and ranchers likely didn’t refuse the program because of its focus on climate change, but because it wasn’t worth their while not to farm, said Brett Moline, director of public affairs for the Wyoming Farm Bureau.   

“Farmers and ranchers are pretty astute people and they’re going to put a pencil to it,” said Moline. “If they can make more money putting (land) into a reserve program, some of them will do it.”    

If they can make more money by farming, farmers will do that instead. And yet a third category of farmers will balk at having to enroll in a 10-year contract to accept the federal paycheck because over the course of a decade, “so much can change,” Moline said.    

Farmers had to register for the 2021 payment in early in 2020.    

In November 2019, for example, Wyoming farmers saw a $15 gain per ton in hay prices compared to the year before, according to the Northern Ag Network.    

So when it came time to register for the Conservation Reserve Program just three months later, many opted against it.    

Todd Even, farm program chief for Wyoming Farm Service Agency, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that there’s also a ranking process determining which lands get into the program. Lands that aren’t as environmentally concerning might not make the cut, he said.    

Even agreed that farmers may have dodged the program recently due to high commodity prices; he also noted that many farmers’ contracts expired just before the October 2021 payments and many of those too, could have chosen not to enroll again.    


If some commodity prices were promising in the earliest weeks of 2020, they’re soaring now.    

Crop and livestock production follow each other somewhat on economic line graphs: Prices received by livestock producers nationwide are at about 145% of a baseline set in 2011, according to a chart by the National Agricultural Statistics Services. 

Crop production prices are at about 130% of the standard amount.    

Spikes in demand and drops in supply both contribute to high commodity prices, said Moline.    

Drought, hail, and other factors diminishing overall supply can make some products harder to produce, which makes it easier for farmers who have succeeded to get a better price, he added.    

‘Big Push’   

While the Conservation Reserve Program always has had environmental concerns such as erosion and flooding in mind, its focus on the emissions associated with farming and ranching has grown under President Joe Biden’s administration, said Moline.    

“Under this administration climate change is a big push,” he said. “The carbon capture of not farming, not ploughing, not tilling ground up is going to be a big push for them.”    

Sandy Counties   

The counties enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program currently demonstrate its longtime focus on sparing sandy landscapes and other fragile areas.    

Of the $3.4 million paid to Wyoming producers in October, there were 183 rent payments to Albany County farmers and ranchers, 181 payments in Goshen County, 154 to Laramie County producers, 88 to Crook County, 37 to Niobrara, 24 to Campbell County producers and 23 to Hot Springs County.    

Big Horn County only saw four rental payments from the federal government, while Fremont, Carbon and Washakie each had one entity accept payment.    

The other Wyoming counties didn’t have lands enrolled in the program when payments rolled out last year. 

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Wyo Cattle Prices Up; Inflation Means Expenses Also Up

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By Joshua Wood, Cowboy State Daily

There’s been some good news in the cattle market for producers recently as prices have gone up. This slight silver lining, however, is found around a dark cloud of drought and inflation.

First the good news

On July 15, an analysis from an agricultural news publication provided a somewhat positive outlook for ranchers with calf and yearling prices continuing to trend higher. 

According to Cattlefax, 550-pound steer prices had increased $8 per hundredweight since the end of May. Calf prices averaged $25 per hundredweight higher than they were year-to-date.

“The factors that’s driving the prices up are the drought and demand for beef,” said Dennis Sun of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. “Everybody wants American beef these days, and that’s a big part of it there. Also, the cattle numbers are going down. I think beef cattle numbers were down 30.4 million from last year, and that’s 2.4% from last year.”

According to Sun, the trend of rising cattle prices has gone beyond calves and yearlings. Cull bulls and cull cows are also seeing the price increase. Where, last year, producers were getting $400 per cow they are now getting $1,000, said Sun.

An extra $600 per head over last year might look good at face value until one sees what’s behind the increase.

Low supply, high demand

“What’s driving this market now, and long term it could be detrimental to us, is half the United States or better is in extreme drought still,” said Wyoming State Senator Ogden Driskill (R – Devils Tower). “We’re literally killing our beef supply. We’re killing cows and heifers daily because they don’t have feed to feed them.”

According to a July 25 report by CNN Business, ranchers throughout the American West are selling their cattle at a level not seen in more than a decade. 

A 2021 study from the American Farm Bureau Agency Federation showed a link between selling off portions of their herd and drought driving up local feed costs. 

While this may mean increased prices at the market due to a lower supply this year, it also means ranchers have to rebuild those herds. Driskill used his ranch as an example.

“We sold half of our cows last year and you don’t just sell half and then come back the next year and say ‘Well, I’m whole, again,’” said Driskill. “So, the impact on our ranch will be multiple years rebuilding.”

High cost, low yield

Though the rising cattle prices appear like a respite from selling herds last year. According to Cheryl Munroe, who owns a ranch outside Encampment, the current struggle with inflation appears to reduce any gains.

“When you look at the inflation, the cattle prices have increased, yes, but our fuel prices, the cost of machinery, the cost of equipment has doubled more than what the cattle prices are getting,” said Munroe. “You’ve got to look at the whole picture.”

According to Munroe, while people at gas stations throughout the country may be wincing as they fill up, the pain is more acute for those in agriculture. The same goes for electric bills.

“I just paid $7,000 for dyed diesel for the tractors, clear diesel and unleaded for the side-by-sides and the fourwheelers,” said Munroe. “I have four center pivots and last month my electric bill was $8,160.”

And while cattle prices may be rising, inflation on the part of feedlots may lead to less in the pocket of producers.

Especially when more cattle go to market later this year, said Sun.

“The thing that’s really hurting is these calves, a lot of them will go to feedlots, both heifers and steers,” said Sun. “(If) The price of corn or your feedstuffs keeps raising up (sic), that means it’s gotta be less for that feeder to buy your calves.”

With inflation, even getting the calves to the point of being sold to feedlots is getting more expensive.

“Last year I spent $23,000 fertilizing three center pivots and a native hay field. This year, I spent the same amount and I fertilized one pivot and a native hay field,” said Munroe. “That’s it.”

“Just like everybody else, ranches are feeling the pain of inflation,” said Sun. “That would be the negative of all the supplies that we get.”

Rising tides

Though nearly 80% of the American West has been in a drought, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, portions of Wyoming have been lucky this year. Driskill counts himself among those lucky few.

“This was a linchpin year for ranches like mine. If it had been one more year of drought, you’d have been faced with numbers of ranches going out of business,” said Driskill. “Hopefully these markets continue to strengthen and bailout some of these outfits that have been hit really hard by drought.” 

The unfortunate thing, said Driskill, is that benefit comes at the cost of other segments of the industry. 

“The truth is, I need corn farmers to do good, I need for feeders to do good, I need for the cow/calf guys to do good and I need people to buy our products,” said Driskill. “Really, rising tides raise all ships and if you’ve got a hole in one of them you’re not going to get there. We need all the segments to operate independently and to all be profitable for this to really be a good thing for everybody.”

Times may still be tough but, according to Sun, there’s improvement over last year.

“We’ll take any silver linings because at least you start out better than you did last year,” said Sun.

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Wyoming Ag Producers Fight Back Against Feds Telling Them To Use Less Water

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Historic drought conditions across the West have prompted a federal call for Wyoming and other western states to reduce their consumption of Colorado River Basin waters this year. 

Wyoming State Engineer Brandon Gebhart met this week with representatives from six states, collectively known as “basin states,” in Las Vegas. 

The meeting was the first of several to determine how the states could voluntarily reduce their use of Colorado River Basin water by 2 million oto 4 million acre-feet to increase flows into lakes Mead and Powell, which are at critically low levels, said Jeff Cowley, the State Engineer’s Office administrator of interstate streams.

An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre of land with 1 foot of water, almost 326,000 gallons.

The basin states include Wyoming, California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and  Arizona.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has given the states until mid-August to come up with a water consumption reduction plan, Cowley said. 

“If we can’t come up with a plan,” he added, “the Bureau of Reclamation is going to step in and do it for us.” 

The states were tasked with finding ways to reduce their own Colorado River Basin water consumption this year by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton during a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing in June. 

“Between 2 (million) and 4 million acre-feet of additional conservation is needed just to protect critical levels (in lakes Mead and Powell) in 2023,” Touton told the committee. “It is in our authority to act unilaterally to protect the system, and we will protect the system. But today, we are pursuing a path of partnership.”

Touton explained the two reservoirs, which are fed by the Colorado River, serve millions of people across the West, but water levels are dropping to historic and potentially dangerous lows. 

‘Under Attack’

During the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, acknowledged the severity of the drought, but spoke to the dangers of diverting water away from agricultural uses in Wyoming. 

“Extreme drought is a concern to all Westerners, but especially to small rural farming and ranching communities in Wyoming,” Barrasso said. “Reducing the use of water doesn’t just put ranchers and farmers out of work, it increases the cost of food.” 

Through the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, codified in 1948, Wyoming has annual access to 14% of water available to the upper basin — after 50,000 acre-feet set aside for Arizona is taken into account, Cowley said. 

“Under a full supply of 7.5 million acre-feet, Wyoming would have access to about 1 million acre-feet,” he explained. “But we typically don’t have a full supply available.” 

In recent years, Wyoming’s average use of upper basin water has been about 600,000 acre-feet, Cowley said. 

Agriculture is, by far, the largest user for those waters, accounting for about 83% percent of the annual usage. Industry is the second largest user at 8%, followed by municipal uses at 3%, Cowley said.

Wyoming rancher and Family Farm Alliance President Patrick O’Toole told the Senate committee that farmers and ranchers are always the first ones asked to make sacrifices. 

“Here’s the reality … we’re in an unprecedented situation,” O’Toole said during the hearing. “We’re about to do with agriculture what we did with manufacturing, let it go overseas. We cannot give up our production to the Third World.” 

Agricultural producers are “under attack,” he added, urging the Senate committee to allow the current water preservation processes to function as designed, rather than force additional reductions in consumption.

Worst Drought In Centuries

Whether or not Wyoming reduces its 2022 consumption of water supplied by the Colorado River Basin remains to be seen, but Cowley said Gebhart and a team of water specialists are working to navigate the complexities of interstate water agreements and ensure Wyoming has a seat at the bargaining table. 

“Wyoming’s role is to work diligently with the other basin states to develop the plans,” he said. “The best case scenario is all the basin states build off their past successes by figuring out how to work together. As uncomfortable as this topic continues to be, one really good thing is they continue to work together.”

A worst case scenario could include negotiations breaking down between the states and stakeholders, such Native American tribes, resulting in lengthy and expensive litigation as well as the Bureau of Reclamation stepping in to divvy up water consumption as it sees fit, Cowley explained. 

But, even if every state leaves the table in agreement, this call for reduced consumption may not be the last. 

“Based on tree-ring analysis, this is the worst drought the region has seen in 1,200 years,” Cowley said. “If the hydrology continues to decline, these cuts could come up every year. This is not a one-time deal.” 

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Snowstorm Provides Relief For Ranchers Plagued By Drought, But Comes At A Cost In Lost Livestock

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Record snowfall in northeast Wyoming over the weekend provided much-needed relief for ranchers hard hit by drought, though for some, came at a hefty cost in lost livestock and repairs following the storm.

Crook, Weston and Campbell counties received upwards of 12 to 19 inches of snow and anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of water from the heavy snowfall, according to the National Weather Service.

Despite having ample time for preparation, muddy pastures and drifting snow added to the difficulty of calving season for ranchers like Shawn Acord who runs 1,400 head of cattle on the Faddis-Kennedy Ranch that he manages in northern Campbell County, 15 miles from the Montana border.

They were walloped with 12 to 16 inches of very wet snow and high winds, making it hard to get around any other way than on foot, Acord said, as the rain and warm temperatures turned everything muddy and soft. Despite days of preparation involving putting out extra feed and opening gates to allow cows to get into pastures with better cover, the weather conditions made it hard to check on heifers, cows giving birth for the first time, to make sure their calves were alive and out of the wind.

As of Monday, Acord counted more than seven lost calves, though that number will likely rise as the snow drifts continue melting.

Losing a calf means losing revenue.

“Any calf we lose takes away from what we can sell in the fall,” he said, “so we have no income off of that cow.”

On a ranch their size, Acord estimated losing 20 calves in a storm of that magnitude is manageable.

On the plus side, the ranch got 1.5 inches of rain, more than the Acords have seen at once in a long time, which will help some spring grass grow, but keeping it green will require additional moisture.

“All in all, it was a bad storm, but it could have been worse,” Acord said. “It could have been cold and froze more babies. There are other places that have lost have their herds.”

Over in Crook County, Whitt Hawk and Everett Zimmerschied didn’t lose any livestock and the snow levels were considerably lower at between 4 and 8 inches, Hawk estimated, at their ranch in Carlile.

“Overall for us, the precipitation was a good thing,” she said.

Like Acord and other ranchers, they prepared by feeding the cattle more in advance of the storm and stockpiling hay closer to the herds while the roads and pastures were still accessible.

Though they didn’t lose any calves, they had plenty of work digging out of drifts to open gates and barn doors and fix the broken wire on fences that had stretched under the weight of the drifting snow.

The moisture was worth the extra work, Hawk said.

“While drifts present extra work and challenges, the snow melt-off means the ground, water table and reservoirs will benefit more versus a fast melt or run off of the precipitation,” she said. “The spring crops have a better chance and the grass will hopefully recover better, too.”

Dave Wolfskill estimated from 18 to 20 inches of snow fell on his family’s rach in Barlow Canyon northwest of Devils Tower, creating towering drifts.

His cattle calve in the fall, he said, which saved the ranch losses in this case, though not commpletely. He had to put a horse down after it broke its leg on a cattle guard that had been filled with snow when the county road was plowed.

“He was my last ‘old man horse,’” Wolfskill said. “His broken leg was not something that could be fixed.”

Otherwise, everything as as protected as possible and there were no additional losses of livestock.

It a mixed blessing, Wolfskill said of the record snowfall, and like most things, came at a cost.   

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Is the Farmer’s Almanac Still Relevant? Yes, Say Wyoming Farmers And Ranchers

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Photo By Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

For 230 years, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has guided farmers, ranchers, gardeners and others in getting the most out of their crops.

But in this digital age, is the Farmer’s Almanac still relevant?

“Absolutely, I think it’s still valuable,” said Del Tinsley, a Wheatland rancher who was one of the original owners of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup publication. “There’s a lot of good information. It gives you the time to plant, for example. They know the best time to castrate your calves so they don’t bleed. Planting seasons for corn and stuff like that.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac (not to be confused with other Farmer’s Almanacs, which are published regionally by independent publishing companies) is the oldest continuously published periodical in North America and features tips on planting, stories about farmers and farming and boasts of its “famous 80 percent accurate weather forecasts.”

“I don’t understand how they know their stuff,” Tinsley said.

Neither does Cowboy State Daily Meteorologist Don Day.

“From my perspective, any time you see somebody trying to make these long-range predictions when it comes to the weather, I’m always interested in, what’s their formula for making these very long range predictions?” Day said. “I have a curiosity on what they use to come up with these predictions. They claim it’s a secret on whatever their magical sauce is, in terms of how they come up with it.”

But for those who have been ranchers, like Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Farmer’s Almanac was a valuable tool for just that purpose.

“(I used it) mainly just for weather predictions. I don’t recall using it for other purposes,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I would have been looking at it to help do some longer term planning, beyond just what’s going to happen tomorrow or this week.”

But since he quit ranching more than 30 years ago, Magagna said, the Almanac has lost some of its relevance to him.

“Once in a while, I’ll see what it says and it always intrigues me, but to just really make an effort to look at it? I know I haven’t for years,” he said. “And I think we’ve become so dependent on the weatherman and Don Day that we don’t go back and look at those documents.” 

“I don’t put a high value on it, in terms of using it as a resource by saying, ‘Oh, well, the Farmer’s Almanac said we’re getting the storm on these days,’” Day said. “But sometimes it’ll do really well. You know, there’s some years the Farmer’s Almanac will outperform other professional long range forecasts. Now, is it because they know something that other people don’t? Do they just get lucky? I don’t know.”

But the Farmer’s Almanac has more value than just weather planning, according to those who regularly reference the periodical. 

Lynn Steward of Cody is a hobby gardener, and she said she uses the Almanac regularly.

“It has really good tips in it,” she said. “The different articles, things they tell you. Honestly, I’m looking at it all the time, because even with my houseplants, I go by it.”

Steward, though, uses the modern version of the Farmer’s Almanac. She told Cowboy State Daily that she references the Almanac’s website often.

“I plant my garden by it,” Steward said. “I get it online. I snapshot the growing calendars. I used to get the book, but anymore they’re hard to find.”

What all those interviewed did agree on is that the Farmer’s Almanac still appeals to people.

“From what I do, I don’t see a large value in it,” Day said. “But I do think the Farmer’s Almanac is fun.”

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Wyoming Ag Industry Hit By Drought, Although Not As Bad As Other States

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers are not being hit as hard by the drought seen across the West as their counterparts in other states, several told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Kyle Berger, whose family owns a livestock ranch in Saratoga, told Cowboy State Daily that the area has been “abnormally” dry for about two years, which has had both immediate and long-term effects.

“The immediate effect is that we can’t grow as much forage as we typically do,” Berger said. “Last year, we had to buy a lot more feed and lease some more grounds. We were actually able to maintain our numbers, but there’s also the higher expense and less income in this situation.”

While the Berger family ranch is not being forced to sell off more cattle or land due to the drought, concerns about continued dry weather and subnormal snowmelt is always at the back of everyone’s mind., Berger said.

He added the most important part of ranching is always being able to adapt to conditions, and a drought is something that can be planned for, at least somewhat.

“You basically have to have a drought plan in mind,” Berger said. “If we get several years of severe drought conditions, that can be concerning, because a person can’t make a living. As far as being worried about the future, we just make a plan and keep going.”

According to the U.S. drought monitor conditions for Wyoming, 100% of the state is considered “abnormally dry.” Most of the state, 97.6%, is considered to be in a “moderate drought,” meaning that hay and forage yield is low, fire danger is elevated and fewer wildflowers bloom.

Just over half of the state, 59.9%, is in a severe drought, which means that pasture conditions are poor, trees and vegetation are stressed and water pressures are low. Some of these areas include Lincoln, Sweetwater, Big Horn and Uinta counties.

However, a small portion, 20.6% of the state, is in an extreme drought, which means that snowpack in those areas is low and surface waters are inadequate for farming and ranching. The areas in extreme drought include at least some of Campbell, Johnson, Park and Teton counties.

According to the drought monitor, 2022 is the seventh driest year on record, with March being the 27th driest on record in the last 128 years. Basically everyone in the state is affected by the drought in one way or another.

Ken Hamilton, vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau, told Cowboy State Daily that this time of the year, mid-April, was critical when it comes to precipitation.

“This time of year is the ‘Hold your breath and hope’ kind of a time, because these winter storms are helping with the snowpack,” he said. “The last few snowstorms have improved some of the snowpack, but it’s got a way to go.”

Many Farm Bureau members are currently taking stock of their spring feed, trying to decide how to handle their livestock this year, Hamilton said.

While both farmers and ranchers have been affected by the drought, Hamilton noted that those in the ranching business were particularly hit hard last year by the dry conditions.

“We were really fortunate 100 years ago when we developed some of our irrigation systems, so we ended up with adequate supplies,” he said. “But based on the snowpack levels we’re seeing, it’s not going to be a great year for our ranchers.”

Abby Shuler, whose family raises crops and cattle in Park County, said that luckily, their business has not been severely impacted by the drought due to the fact that they have an irrigation system.

“As long as we have snowpack in the mountains, we’re good,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “But with the wind, our corrals stay dry. One of our manure guys came in and cleaned our corral recently and they were having to break up that hard crust in the grass, they couldn’t scoop it out normally. That’s how dry it is here.”

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Drought, High Diesel And Hay Prices Devastating To Ag Producers in NE Wyoming

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Photo by Acacia Acord

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming ranchers are used to weathering hard times. In an industry driven by weather and other conditions largely out their hands, agricultural producers are used to rolling with the punches and making do. 

For ranchers in northeastern Wyoming, the last two years were hard. This year is shaping up to be even harder for producers who have already weathered two years of severe drought and skyrocketing prices for hay and feed. 

Add in record-high diesel prices following a relatively dry winter and there’s not a lot on the horizon at the moment to be celebrated.

Shawn and Acacia Acord are steely eyed as they preview the season ahead. The reservoirs on the Faddis-Kennedy Ranch north of Gillette, which he manages, are dry, as is the riverbed for the Powder River running through the property.

Acord’s cattle have eaten most of the forage from winter range that had to endure through the last year so the rancher could cut back on buying hay at record prices. Everybody out here is pretty much in the same boat, he said.

“Everybody’s getting down close to the dirt,” he said.

It’s not just here in Campbell County, he said, but extends north to Johnson and Sheridan counties and into Montana.

Right now, the Acords are holding out hope to see some rain or snow this month and next to spur grass growth on their range. If no moisture falls, then the Acords will have to make some hard choices, whether that be to ship their cattle to a feedlot or sell them off early.

“We have nothing to feed, so when we try to truck food in, it’s just that more expensive,” Shawn said. “It’s not the trucker’s fault either. He has to be able to pay his bills, too. It’s getting to be too much.”

Other ranchers have already significantly reduced their herds to conserve pastures following last year’s drought conditions.

“It’s a major struggle right now,” Acacia Acord said. “We’re so weather-dependent, right? You can only do so much.”

Weather Outlook

The good news, said Tony Bergantino, acting director of the Wyoming State Climate Office and Water Resources Data System, is that northeastern Wyoming, including Campbell County, can expect to see anywhere from 1 inch to upwards of 1.5 inches of precipitation within the next week.

The bad news is that it might be too much at once, causing the water to run off rather than be absorbed into the soil, he said. Having the rain soak into the ground is important now because this is the time when grasses grow, he said, from now until around the first week of June.

Looking forward, he said the forecasts are not very promising for more rain ahead. Instead, he expects below-normal precipitation for April through June with above average-temperatures, very similar to last year’s conditions.

“Once we get past this next coming week, it’s not looking too optimistic,” he said. “One storm isn’t going to break a 2-year drought.”

Currently, Campbell, Weston, Johnson and Sheridan counties are experiencing an extreme drought, as are Park and Teton counties in the northwest.

If conditions hold, this will be the third year that the counties will see an extreme drought, an unprecedented development in recent years, Bergantino said, with the exception of shorter drought periods between 2002 to 2004, and more recently, in 2012 to 2013.

Low soil moisture in those areas also exacerbates problems caused by a poor snow season and the combination means entering the growing season with a moisture deficit, Bergantino said.

“Conditions start to stack up on you,” he said.

Tough Decisions

This is the time of year when many ranchers are holding their breath to see what kind of precipitation will fall between now and June.

“Only God knows that,” said Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.

The fourth-generation Central Wyoming rancher is hopeful that producers in the counties hardest hit by drought will see some relief, but without it, many will have to make some tough decisions.

For some, this might mean selling cattle or leasing grazing land in other parts of the state or in surrounding states. On average the cost for leasing land is about $30 a month per cow and calf pair, plus the expense to ship them to either to leased pasture or feedlots in Nebraska and elsewhere.

This third year of dry conditions is difficult, Sun said, noting that in the past, many producers in other states have shipped their cattle to graze in Wyoming and Montana during their own drought years.

“What makes it harder this year is that diesel is so expensive, and trucking (costs) are really high,” he said.

On a positive note, cattle prices remain high because cattle inventory has been going down nationally in recent months, which has raised the price of beef.

The downside for producers forced to sell off their herds is that it takes years to build back. In addition, they lose the genetics that they’ve spent years investing to perfect. Bringing in a new herd sometimes means starting the process over in addition to getting the cattle used to their new homes.

“They’re like kindergarteners, and you have to introduce them to the ranch,” he said. “They don’t do well that first year.”

Regardless, he said, Wyoming ranchers are used to weathering hard times.

“It’s not the first drought if you’ve been in the business,” he said. “They pop up about every 12 to 13 years.”

Photo by Acacia Acord

Everyone Impacted

A lot of ranchers in Campbell County have already taken out loans for hay, which began last fall, according to Justin Holcomb, market president at the Gillette branch of First Northern Bank.

Because people couldn’t put up their own hay last year, they were forced to buy costly hay to feed their herds through fall and winter.

The drought is probably the biggest factor impacting local producers, Holcomb said, as well as high input prices of diesel, fertilizer and the corn ranchers use to feed cattle when they get to the feedlots.

“It’s impacting everyone,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver lining.”

Holcomb’s bank has seen a huge demand for such loans, he said.

Holcomb runs cattle himself and is facing the same constraints and having to make the same hard choices of how to best recoup the inevitable losses brought on by this year’s perfect storm.

“One year is bad, and two years are terrible,” he said, “but three years are devastating and we’re about to enter the third.”

Relief programs

The United State Department of Agricultural Farm Service Agency has several programs in place to help Wyoming ranchers.

“They’re going to be hit hard again,” Todd Even, FSA program chief, said, noting there are several programs available to help producers throughout the state.

One is the 2021 Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) that covers forage losses due to severe drought or wildfire this year.

A second is a new federal program launched by the agency on Monday, the Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP).

This new $750 million program was signed into law as part of the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act to help agricultural producers offset the impacts of drought or wildfires.

The programs, like others, are designed to help ranchers weather bad times, Holcomb said.

“The programs were never intended to make livestock producers whole, but rather help take the sting out of some of it,” he said.

Weathering Tough Times

Despite the tough times ahead, Acacia and Shawn Acord wouldn’t change their lifestyle for anything. Instead, they’ve figured out a way to make it work with Acacia’s full-time job in banking and Shawn’s secondary business training horses for Acord Quarter Horses.

Second jobs are nothing new for farmers and ranchers, Acacia said. Her her dad worked a full-time career “in town” while overseeing two ranches.

“This is the way of life we’ve chosen,” she said, noting that there many ranchers in the area have been through worse, such as the severe drought seen in the late 1980s, when the scorched land was teeming with grasshoppers and the fossil fuel industry was in a slump.

“Some will make it, and some won’t,” she said, “but the bright spot is the community we live in. We’re all in this together, and you can’t find better people than in the ag community. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Shawn agreed.

“Sometimes that’s all that keeps you going,” he said. “There are tough times, but there’s no better place to spend those tough times.

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Bee Colonies Relatively Healthy In Wyoming But Beekeepers Worried About New Pesticides

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is considered an agriculture state and beef cattle are perhaps the state’s most prominent product. 

But the state’s ranchers and the cattle they raise wouldn’t be anywhere without the bees that pollinate the crops, according to bee experts around the state.

“Scientists like Einstein have said that without pollination by bees, we would die in five years,” said Michael Jordan, founder of “A Bee Friendly Company” based in Cheyenne. “Because when they pollinate a food source, that food source germinates another food source for the next generation. But those food sources are eaten not only by humans, but also insects, and cattle. 

“So when you don’t have insects that don’t eat plant life, they don’t fly over the water and fish don’t have food to eat; and if you don’t have germination of clover, which humans don’t eat but cattle do, that makes the Big Mac in the Happy Meal extremely expensive,” he continued. 

Relatively Healthy in Wyo

A concern for the welfare of bees globally has been in the news for the last few years, but Jordan said in Wyoming, unlike other parts of the country, bee colonies are relatively healthy.

“The decline of bees was a perfect storm that happened, and we’re learning to recoup by breeding and animal husbandry that’s helping out much better in our beekeeping and apiaries,” he said.

Animal husbandry? With bees?

Yes, explained Jack States of Lander, who is a bee hobbyist, but was born into a beekeeping family. 

“There are different strains of honeybees,” States noted. “Italian queens are queens that are raised from stock that originally came from Italy, and they’ve been here for a couple hundred years. In this state we do a lot of breeding with those and also other places in Europe.”

States said that he and other producers, like Don Bryant in Worland, work to build up their colonies so they can divide and sell to other beekeepers.

“You can divide the colonies and then leave the Queen in one of the divisions and introduce a new queen into the other division,” he said. “And if they want to sell that division they pour those bees into a package. This is the time of year when they’re starting to send the packages out, or deliver the packages, or have people come and pick them up.”

Raising bees can be a lucrative business, States explained, but costs have gone up, just as they have for other agricultural operations.

“This dates me, but I remember I was working with my family in the late 1940s, and the queens then were about a dollar and a quarter for a queen with the attendants in there,” he recalled. “And now they range all the way from $30 to $150 for just one bee.”

Beekeepers Are Livestock Owners

States explained that just like other farmers and ranchers, beekeepers are treated as livestock owners in Wyoming.

“We have to register our bees either as a hobbyist or as a commercial beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture under the apiary section,” he said. 

And just like other ag producers, weather and other climate conditions affect the bee crop as well, according to States.

“Beekeepers really do have to watch the weather, just as much as the livestock community,” States said. “Bees are affected very much by weather and very much dependent upon the success of agriculture to produce a honey source.”

Jordan’s company manages more than 1,500 hives. He told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming produces quality bees because of the strict rules the state imposes to keep the hives safe.

“We have extremely stringent laws here of testing, of registering and doing things … so our bees actually do extremely well when following this system of guidance,” Jordan said. “As everywhere, it’s about management, how poor management makes poor product. 

“Here in Wyoming most of our product is very good, and we have beekeepers from all over the United States who have tried to house their bees here, because of the flow of wild clover and the ability that we do monitor for mites and other parasites in our location,” he continued.

Bees Are Union Workers

Jordan noted that his company ships bees from Wyoming to California each spring to pollinate the almond crop, then brings them back to Wyoming to work the summer fields.

“Bees are union workers,” Jordan explained. “They work from sunup to sundown. So they come back to their home just like a union worker clocks in and out for his job, except that in the morning they clock out and they pollinate and they leave their hives and they work through the heat of the day. And during the nighttime, when the sun goes down, most of your flowers are closed, so business and operation is closed and the union workers go home. 

“So at night we encapsulate and close the bees in their hive, which is their home,” he continued. “You pack those hives closed at night, put them on trucks, and usually within 24 to 48 hours they arrive in locations where they’re opened up in the morning and they start pollinating their foods for us to eat.”

States explained that bees are very sensitive to chemicals, which is one reason why the overall bee population has declined in recent years.

“The hazard that we’re experiencing now, of course, is that the sprays that they use on the plants have a nicotinoid base to them,” he said. “The new class of pesticides are just insidious, they have a fairly long residual time out there, and it gradually causes the colony to suffer from attrition to the point where they can’t maintain themselves. And that’s devastating to us, because we depend on the strongest colony population we can get to get the maximum amount of both pollination service and honey byproduct.”

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Sheep Shearing In Wyoming: It’s A Lot Of Work, “There’s No George Jetson Machine”

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Guy Edwards cradled the sheep’s head between his arms on the wooden platform as he ran the clippers under its chin. When the sheep kicked, Edwards stilled it with his legs and continued shearing under the bright spotlight in the otherwise dim barn as a row of teens looked on.

It’s physical work and tomorrow, Edwards will be sore. Today, however, he’s in his element as the clippers hum on either side of him and the sheep bleat their chorus of discontent as they wait in line in the chute behind him.

A few clipper strokes later and Edwards pushed the fully intact fleece into a basket as the pink-skinned sheep jumped to its feet, scrambling off the platform into the dirt pen where it looked briefly over its shoulder as if wondering what the heck just happened before wandering off to join the others in the corral.

Saturday morning was day two for 25 teenage students from around the state and Montana who signed up to attend a sheep shearing school hosted by Edwards on his family’s ranch in south Campbell County. The Edwards family has a herd of more than 250 sheep, including South African Meat Merino (SAMM), Rambouillets and a hodgepodge of mixed breeds.

Edwards, now 40, took his first shearing class, taught by one of his neighbors, at about the age of 14. Right out of high school, he joined a seven-man crew and traveled the country shearing, as well as taking part in a three-month trip to England.

Shearing is hard work and a lot of time and practice are needed to get good at it, Edwards said.

Despite its laborious nature, he loves the work.

Dying Breed Of Sheep Shearers

He’s part of hat he calls the dying breed of sheep shearers, which is why he offered up his flock for the class when asked by Ronda Boller.

Boller, who is also a rancher and whose family had sheep when she was growing up, said she got the idea for hosting a shearing class after hearing several areas sheep producers complaining about how hard it was to hire shearing crews during the pandemic. Most of the crews come from Australia and New Zealand and the long quarantine times and travel restrictions made it unprofitable for those crews to come to the United States.

Boller worked with county and state wool grower auxiliaries to get $2,000 in grant money to hire Edwards’ friend and fellow sheep shearing teacher Wade Kopren, who drove his portable shearing school and equipment over from his home in South Dakota. Unlike other shearing schools that can cost upward of $450 per student for a weekend class, students attended the weekend session free of charge.

Nobody made money from the event – which to Boller’s knowledge may be the first of its kind in the state and the first in Campbell County in two decades. The teachers were there because of their love of the industry and to pass on knowledge, Boller said, including Kopren who also brought two volunteer instructors with him.

Kopren admitted he was having fun at the class and was glad to pass his knowledge along to help teach the next generation these vital skills.

“No George Jetson Machine”

“There’s no easy way to do this,” Boller said. “There’s no George Jetson machine to just run them through. It’s hard work, and most young people don’t want to do it anymore.”

For Kopren, it was something he always loved to do. He got an early start in shearing. While in high school, he joined a crew and spent 25 years working professionally. He started his own crew in 2002, and then ran five crews across six states including North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Minnesota, shearing more than 350,000 head each year. 

He’s since retired and now just teaches shearing schools, but like Edwards, he loves the art of shearing which he calls “poetry in motion.”

This is what he and Edwards are trying to teach the students, reaching out to a whole new generation of ag producers who seem genuinely curious and interested in learning the craft.

“I want to teach a dying industry to the next generation,” Edwards said. “There’s such a shortage of sheep shearers.”

For some ranchers, this has meant selling off their sheep because they can’t find anyone to shear their sheep once a year and it’s become more hassle than it’s worth, Edwards said.

However, sheep and wool prices continue to rise, with wool netting about $2.30 a pound in the grease, compared to less $1 about two years ago. That’s an incentive for small producers to get trained to be able to handle their herds.

“Prices are way up,” Anna, Guy’s wife said. “It’s definitely a seller’s market.”

New Generation of Shearers

In years past, the younger generations didn’t show much of an interest in shearing because it’s such hard and dirty work, Kopren said, but that seems to be shifting if today’s students are any indication.

Edwards’ son, 14-year-old Tucker, is on his eighth sheep today. He’s learning the skill of positioning the sheep that his teachers have been stressing all day. Along with positioning the animal, you have to be careful to pull the skin taut so there are no wrinkles and learn to use your legs and body to keep the sheep comfortable and still.

‘It’s really tiring,” Tucker said.

His dad laughed that he feels the worst on the day he shears and the best day of his life the day following because it stretches out every muscle in his body.

Maggie Urbigkit is also enjoying her first go at shearing. The 28-year-old drove over to Gillette from Pinedale, where she lives on her husband’s family’s ranch.

She’s fairly new to ranching and is here today to learn as much as she can to “step up her game.”

“I came here just to get a better understanding of how to shear sheep,” she said. “I’m married into this industry, and so I want to gain as much knowledge as I can and play catch up.”

It’s more physical than she imagined and requires a lot of legwork, which has given her a new appreciation for those who do the work regularly.

She’s also sheared about eight sheep at this point and said it’s going really well.

“I think all these instructors are so great and helpful,” she said. “I’ve learned so much already, and it’s been a really fun and a pretty relaxing environment.”

Cheap Way to Travel the World and Meet Women

Australian native and veteran sheep shearer Ashley Fuller drove over from Casper to help Kopren teach class.

The two had worked together for years before Fuller retired from the industry.

They talk about shearing as an art form, where the real work is done by the hand that’s not holding the clipper but instead is moving the sheep constantly in a rhythm distinctly its own.

Both are well known in their field, and at the top of their game, could shear upward of 200 sheep a day while striving every time to get just a bit better at their craft.

“There’s no end to it,” Fuller said, “there’s always one little thing more you can improve every time. That’s what makes it so fun.”

And as they both learned, it was a great way to travel the world and make money while also meeting women. Both met their wives on the job, which also impressed upon them the need to have manners and be polite, a lesson they are adamant about today while working with these students.

“Work ethics, manner and respect are paramount in life and work,” Kopren said. “You want to be washed up and polite when working with customers. Take the extra step and show them respect. It makes a big difference.”

Kopren said he was pleased to see younger people expressing interest in what he still believes is a great job, particularly with the rise in smaller producers offering opportunities for shearers to procure work while helping with small family herds.

Isaac Rojo, a 14-year-old from Sheridan, came to class because he said he wanted to learn how to shear so he can help out his family.

“It’s pretty physical,” he said, “but I like it.”

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Wyoming Farmers Grapple With High Fertilizer, Other Costs

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming farmers and ranchers are being hit by continually rising fertilizer costs and those higher expenses will likely find their way to consumers.

“We’re seeing [fertilizer] prices that are close to double what they were last year,” Wyoming Ag Business Association lobbyist Keith Kennedy told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “I’ve been talking with several retailers and there have been a lot of people doing more soil sampling than they have done in the past. When I talk with farmers, there are several ways that people plan how much fertilizer to use.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prices for various types of fertilizer have increased by as much as 230% in the past year.

Nationally, increases in fertilizer costs are being blamed on shortages caused by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, Wyoming gets much of its fertilizer from Canada, and there have been difficulties shipping it across the border over the last two years because of COVID restrictions.

Kennedy said that while the rising fertilizer prices are nothing new, increases since the year began have been signifcant.

He added that while he thinks prices will come down some in the next 18 months, he does not expect much of a decline to happen during that time.

Albin-based organic farmer Ron Rabou told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that while his farm does not use commercial fertilizer, the cost of the fertilizers they do use, such as poultry manure or compost, has definitely gone up in recent months.

He added that while the boost in fertilizer will contribute to increased prices for consumers, other factors are in play as well.

“I think that beyond just the price of the actual fertilizer, there are a lot of things being affected right now in the ag industry,” he said. “Fuel is affecting the price, the cost of transportation also is. Even though we don’t use commercial fertilizer, all of that stuff trickles down to everyone that’s involved with agriculture.”

Rabou has been seeing rising costs among the ag industry in the last several years, but he said prices have jumped significantly in the last three months.

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Wyoming’s Rising Land Prices ‘Really Rough’ For Some Farmers Looking To Grow

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By The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily
Photo Credit: Matt Idler

Farmland prices are on the rise in Wyoming, according to a recent report.

Prices for farmland real estate in the state increased 5.3% from 2020 to 2021, to $790 an acre, the Buffalo Bulletin reported.

“Some of this stuff, we would not have guessed it would have sold at as high a price as it has,” Byron Geis, a sales associate with Chase Brothers and rancher in Johnson County, told the Buffalo Bulletin.

Nationally, farm real estate increases 7% to $3,380 an acre, the newspaper reported.

For farmers, higher prices could be both good and bad, Wyoming Farm Bureau Public and Governmental Affairs Director Brett Moline told The Center Square.

“It all depends on what side of the fence you are on,” he said. “If you are selling, it’s great. For people who are retiring and don’t have family members, it’s a good retirement fund. But for farmers who are looking to expand, or want land to get into the business, it’s really, really rough.”

In Wyoming, the value of farmland isn’t always equated with the value of the crops that can be grown on it, Moline said. Although crop prices are up, so are the costs of raising a crop, he said.

“When the price of nitrogen fertilizer has more than doubled, that tempers what we are getting for the crops, as does the price of fuel,” he said.

The state’s climate, soil and water supply are also factors, Moline said.

Feeder calves are the state’s top agricultural product. But the climate doesn’t allow farmers to grow enough feed stock such as corn and grass to fully raise the young calves from birth until the time they are ready to be sold at market. So, the calves are moved to other states.

“Most of our calves get moved to South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado,” he said. “My family sells calves in the fall. Most of them will go to eastern South Dakota to get finished up. It’s not that we don’t raise corn, but states like Nebraska can raise it so much cheaper. It’s a lot cheaper to move the live animal to where the feed is.”

In Wyoming, many people buy land because of the scenic value, Moline said.

“A lot of times, our rangeland, especially if it’s in the mountains with a lot of big-game hunting, will go for more than $1,000 an acre,” he said. 

Buyers often purchase tracts of 2,000 acres or more, Moline said.

“For a lot of people, $2 million is not as much money as it is for me,” he said. “Farm ground constantly goes up.”

The state is also increasingly attracting wind farm for power generation, he added.

“Wyoming has some of the best wind in the world,” he said. “We’re getting more wind farms. There is starting to be a little bit of pushback just because you are losing the scenic quality. Sometimes the best wind is where you also have the most beautiful views.”

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Department of Agriculture Warns Of Highly Contagious Bird Flu In Johnson County

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Photo Credit: Matt Idler

The discovery of a highly contagious bird disease among a flock of ducks in Johnson County has state officials warning people with poultry to keep their birds away from wild birds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that “highly pathogenic avian influenza,” more commonly known as “bird flu,” has been detected among a flock of ducks in Johnson County.

While the illness is not a serious threat to humans, domestic poultry flocks can be quickly infected, said state Veterinarian Dr. Hallie Hasel.

“It’s highly contagious to poultry,” she said. 

The disease can easily infect chickens, turkeys and other poultry and cause severe illness or sudden death, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The USDA is working with the Wyoming Livestock Board to remove the infected ducks from the area where they were found and to make sure the birds do not enter the food system.

While the illness does not pose an immediate public health concern, it can spread to those who have been in direct contact with infected birds, Hasel said.

“Wyoming Public Health will be in touch with those who have been in contact with the flock,” she said.

Residents with poultry flocks are being advised to keep the birds separate from wild birds by keeping the poultry in enclosed areas.

Hasel said the threat posed by the illness should decline as migratory patterns change.

“There is lots of migration now,” she said. “But it will decrease.”

The threat posed by bird flu fluctuates annually, she added.

“The risk changes from year to year,” she said. “We don’t have a complete explanation for that.”

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Wyoming Livestock Publisher Applauds Biden Admin For Calling Out Meat Packers

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The publisher of a livestock industry publication is applauding President Joe Biden’s administration for criticizing meat packing companies for taking advantage of the supply chain crisis to increase their profits.

Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that a report calling out certain meat packing companies for raising prices for no real reason was a good move because although the meat packing companies are acting within their legal rights, they are hurting customers.

“There’s no doubt meat packers have been profiting, probably, historically high,” Sun said. “A lot of it was not necessarily because of something they did, but just supply and demand.”

Earlier this month, the White House released a report that explicitly stated meat prices are the largest factor to the rising cost of living. This is partly due to just a few large corporations, including Tyson, JBS, Marfrig and Seaboard, dominating the meat processing market, the report said.

“Just four large conglomerates control approximately 55-85% of the market for pork, beef and poultry, and these middlemen were using their market power to increase prices and underpay farmers, while taking more and more for themselves,” it said.

The four aforementioned companies’ gross profits have collectively increased by more than 120% since before the pandemic and their net income has surged by 500%.

Sun said it was not a surprise that the Biden administration issued the report, as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has been regularly talking with White House officials about the high prices of beef. The report was issued despite the fact that there is little else the organization and the administration agree on, he said.

“The Biden administration knows that meat is part of the inflation and they need to do something about it, but it’s not an overnight fix,” Sun said. “We’ve always asked for investigations into the meat packers because they’re doing stuff that they probably shouldn’t, but the laws are such that they get away with it.”

The recent White House report said: “The meat price increases we are seeing are not just the natural consequences of supply and demand in a free market—they are also the result of corporate decisions to take advantage of their market power in an uncompetitive market, to the detriment of consumers, farmers and ranchers and our economy.”

Wyoming’s annual inflation rate of 7.7% recorded during the second quarter of the year — which ended June 30 — is the highest annual inflation rate seen since the second quarter of 2008, when it stood at 7.9%, according to Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division’s inflation report.

Moving forward from the report, Sun said laws need to be passed that require the meat packing companies to be more transparent and honest about their pricing.

Last month, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require more transparency among the four major meat packing companies. The Biden administration has also announced that it intends to crack down on illegal price fixing and invest to create more competition in meat processing.

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Cattle Truck Accident Near Boysen Brought Out “Wyoming Spirit,” Meeteetse Rancher Says

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A cattle rancher from Meeteetse said even though an overturned cattle truck is something you never want to see, the reaction of Wyoming people to such a tragedy is something to behold.

Early Wednesday morning, Dustin Taylor of Meeteetse was checking his Facebook feed when he saw a cattle truck had been in an accident near Boysen Reservoir.

Reading that the truck was from Thermopolis, Taylor called a friend who owns a trucking company in the area and found the truck belonged to him.

The trucker took Taylor up on his offer of help, so the rancher, who was at his farm near Shoshoni, jumped in his truck — with horse in tow — and drove to the scene.

“When I got there, I saw the sun rising over an eerie site,” Taylor said. “The cow truck tipped over and was steaming through the first rays of sunlight over the East.”

Taylor told Cowboy State Daily that no people were injured in the wreck but between 20 and 30 calves were killed.

Taylor’s job was to pull the dead cattle out of the truck with his horse.  He said he would pull four or five calves out, then the Missouri Valley Fire Department would cut another opening in the trailer and he’d start over again.

“My horse was pretty wore out by the time the four-wheeler showed up,” Taylor said. “I was pretty glad the four-wheeler showed up. He could pull them out and not make everything tired.”

Most of the calves lived, he said. And only one calf had to be put down.

Taylor wasn’t the only one who stopped. 

Many others came over to lend a hand as well — something that Taylor called “the Wyoming cowboy way.” He said despite the accident being a “horrible deal,” everyone made the best of it.

“There was another guy, Scott Campbell, who was on his way to Lysite to haul cattle in his semi and he stopped to help,” Taylor said.

“He was a shitty mess by the time he came out of the trailer from helping,” he said. “It was pretty cool to see how many people stopped and got out to help.”

By the time Taylor drove through the area again around 3 p.m., it was all cleaned up.

Taylor had nothing but compliments for everyone who stopped to help. 

Mentioning firefighters by name — Cody Martin, Jon McConahay, Steven Weber, and Walt Neil — Taylor said they “worked their asses off busting the trailer apart to save those calves,” Taylor said on his Facebook feed.

“Ryan Bros. trucking from Thermopolis showed up in force and their team was nothing but incredible,” he said.  “From start to finish, that company did nothing but help in a bad situation.”

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Ag Procession Pays Tribute To Powell Farmhand

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

As the funeral procession for Rogelio “Roy” Salas, Sr., headed to Crown Hill Cemetery on Monday afternoon, it included numerous cars of friends and family. But they were also joined by a pair of beet trucks and a tractor — a striking tribute to the decades Salas worked in the Powell area’s fields.

He spent more than 40 years with Smith Farms, initially for the late Denny Smith and then for Shane Smith.

“All I can say is he was an incredible man,” said Shane Smith, adding, “In all those years, I never saw him with anything but a smile.”

His consistently positive attitude, easygoing nature and infectious laughter made everything lighter, Smith said.

“I can’t point out one time when I thought he was having a less-than-perfect day,” he said, adding that, “things were always going to be OK.”

This fall marked the first beet harvest in decades that didn’t involve Salas — and he was missed by many, Smith said, including the worker at the beet dump scalehouse.

Salas was always the first one to arrive each morning and “she said no matter what, no matter how bad the day was, when he [Salas] came down and walked in the scalehouse, he just brightened your day,” Smith recounted.

Salas, who died last week at the age of 68, never missed a day of work, his children said, regardless of the weather or time of day. Even in retirement, he continued to help out at Smith Farms, faithfully driving a beet truck every fall.

That same truck led Monday’s funeral procession, this time with Salas’ son, Rogelio Jr., at the wheel, and Salas’ wife, Isabel, riding shotgun. A second beet truck and John Deere tractor brought up the rear, representing Salas’ time in the fields as a farmhand.

Salas was a perfectionist when it came to irrigating, skilled at driving heavy machinery, patient in handling sheep and willing to teach others, Smith said.

Cody Regional Health

“In his own quiet way, there was a lot of perfection that he had,” Smith said.

Salas’ four children said their father’s passion for agriculture was a family affair.

“Our dad loved taking his whole family for rides in the beet truck, rides in the tractor, drives out to check sheep, and [to] set siphon tubes during irrigation season,” they said, adding that their father brought a big smile, contagious laugh and great attitude to his work.

Salas’ children added that he was always willing to help out anyone on any of the farms in the Powell area.

“If you needed help, he would be there,” they wrote.

Smith called it “amazing” as to how many people knew Salas, saying he’ll be sorely missed by many. Salas had been hospitalized last month and died on Oct. 20.

“We promised our dad that we would have a parade when he came home,” his children said, “though these weren’t the circumstances we hoped and prayed for, we wanted to fulfill that promise.”

As he drove his father’s beet truck through Powell and east to the cemetery Monday afternoon, Rogelio Jr. gave a series of double honks. Those sounds were also a tribute to Salas, who always honked his horn twice — once to tell his wife that he loved her and the second to say goodbye as he headed to work.

For Salas’ children, it was a fitting tribute.

“We had the best parade for the best dad in the world,” they said.

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12-Year-Old Powell Farmer Is Wyoming’s Youngest Crop Insurance Holder

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By Tessa Baker

It’s been a busy year for Tag Thompson. He bought his first tractor, using money he earned from selling his steers. He farmed his first field, signing a contract with Briess Malt & Ingredients for his 10 acres of barley. He also paid off a loan that had helped finance the purchase of his first two cows while continuing to raise cattle through his own company.

And he turned 12 years old.

For the ambitious young farmer, agriculture is a way of life.

“I was born into a farm family,” Thompson said. “They’ve told me I don’t have to choose agriculture, but I’ve always been interested in farming. I finally got to be a part of the farm more and more every year, and I kind of just merged into it.”

When he was 5 years old, Thompson started showing goats and chickens at the Park County Fair. He wanted to continue with chickens, but the fair’s poultry show happens at the same time steers are shown.

“I can’t sell a chicken [at the Junior Livestock Sale], so I’d have to do what I could sell, so I chose steers,” Thompson said.

Steers require a lot of time and investment as a 4-H project, and for Thompson, it’s become a daily commitment throughout the year. Rather than just taking on one or two steers, he had greater ambitions and founded Tag Thompson Cattle Co. in 2020. His brand — T slash inverted T — represents his initials, TNT.

“He wanted his own brand, because he paid for his own calves,” explained Maria Berchtold, Thompson’s mom.

NILE Merit Heifer

Thompson’s herd currently includes one bull, two calves, two cows and one heifer. He soon will be adding to his herd, as he recently was named a NILE Merit heifer recipient for 2022. Through the NILE Merit Heifer Program, breeders donate a heifer to each youth and then mentor them.

“I think the mentorship is just as cool as winning the heifer,” Berchtold said.

Christensen Red Angus of Park City, Montana, is donating a heifer to Thompson and serving as his mentor. After an entire year of lessons, conference calls and monthly reports, Thompson will show at the 2022 NILE and then take full ownership of the animal.

Thompson is one of 19 youth selected for the 2022 Nile Merit Heifer Program, and one of only two recipients from Wyoming.

Youth between the ages of 12 and 16 are selected based on their merit, future goals, commitment to agriculture and ability to care for the animal.

Thompson’s commitment to agriculture is unwavering.

“This is my lifestyle,” he said.

In his application for the NILE Merit program, Thompson said that “cows are my world.”

“But I would like to add on to that — agriculture and cattle are my world,” he said.

Thompson would like to make stickers of the slogan. Through Tag Thompson Cattle Co., he already sells stickers and hats bearing his brand, and he hopes to sell other merchandise.

The young farmer is setting high goals for his business, hoping to one day become nationally known. Thompson would like to raise registered seedstock, and sell his bulls and heifers at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he can talk with more people about his company.

He wants to see Tag Thompson Cattle Co. continue to expand, without going into too much debt so that he can “make a good financial future for myself in the cattle industry.”

In addition, Thompson wants to keep the family farm’s legacy going. The 12-year-old is in it for the long haul.

“I want to grow old with this company,” Thompson said.

First field, first tractor

Earlier this year, Thompson’s grandparents, Steve and Julie Thompson, leased him 10 acres to farm south of Powell. Thompson contracted with Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. and planted barley. He worked with Farm Credit Services of America to insure his crop.

“Something cool about that is, they said I’m the youngest person to buy crop insurance in Wyoming,” Thompson said. “I would say that’s an achievement for me.”

Throughout the summer, he did all of the field work, and finished watering the field for a final time right before the Park County Fair.

After harvesting the barley on Aug. 10, Thompson stood in the field as the sun was setting, and he said he felt a little sad.

“I grew this all summer, and it’s just emotional for the first time,” he said in a video posted on Facebook.

Thompson hired his grandpa to bale the straw and then found buyers. He carefully tracks his revenue and expenses, and saves for big purchases. Berchtold helps Thompson manage his finances, and she said her son’s entrepreneurial spirit was evident at a young age.

“He was selling buckets of water at a barrel race when he was about 4 or 5 years old,” Berchtold said with a laugh.

One of his largest investments yet came in the spring: his own tractor.

Thompson had hoped to buy a tractor before his 12th birthday in May, but it was hard to find an older model he could afford.

“I started to give up, and then I saw this one in town,” Thompson said. “Grandpa said it was a good buy, and I thought it was a good buy.”

The International 986 was in Thompson’s price range, and he bought the tractor in March.

“Her name is Reba, because she’s red,” he said.

Thompson has a knack for coming up with creative names for the cattle and equipment on the farm. There’s Beastbine the combine, inspired by a YouTube video. Thompson has christened calves Friendo Nintendo and Fatticus. A steer he showed at the 2019 fair was named BenJammin Franklin Rodriguez the 3rd Cubit.

This year, he kept things simple with his market steers: Frank and Chuck.

Family heritage

Thompson is finishing his fourth year with the Lonestar League 4-H Club, and he stays busy with a variety of activities. Earlier this year, he learned to weld, and completed his first welding project for the Park County Fair. At the 2021 event, he also had projects in agronomy, veterinary science, public speaking and fashion, modeling in the 4-H Fashion Revue.

Thompson took a Limousin heifer and two market steers — Frank and Chuck — to this year’s fair, and sold Frank at the Junior Livestock Sale. Dick and Cody Eastman, who own Lesco Enterprises, purchased Thompson’s steer.

In his 4-H record book, Thompson included pictures of the first show he attended with Frank, and then saying goodbye after the final show. After spending hours a day caring for his steers and becoming attached to the livestock, Thompson gets emotional when talking about the goodbyes. It’s the hardest part of the job, but one that he accepts.

“I raise them to show and get attached to, but also to feed a family,” he said. “That’s what Frank went to, and that’s what Chuck went to — they fed a family.”

Leading up to the fair, Thompson worked hard to invite buyers to the Junior Livestock Sale, delivering invitations to local businesses. With the slogan, “The Tradition Lives On,” the invites included a picture of his Great-Great Grandma Blackburn at the Park County Fair in the early 1960s, as well as photos of his Grandpa Steve, Grandma Julie and his mom.

Thompson appreciates the lessons he has learned from his parents and grandparents, as well as other family members and friends. He spends a lot of time farming with his grandpa.

“I want to farm with him as long as I can and learn from him,” Thompson said.

As Thompson gets older, his responsibilities also grow.

“This year I stepped up even on Grandpa’s land more than I ever have,” he said. “I can’t do as much as Mom or Grandpa. I can do everything I can, but I can’t do as much.”

Berchtold said they don’t want Thompson to work all the time — they also want him to have fun and be a kid.

While he gets together with friends and plays video games like most kids his age, oftentimes, Thompson can be found on the farm.

“It’s just my job — that’s all I have to say,” he said. “It’s just what I do.”

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Sugar Beets: Counting On A Fall Finish

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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

September growth is pivotal for the 2021 season within the Western Sugar Cooperative’s Lovell Factory District.

And as area growers sail through the early dig, with beets still in the field taking on valuable weight, the outlook appears favorable. The early dig of beets in the local area began Sept. 7, with all-out harvest scheduled to start in October.

“At least we got through Labor Day without a freeze this year,” chuckled Tod Stutzman, North End grower and Western Sugar beet board member.

He was only half jesting. A year ago, an early freeze on the Labor Day weekend took everyone by surprise.

“Our family had been boating on Lake DeSmet at 97 degrees last Labor Day,” he recalled. “We were in swimming suits and flip-flops all weekend. We came back over the Bighorns that Monday, and it snowed on us. Being from Wyoming, we were prepared  to change to long pants, tennis shoes, sweatshirts and jackets.”

But it proved to be a bad omen for a start-and-stop harvest through the fall of 2020. 

Roller coaster weather

The quick freeze on the Labor Day weekend of 2020 was followed by unseasonably warm temperatures through the month of September. The thermometer actually climbed to the point that the regular harvest was held back a few days until Oct. 10.

Less than two weeks later, beets took a hit when an arctic weather blast plunged temperatures to single digits and even some readings of below zero. The harvest was briefly suspended and continued a roller coaster ride into November.

Those memories live on. With the first hard freeze, growth of the beets “just stops,” Stutzman said. 

Weather watching

He and a lot of other growers are keeping their eyes on the September and October weather forecast, and at least at mid-month, they liked what they were seeing. The temperature is going to start cooling down.

He even managed a smile when he added, “But we don’t have any arctic vortexes coming.”

That is a critical factor this year, Stutzman noted. He estimated the beet crop is about two weeks behind a normal year due to a cool spring and hot, dry summer that made it a challenge to get enough water to the beets.

“We need continued September growing days,” he emphasized.

“September is the tonnage month. We can put on three tons a week in September if the conditions are right. Sugar steadily increases this time of year,” he added.

Stutzman said field sampling projects a district-wide 2021 crop with yields of about 26 tons to the acre. The first field harvested by Stutzman Farms in September was probably close to the 26-ton mark, “though we don’t have the final ticket yet,” Stutzman said. 

Reduced district acreage

Overall in the factory district of Park and Big Horn counties, planted beet acreage is down this year to roughly 15,000 acres.

“Sugar beets remain an important crop for the region. Being diversified is important, and beets help accomplish this,” he said. “With the beet payment increasing for last year’s crop and a good expected payment for this crop, we look forward to beet acreage growing in the future.”

To offset a slightly smaller crop in the region, Western Sugar Co-op beets harvested in the Bridger, Montana, area are being trucked to the Lovell factory this year.

Factory pace picks up

“The co-op is facing inflation across the board, like most other companies,” Stutzman noted. “Fortunately, the price of sugar is keeping pace with inflation, and demand remains strong.”

All factories have started the processing campaign fairly well, especially the Lovell factory after investment made by the cooperative since last year’s campaign, he observed.

“This is the first time in many years Lovell is processing over 3,000 tons per day on average,” he said.

In total across the combined Western Sugar factories — in Lovell; Billings, Montana; Fort Morgan, Colorado; and Scottsbluff, Nebraska — the current slice is around 20,000 tons of beets per day in their round-the-clock operations.

Sugar content in 2021 crop is looking good

The Lovell sugar processing factory is performing well as the 2021 factory campaign picks up steam, said Ric Rodriguez, Heart Mountain beet grower and a member of the Western Sugar Cooperative board of directors. 

In the September dig, Western Sugar tries to keep three days of beets piled at Lovell, ahead of factory need. There were no worries about excessive heat in the storage piles at mid-month, said Rodriguez.

Receiving stations across the district continue to open in preparation for the all-out regular harvest to commence Oct. 6. 

There is good news in reported sugar quality in the early going, said Rodriguez. The Lovell factory was averaging 16.99% sugar extraction in mid-September. 

“It’s a good measure at this period. Beets haven’t set in piles for very long; they are fresh,” he noted. “The longer they are stored, the less sugar will be in them when it’s their turn to be sliced.”

The company had projected a 17% average sugar content for the 2021 crop and “we should exceed that,” Rodriguez said.

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Early Dig Brings On Beet Harvest

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Powell Tribune

With September, beet trucks will be on the roadways in Western Sugar’s Lovell Factory District.

The early harvest of area sugar beets starts Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Receiving stations will be open five days a week through September and the first couple of days in October.  The regular harvest is scheduled to begin on Oct. 6, depending on weather and forecasts, said Ric Rodriguez, Heart Mountain grower and Western Sugar Co. board member. 

“Yields are projected to be down somewhat from recent averages, but we have had good growth in September before,” and growers are hopeful that is the case this year, said Rodriguez.

Sugar content is expected to be about average for Lovell district growers, he added.

The processing campaign at the Lovell factory also begins Sept. 7 with early-delivered beets.

Receiving stations at Bridger, Montana, and at the factory in Lovell will be the first to open.  The Bridger beets will be brought to Lovell to offset some of the acreage loss in the Powell area, guaranteeing adequate tonnage for the Lovell factory.

West Powell receiving station will open Wednesday, Sept. 8, followed by Heart Mountain station on Sept. 14.  

Growers will deliver 10 to 15 percent of their crop in the early dig, depending on factory performance. All receiving stations will open for the regular harvest Oct. 6.

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What Is The Price of Tomatoes In Texas?

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By Cowboy State Daily

A reader did not appear to like the topic of a story we published on Cowboy State Daily.

In her protest, she questioned why we wrote it and “what it had to do with the price of tomatoes in Texas?”

We have no idea. So as a public service, we decided to find out.

The price of tomatoes in Texas varies from community to community.

To purchase two pounds of tomatoes in Dallas, it would cost — on average — $2.24.

In Houston, however, it’s a different story. Two pounds would run about $3.40.

An argument might be to travel to Dallas to get tomatoes in order to save money. However, it’s a 239 mile drive from Houston to Dallas.

To get the best bang for the buck, it would seem logical to buy 200 pounds of tomatoes so it’s worth the drive.

At 27 miles per gallon, assuming the driver is in a 2021 Suburban, that would take about 10 gallons because the advertised fuel efficiency usually seems to be exaggerated.

To fill the tank, it would cost roughly $50.

Let’s hope there’s not a parking fee in Dallas. But to be safe, let’s add $8 for that.

Thankfully, we can take Interstate 45 which is not a toll road.

If our cousin Sully is driving, there’s a guarantee of a speeding ticket. So don’t invite Sully.

100 pounds of tomatoes should cost $170. Add $50 for the gas. Add $95 for the Suburban rental.

It would seem like a crime not to stop Woody’s Smokehouse because it’s on the way to Dallas and it’s the jerky capital of the world.

Woody’s has wild hog jerky so get ready to fork over $40 on that.

While in Dallas, it’s always fun to stop by Milo Butterfingers and enjoy a cool one. Blatz is preferred. $2 for the beer. Leave a buck for the bartender. Unless it’s Lenny. Screw him.

If Sully made it, he’ll drink a six pack in nothing flat. That’s $12 more.

He’ll want a pack of smokes for the trip back. He only smokes Parliaments. That’s $7.

Sully stills owes 5-large to the bail bondsman. That needs to be paid. Suck it up and pay it. Sully — eventually — will be good for it.

Traffic is not going to be good heading back.

Consider spending the night at the Motel 6 on the Thornton Freeway. Sure, the Trip Advisor review says “Worst Hotel Experience Ever” but you’ll save money. It’s only $59. Sully can sleep on the floor.

Chances are the Suburban got stolen overnight.

Tomatoes are gone.

Who knows what happened to Sully.

A bus is the only way back to Houston.

That’s $25.

If money is tight, selling blood or plasma is a possibility. It will cover bus fare.

The total cost of tomatoes in Texas was $968 (deducting the $1 tip if Lenny was the bartender).

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The Corn Is Popping: Hot Temperatures Have Been A Boon For NW Wyo Crop

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Reprinted with permission from The Powell Tribune

Abnormal weather can spell disaster for farmers. It’s nice when it comes as a benefit. 

Cool weather crops, such as alfalfa, have struggled in the heat this summer, but corn, on the other hand, is doing really well. 

“The corn loves the heat so long as you keep it wet,” said David Northrup, who farms on the Willwood. 

The rule of thumb for corn is “knee high by the Fourth of July,” meaning if the plants are as high as your knee on that day, you’re doing good; Scott George, co-owner of George Dairy Farm between Ralston and Cody, said it was up thigh-high by July 4. 

“It thrives in hot, humid weather, which is what we have now,” said Jeremiah Vardiman, agriculture and horticulture extension educator for the University of Wyoming Extension. 

It’s hard to say how extraordinary this year is for farmers just based on the weather. Farming is a business that is at the mercy of unpredictable weather events, so it’s hard to say what’s normal and what isn’t.

“Every year is different,” George said. 

In terms of weather data, it has been a very hot summer. Through June and July, the Powell area saw a few days of triple-digit temperatures, and the daily highs were consistently above average. 

Corn is one of the largest crops grown in the U.S., and in 2019, it was the largest, with over 90 million acres planted, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 1/3 is grown for feeding livestock. When grown for feed, the corn is sometimes grown to fatten the cows up and sometimes to feed throughout the year.

Typically, farmers begin harvesting corn in September, but it depends on a lot of factors, including weather and availability of equipment. 

The corn also needs to dry out before it can be stored or it will rot. Farmers sometimes use dryers to get the moisture out, but that can add extra costs.

“You’re a lot better off if Mother Nature does it for you,” George said. 

This year, some farmers may be a few days ahead on their harvests, as the dry spring led to some to plant a bit earlier. 

However, in some cases, corn is harvested as late as January. This can be a means to store the crop when a producer runs out of space in the silos and wants to save money on storage costs. It means more work throughout the year, but the farmer can just harvest it as he or she needs it for winter livestock feed.

Alfalfa, which does better with cool nights, is seeing low yields this year. This is sending hay prices soaring and really cutting into the profits for ranchers. Not only are they having trouble finding hay for sale, they’re having to go a lot further to get it, which adds increased shipping costs. The solid corn crop this year will help mitigate the feed shortage to some extent. 

“It should be a really good crop for everyone in the Basin,” George said. 

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Park County Junior Livestock Sale Shatters Previous Records, Bringing In $645,442

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By Tessa Baker, Powell Tribune

It’s hard to describe this year’s Park County Junior Livestock Sale with words — so just look at the numbers. In about four-and-a-half hours, the animals put up for sale on Saturday fetched an astounding total of $645,442.

That’s an increase of 41% — or just over $188,000 — from last year, which was itself a record-setting sale. The 2021 event also marked the first time in county history that the Junior Livestock Sale exceeded a half-million dollars, skyrocketing right by that benchmark.

“The sale was absolutely unbelievable,” said Joe Bridges, chairman of the sale committee. “I don’t know how you go about describing such a tremendous event and to give the accolades to the businesses and individuals that were willing to come and show their support for the kids.”

Across the board, average prices were up for all animals, with some reaching record highs.

A total of 248 youth with FFA and 4-H sold livestock on Saturday, which was 13 more animals than 2020, when the auction broke records at $457,430. There were 15 more steers, but those upticks alone weren’t responsible for this year’s increase in the grand total.

In a normal year, the increase in big-ticket animals like steers may have netted an additional $40,000 at most, Bridges said, “but nowhere close to a $200,000 increase.”

“The big story is really how dedicated everybody was to coming and supporting these kids and just being extremely generous,” he said.

Buyers were excited to get out and attend the sale in-person, Bridges said, as online bids dropped from 2020.

“Obviously, there were still bids and still buying that was done online, but it wasn’t as active as it was the year before,” he said. “I think that was just because everybody was excited to get out and go do something, you know, to get things back to normal.”

‘It was crazy 

to watch it take off’

Saturday’s sale started off strong, and that momentum carried through to the final bid. 

“You’re always nervous when they start off high that you’re gonna have a cliff at some point in time,” Bridges said. 

But that drop never came.

“The crazy thing was, even with them spending this much money, there were still buyers at the end going, ‘I still haven’t bought what I need yet,’” Bridges said. “Prices actually ramped throughout the sale instead of dipping off.”

For the first time, the highest-selling lamb was the very last lamb through the sale.

“It was crazy to watch it take off towards the end,” Bridges said.

The overall number of lambs and goats at the sale dropped from 2020 and pigs stayed about the same, while there were more steers and double the number of rabbits.

Even with the uptick in steers, the average price was up 5 cents per pound, which Bridges called “phenomenal.”

This year, 26 rabbits sold for an average of $758 apiece — up nearly 48% from last year’s average of $513.

In years past, one rabbit could jump to around $700 or higher, but as an outlier, Bridges said.

It’s rare for a rabbit to reach $1,000, “and we sold quite a few over $1,000,” he said.

“As prices escalated on some of these other animals, some of the buyers — just to utilize the money that they wanted to spend there — they started chasing the rabbits,” Bridges said.

Buyers often come with a certain amount they want to spend.

“They truly are trying to give it to the kids, and so at the end of the day, they want that budget spent,” Bridges said. “They’re there with one thing in mind and that’s to help the kids as much as they possibly can.”

Core group sets the tone

As the longtime chairman of the sale committee, Bridges said the Junior Livestock Sale is “a tremendous thing to be involved with,” commending the faithful buyers and dedicated volunteers.

A core group of buyers sets the tone for the sale, he said.

“They don’t want to be singled out and recognized, so I won’t name them, but they know who they are,” Bridges said. “… They really bring the sale along and help those kids out, and they do it year in and year out.”

If things get uncertain as to whether the sale is going to hold or move, “they will hold it there and move it forward,” he said.

With the increase in steers this year, the core buyers ensured kids got good prices.

Cody Regional Health

“… they bought a lot of steers, because they were trying to hold that price for those kids,” Bridges said.

In addition to the faithful businesses and individuals who show up every year, the 2021 auction also saw new buyers. Bridges thanked all the buyers who supported the sale, both in-person and online.

For the first time, add-ons could be submitted online. With an add-on, a supporter contributes a specific amount of money to a youth without purchasing the whole animal. 

Colby and Codi Gines — who own MM Auction Services — added that function, which Bridges called “a super neat thing.”

He said MM Auction Services did a nice job handling both the in-person auction and online bids. A TV monitor was added above the ring, so buyers could see the current bid and other details.

The work of closing the books on the 2021 sale will continue into October, before the committee starts working on the next one in December. Bridges said accolades go to sale committee secretary Jennifer Triplett and treasurer Andrea Mehling, as they do the bulk of that work.

Throughout the year, many tasks — from weigh-ins to helping out during the sale to printing materials — are completed by volunteers. As just one example, Bridges asked his nephew to get the TV set up on Friday night, and it was ready by Saturday.

“There’s a ton of different people out there that step up to the plate and make things happen,” Bridges said. “…There’s no way for us to ever keep track of how many man hours there truly are, but it doesn’t happen without the whole community.”

Livestock Sale Numbers

• Steers

Average: $3.89/pound (up from $3.84 last year)

Highest seller: Grant George at $5.50/pound

Buyer: Rimrock Tire

• Hogs

Average: $10.31/pound (up from $7.43 last year)

Highest seller: Oaklee Smith with $17/pound

Buyer: Yellowstone Sports Medicine

• Lambs

Average: $15.03/pound (up from $10.06 last year)

Highest seller: Veronica Kovach with $26/pound

Buyer: Valley Ranch

• Goats

Average: $18.06/pound (up from $14.16/last year)

Highest seller: Onyx Miller with $50/pound

Buyer: Heritage Health Center

• Rabbits

Average: $758 (up from $513 last year)

Highest seller: Barrett George at $1,500

Buyer: Big Horn Co-op

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Spraying For Grasshoppers Leads To Severe Reaction To Pesticide

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Republished with permission from The Powell Tribune

Grasshopper numbers had gotten to such levels in Jeri and Jack Ogborn’s rose garden last June he drew his weapon of choice from storage — dimethoate, an organophosphorus insecticide.

The grasshoppers later just about got their revenge.

Ogborn wound up having a weirdly out of body experience and his wife, Jeri, wondering whether she should call 911. The Torrington couple looks back on the events of June 2020 with some humor now. They didn’t then.

Ogborn doesn’t remember when he purchased the large container of dimethoate, a systemic insecticide.

“You don’t need very much of it,” said Ogborn, who celebrated his 85th birthday in January. “Every year I decided to spray because the grasshoppers were just devouring our rose garden and everything else. So it really worked on grasshoppers.”

So he sprayed last June.

“Incidentally, when I bought the spray I also bought a very nice mask that had breathing filters on each side,” he said. “It was quite nice. But it was really hot that day, so I never wore it.”

Ogborn sprayed the yard, keeping the wind to his back. Then, “I came in the garage when I finished. That’s when the funny stuff started. It was weird.”

He evidently decided to take his clothing off since they might have some of the spray on them. “That’s about the last thing I recall,” he said. “I came into the house and my wife asked, ‘Why are you naked?’”

He had no answer.

“I said I don’t remember. I don’t know why I’m naked, but I’m naked for a reason. I can’t tell you exactly what that is.”

Jeri remembers asking what he had been doing, and Jack answered he had been in the weeds. “I asked why, and he did not know,” she recalls.

“It was really weird,” she continued. “When he would try to say a word or name an object, it was not the right word and he knew it was not the right word, but he couldn’t say what he wanted to say.”

Jeri initially thought he had had a heat stroke and had him lie down on a couch.

Cody Regional Health
“It was like I was kind of in another body,” said Jack. “Not another place because I was familiar with the place, but it just didn’t seem like me. I was getting questions and my answers were ‘I don’t know, I just don’t know.’”

Dimethoate is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs and through the skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pesticide degrades with a half-life of approximately two to four days, based on soil conditions.

If one suspects poisoning, read the label to find out what the recommended course of treatment should be, said Jeff Edwards, University of Wyoming Extension pesticide safety education program coordinator.

“If the person is unconscious, call 911 and tell them that there has been a suspected poisoning with a pesticide and supply the trade and chemical names of the product,” he said. “If the individual is transported to the hospital, the label and Safety Data Sheet should also go with them — give this information to the healthcare workers.”

Jack took a shower after his couch rest. “That helped a great deal,” said Jeri.

He recalls the absence of his ability to talk.

“I think it just wiped out part of your brain that is very important for communicating,” he said.

Several days would pass before he felt normal but a couple more weeks would pass until he could really feel good.

“It took a long time to get a total memory back, and it was scary,” he said.

Edwards recommends disposing of old pesticides. He suggests that pesticides one is unsure of be taken to toxic waste collection days. Park County Weed and Pest has tentatively scheduled hazardous waste collection days for Sept. 10 in Powell and Sept. 11 in Cody. Several organizations partner for the annual collection days in Park County.

There is a moral to the Ogborns’ story.

“Always read, understand and follow the entire label — including the bits on first aid and disposal of containers,” said Edwards.

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Stock Growers Exec: Initiative Criminalizing Animal Slaughter, Breeding Would Never Work In Wyoming

in News/Agriculture
On climate change and cattle

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A recently proposed initiative that would basically criminalize the slaughter and breeding of farm animals in Oregon would never gain any traction in Wyoming, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive vice president said this week.

Jim Magagna told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that an initiative proposed for the Oregon ballot in 2022 that would classify animal slaughter as aggravated abuse and redefine artificial insemination and castration as sexual assault likely won’t pass in that state, either.

“I’ve never heard of an initiative like this ever popping up in Wyoming, but the chances of it ever passing here are exactly zero,” he said.

However, he was concerned that an initiative like this would even be proposed.

“It makes me wonder if there’s any common sense left in Oregon,” he joked. “Colorado proposed something similar to this, although not nearly as extreme, but it was thrown out by the courts. If something like this were to pass, it would effectively be the end of the ranching industry in Oregon, which saddens me.”

According to Farm Progress, Initiative Petition 13 would remove farmer exemptions from existing laws barring animal cruelty and specifically target practices used for “(b)reeding domestic, livestock, and equine animals.” A group called End Animal Cruelty is sponsoring the initiative.

The proposed Abuse, Neglect, and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act would delete all references to “good animal husbandry” from state statute and only allow an animal to be injured in cases of a human’s self-defense.

A veterinarian’s spaying and neutering of household pets would still be exempt from cruelty laws.

While Magagna understood that there have been horror stories concerning the slaughter of animals for meat, he said the agriculture industry has taken major steps in recent years toward raising and slaughtering animals in an ethical and humane way.

Magagna said that if the proposed initiative were to pass, Oregon’s cattle would be sold off and go to other states, Wyoming likely being one of them, that have strong livestock production industries.

There could be a slight uptick in economic impact for Wyoming should the initiative pass in Oregon, but Magagna said it would be a hit for the ranching industry overall.

“Things like this are a sign of the direction a segment of our population is going,” he said. “If some of those ideas garner a lot of strength in Oregon or California, it could lead to some policies at the federal level that could be detrimental to Wyoming.”

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Nonprofit Makes First Grant for Climate Wellness Through Soil Health

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By staff reports

Wyoming’s nonprofit Synergy for Ecological Solutions made their first grant to Carbon Asset Network’s landowner member, Hellyer Ranch in Lander on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

This grant will enable the ranch to execute a customized plan for greater soil health developed by both Hellyer and Carbon Asset Network’s certified professional agronomist, Neal Fehringer.

The increase in soil health is a result in improving plant production, which causes an increase in photosynthesis. More photosynthesis removes additional carbon dioxide from the air and, in turn release more oxygen into the air and secures more carbon into the soil by increased root growth from more vegetative growth. This is the basis for ‘carbon sinks’ and ‘carbon sequestration,’ which is Nature’s method of cleaning our air.

“Sometimes it’s not understood that there’s a natural connection between improving our soil and reducing carbon in our air,” says John Robitaille, Director of Carbon Asset Network (CAN). “CAN works with the manager of the land to develop a customized science-based solution to increase soil health and meet their land goals. This is the new way forward.”

The manager of the land, called Land Stewards, enlists in the You360 program, which provides funding to develop the soil for one year. The Land Stewards can be ranchers, farmers, or managers of any open land, such as parks or golf courses. This is not connected to any government program and the funding comes from donations to the nonprofit, Synergy for Ecological Solutions.

“At Hellyer Ranch, we have taken some steps towards soil health, but with this grant, we can accomplish major goals,” says Jim Hellyer. “You’ll never find a better steward for our environment than someone who manages land.”

The nonprofit has developed a unique way to fundraise for climate wellness, using donated funds to clean our air, which empowers individuals and businesses to be advocates for the environment.

“There are many people who wake up each day, concerned about our climate. And, businesses are looking for ways to meet ESG goals. Yet, until now, the only solutions offered were to eat vegan, recycle, and perhaps protest fossil fuels. SYNERGY gives the opportunity to donate in order to improve soil health,” says Jeff Holder, Director of Synergy for Ecological Solutions. “We encourage a change of mindset. Rather than wishing for a carbon neutral future in the next few years or decades, let’s make a change right now, today. Finally, everyone can do something that has a direct impact on our climate.”

In the You360 program, donors can donate towards one acre of land for $30 a month/$360 a year. It’s a one-year commitment and the funds pay for agronomy/soil testing and development, with the lion’s share going directly to the Land Steward.

The funds are often used for additional equipment such as a no-till drill or for fencing and labor to help with mob grazing, a practice that has proven to sequester more carbon.

“We celebrate this new way to help ranchers improve their soil,” says Jim Magagna, Executive Vice-President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “With funds from CAN, the rancher is able to adjust their operation with the result of healthier soil and healthier land.”

For more information visit, or

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Ex-BLM Head: Wyo Rancher Suing Biden Over Racial Discrimination Gets Help From Legal Ruling

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming rancher suing the federal government because of race-based exclusions in a coronavirus relief program may be helped by a recent Tennessee ruling that prioritizing relief based on race and sex is unconstitutional, according to a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

William Perry Pendley, a Wyoming attorney who served as acting director of the BLM from 2019 to 2020, said even though the lawsuit filed in Wyoming addresses agricultural loan forgiveness programs and the Tennessee case addressed COVID relief funds, the two cases share similar roots.

“This will help the Wyoming rancher,” Pendley told Cowboy State Daily. “Though the ruling of the (U.S.) Sixth Circuit (Court of Appeals) is not precedent that the Wyoming federal district court must follow, it is persuasive, especially given that it is a federal court of appeals, that the Wyoming court is likely to follow and cite as authority.”

Leisl Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher in Laramie County, is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over a loan forgiveness program under the American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funding that forbids her from applying because she is white. 

“It’s brazen discrimination,” said William Trachman, associate general counsel for the Mountain States Legal Foundation who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in May.

The American Rescue plan, which was signed into law by President Biden in March, offers $4 billion in loan forgiveness for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is interpreting the phrase to mean the only people who can apply for aid must be “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”

Such discrimination by the federal government is constitutionally forbidden, the lawsuit said.

“(The federal government’s) use of race discrimination as a tool to end ‘systemic racism’ is patently unconstitutional and should be enjoined by the court,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the loan forgiveness program does not necessarily target farmers or ranchers who suffered economically because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Under the relevant provisions, it forgives the loans of farmers or ranchers whose race matches the race of a group whose members have suffered discrimination, per the (USDA),” it said.

The lawsuit asks the court to find the program unconstitutional because of its limits on who can apply for loan forgiveness.

Trachman said he is being contacted by other farmers and ranchers who were prevented from applying for the loan forgiveness program.

Trachman said he is also encouraged by the ruling of the federal appeals court in Tennessee, which issued an injunction against the U.S. Small Business Administration to keep it from prioritizing COVID relief funds based on the restaurant owner’s race and sex.

The court’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Antonia Vitolo, owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee.

Vitolo applied to receive federal relief from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that was created as part of the ARPA. He was told restaurant owners who were women or minorities would be prioritized to receive the federal funds.

The appeals court found such a prioritization system was unconstitutional and barred the Small Business Administration from applying it in the future.

Pendley, who is not involved in Carpenter’s lawsuit, said he hopes the ranchers and other people filing such lawsuits do not stop the legal action if the U.S. Department of Justice agrees not to enforce the rules in their cases.

“As (appeals court) Judge (Amul) Thapar pointed out, these rules have been on the books for decades and continue to be enforced,” he said. “That DOJ says it will not apply them in a particular case does not mean the constitutional injury goes away.”

The government has 60 days to respond to Carpenter’s Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. 

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Wyoming Rancher Sues Biden Administration Claiming Racial Discrimination

in News/Agriculture
On climate change and cattle

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By The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming rancher is suing the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture claiming race discrimination over a federal loan forgiveness program that bars her from participating because she is white.

Leisl Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher from Laramie, says in the lawsuit that the “American Rescue Plan” loan forgiveness program is unconstitutional because it discriminates.

“Like a lot of farmers and ranchers, our client has struggled to keep her family ranch afloat through all the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to learn that she is ineligible to even apply for Biden’s loan forgiveness program solely due to her race,” Mountain States Legal Foundation Associate General Counsel William E. Trachman said Tuesday. 

“Instead of being rescued by Biden’s plan, she’s been excluded and discriminated against for no other reason than the color of her skin,” he said.

MSLF and the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Wyoming on Carpenter’s behalf.

In March 2021, the Biden administration signed At question is the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed by Biden in March, which provides $4 billion to forgive loans for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers. White ranchers are excluded, the lawsuit contends, which is in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment.

“The blatant discrimination in the American Rescue Plan Act, Section 1005, is ridiculous,” Carpenter said. “The government needs to bring an end to this horrendous practice of racial discrimination immediately and start treating Americans as individuals based on character and individual qualities, not based on the color of their skin.”

Carpenter owns the 2,400-acre Flying Heart Ranch in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley, which she inherited when she was younger, according to a news release. She took out an FSA loan when she was younger to save the family ranch, but the COVID-19 pandemic added to her financial problems.

 When she heard of the pandemic-related loan forgiveness program, she thought it could be a lifeline, but then she learned she wasn’t eligible, according to the news release.

“Making skin color the basis of a government benefit is not only unconstitutional: it is also morally wrong,” Trachman said. “One simply cannot promote racial justice by perpetuating racial injustice. The way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating.”

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Washington Man To Pay Back More Than 200 Million Over Raising Pretend Cows For Food Company

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By Mary Rose Corkery

A Washington man agreed to pay back more than $244 million that he was paid to raise nonexistent cows for two companies.

Cody Allen Easterday, 49, pleaded guilty to misleading the companies, including Tyson Foods Inc., in agreements to purchase and feed thousands of cows, the press release said.

Under an agreement, the companies would pay Easterday’s organization the funds to purchase and raise the cattle, the agreements said, according to the press release. Easterday’s Ranches Inc. would return the advanced costs with attached interest and additional payments, but could keep the difference between the cow sales and repayment to the companies, the press release said.

Easterday provided fake invoices to the companies for reimbursement from 2016 through November 2020, the press release said. The companies gave Easterday Ranches Inc. more than $244 million during the scam.

The defendant used the money to pay off debts for his ranch and for personal expenses, the press release said.

Along with agreeing to pay back the money as restitution, Easterday was charged for a count of wire fraud, and is scheduled for sentencing in August. Easterday faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

A Miami couple pleaded guilty in early March for making false claims that they had employees on farms, which weren’t real and received over $1 million in coronavirus relief from the fraud, a March 8 Justice Department press release said. A Florida man pleaded guilty Feb. 10 over using a portion of fraudulently accessed Paycheck Payment Protection (PPP) money towards buying a Lamborghini, a Feb. 10 Justice Department press release said.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment

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Wyoming Legislators Look At Helping Wyoming Meat Processors

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

For all its beef, Wyoming has very few meat processing facilities.

But legislation is being considered at the state and national level aimed at helping Wyoming’s ranchers find new markets for their products.

According to Derek Grant with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, there are nine state-inspected meat plants in Wyoming, from Rock Springs to Jackson to Buffalo and Laramie – in all corners of the state. 

Meanwhile, nine other meat processing companies in Wyoming are regulated by the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA, but Grant says most of them are “custom” plants rather than large-scale processors that prepare meat for retail sale. 

There’s only one company in the state – Wyoming Legacy Meats in Cody – that is a USDA-certified slaughter and process facility.

So state legislators during their general session considered several bills aimed at helping ranchers process their animals inside Wyoming.

House Bill 54, which has been approved by both the House and Senate and is awaiting action by Gov. Mark Gordon, calls for for the Wyoming Business Council to support the state’s meat processing industry with loans and grants.

House Bill 51, which is also awaiting Gordon’s signature, would authorize and fund a $20 million state program to expand and enhance Wyoming’s meat processing capabilities.

And Senate File 122 would create the Wyoming Agriculture Authority to promote agriculture in the state, particularly by encouraging the development and expansion of Wyoming meat processing facilities. This bill was awaiting its first full House review on Thursday.

In addition to helping Wyoming meat processing facilities, the bills are all aimed increasing the options available for ranchers looking to distribute their products.

Currently, about 80% of the nation’s meat processing plants are owned by four companies. Those companies have been accused of working together to keep prices paid ranchers for their meat low.

In addition, the closure of one major plant due to the coronavirus last year reduced the nation’s capacity for meat processing, putting a dent in demand for Wyoming meat.

Backers of the three bills said during committee hearings that by helping the meat processing industry in Wyoming, ranchers in the state would have other markets for their products.

But being able to process meat within the state’s borders is just one step. Right now, only facilities inspected by the USDA can sell their products outside Wyoming. 

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is working on a bill to change that.

The bill, known as the Expanding Markets for State-Inspected Meat Processors Act of 2021, would open the doors for local producers to export Wyoming products to additional markets by allowing meat products inspected by state meat and poultry inspection programs to be sold across state lines.

Right now, Wyoming Legacy Meats, which was founded in 2016, is the only USDA-certified slaughter and processing facility in the state — the first since the 1970s. And that company recently received a $2.2 million dollar grant to expand its ability to slaughter and process meat. 

Dr. Frank Schmidt, who with his wife Caety started the business to process their own cattle from the Double Doc Ranch, was moved to found the plant so they could control the product from, in their words, “conception to consumption.”

Cheney’s bill would create dozens of new jobs at Wyoming Legacy Meats alone, according to James Klessens with the economic development organization Forward Cody.

“Meat packing isn’t the sexiest or the prettiest project out there – but most of us still eat meat, and so there’s a real need for it,” Klessens said.

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Cheney Introduces Bill to Allow State-Inspected Meat to Be Sold Across State Lines

in News/Liz Cheney/Agriculture

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney introduced a bill this week that would allow state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines.

The bill known as the Expanding Markets for State-Inspected Meat Processors Act of 2021 is similar to legislation Cheney introduced in a previous congressional session.

“The economic ramifications of COVID-19 resulted in processing interruptions and decreases in the amount of meat getting to market, leading to shortages across the country,” Cheney said following introduction of the bill. “As we recover from the challenges posed by the pandemic, we must be doing everything possible to expand opportunities and open markets that will allow livestock producers to increase their economic activity.”

The legislation would allow meat products inspected by state meat and poultry inspection programs to be sold across state lines.

The legislation was endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Farm Bureau and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

“Rep. Cheney’s bill would finally acknowledge equity of Wyoming’s state inspection program and federal inspection requirements,” Gordon said. “Passage of this act would allow our hardworking state inspectors and the Department of Agriculture to better serve our producers and help Wyoming export high-quality products to additional markets. I fully support this concept and appreciate Rep/ Cheney’s efforts.”

Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained about the fact that four companies control 80% of the meat packing industry and have alleged that the companies work together to keep prices for beef producers artificially low.

The weaknesses of such concentration became apparent when several large meat processing plants were forced to close by the coronavirus, reducing the nation’s supply of meat and driving costs for producers even further down.

Gordon said last month he was working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity to address concentration of the industry.

“These producers play an essential role in powering our state’s economy and providing high-quality food to consumers across the country,” Cheney said. “Allowing state-inspected meats to be sold across state lines empowers producers to access these new markets while supplying the increasing demand. This legislation will also increase competition and offer more meat choices for American families.”

Current law prevents state-inspected meat from being sold out-of-state. Presently, there are 27 states, including Wyoming, with inspection programs certified by the Food Safety Inspection Service as meeting or exceeding federal inspection standards.

However, products processed at these FSIS-approved state MPI inspected facilities are not currently allowed to be sold across state lines. 

Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto said the legislation would allow his staff to better serve the agricultural industry of Wyoming and would bring more opportunities to the state’s ranchers.

“The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, along with many of our counterparts across the nation work very hard to ensure that state eat inspection programs achieve status that is ‘equal to’ federal inspection,” Miyamoto said.

WSGA executive vice president Jim Magagna thanked Cheney for introducing the legislation again.

“Wyoming, until recently, had no federally inspected processing facilities, putting our livestock producers at a clear disadvantage in being unable to process their beef in-state to meet consumer demand in neighboring states and beyond,” Magagna said. “This discrimination against state-processed meat has no basis in food safety as our state inspection program is federally approved by the FSIS and must meet all of the same standards as  federal inspection.”

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UW College Of Agriculture Students Learn Hands-On Livestock Slaughter Skills

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Ditching laptops and donning rubber boots and coveralls, University of Wyoming students prep within five minutes for class.

This isn’t the standard dress for COVID-19 precautions but for class on the UW Meat Laboratory kill floor.

Two people in hard hats, masks, hairnets, gloves harvesting an animal

Instructor McKensie Harris, right, helps Grace Corrette of Brighton, Colo..

This is just one of the many courses McKensie Harris, assistant lecturer and internship program coordinator for the Department of Animal Science, teaches in fall.

“The livestock slaughter practicum class is just that,” said Harris, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “A place where students can develop skills in the animal harvest industry.”

During Phase 1 and 2 of UW’s approach to reopening this semester, the class was taught online with an academic focus providing students virtual lectures on principles of animal handling, food safety and meat science.

During Phase 3, when all students were allowed back on campus, the class went right to work in the UW Meat Lab.

“McKensie did a great job during those first four weeks to prepare us to hit the ground at full speed,” said Ben Herdt, a student in the class from Laramie and manager in the academic advising office with the Advising, Career and Exploratory Studies Center.

“When I went in that very first day of in-person instruction, I suited up and was on the meat lab kill floor within five minutes going to work, and that’s a tribute to the preparation we were doing in the weeks before.”

For three weeks the class will use hands-on learning to harvest a pig, then focus for three weeks of beef harvest and round out the class with two weeks of lamb harvest.

“The class has been one of my favorite courses I think because it’s so hands-on,” said Brittany Vogl, a sophomore in the class from Elizabeth, Colo. “The first day McKensie said, ‘We are going to be here, we are going to help you every step of the way, but we aren’t doing it for you.’”

Students work with the animal from the beginning – when it comes into the facility as a live animal and to the end – preparing and putting the carcass in the freezer.

For Herdt, as a UW staff member, he has the opportunity to take classes. A coworker who has kids in 4-H and raises animals recommended this course to him.

“I really enjoy cooking,” said Herdt. “I enjoy cooking meat, and I enjoy the idea that we need to become more connected to the food we eat. So that’s what really drew me toward the class.”

He also mentioned taking a variety of different classes helps him get better at his job. He generally works with first-year students who are either academically at-risk or undeclared and need guidance on courses to take.

“It helps me be better at my job if I take an undergraduate class because it keeps me connected to what they are experiencing,” said Herdt.

He explained his job requires him to be a great generalist, of knowing what is generally offered around campus because students often don’t know what’s out there until they talk to someone who has tried it before.

Two people in hard hat, gloves, mask, coveralls harvesting an animal

Graduate assistant Clara Ritchie, right, of Arvada helps Ben Herdt in the livestock slaughter class.

“It’s nice to find these little corners of campus where really great things are happening,” said Herdt. “I’m super impressed with what McKensie is doing and Kyle (Phillips, UW Meat Lab manager), who runs the meat lab, and Warrie (Means, associate dean and associate professor in meat science). Their whole corner of campus is very impressive.”

The class was required for Vogl’s major in animal science with a concentration in production, meat and food technology, but she wanted to step out of her comfort zone.

“I was intimidated but after seeing the process a few times, I feel way better,” said Vogl. “If someone were to approach me in the grocery store and say, ‘How could you eat meat? It’s unethical,’ this course will give me a stronger platform to combat that and have experience to back up my thoughts.”

Vogl shared that the class was a lot of hard work but with proper technique anyone can harvest an animal.

“Ag can be a very male-dominated industry but for a woman to take interest in it is a really big deal, because a lot of the practices we learned requires a lot of strength and you would normally associate that with a man,” said Vogl. “However, what McKensie has taught us is it’s all about technique. It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you are, what your gender is, it’s all about technique and how you do it.”

Both Herdt and Vogl believe they are gaining a greater understanding of the livestock slaughter process and would recommend the course to others who are interested in this area of study and like hands-on learning.

“The community the meat lab provides to those students is great,” said Herdt. “Those are the kinds of communities we need. That over there supports those students so much, and their persistence and retention is going to be so much better.”

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Gov. Gordon Launches Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program

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Gov. Mark Gordon has announced the launch of the Wyoming Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program to provide support for Wyoming meat processing facilities and Wyoming citizens impacted by supply chain disruptions and regional shut-downs of processing facilities resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The Governor has appropriated $10 million in Federal CARES Act funds to the program, which seeks to strengthen Wyomings’ local food supply chain and address meat shortages at retail locations and food banks within the state.

Wyoming-based meat processing businesses and nonprofits may submit grant applications for capacity-related improvements made before December 30, 2020. .

“As anyone who has tried to get a beef cut up this year knows, processing in Wyoming is facing significant bottlenecks in 2020. The First Lady’s initiative has seen this across the state,” Gov. Gordon said.

“That is why we have set up the Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program, which will help improve our meat processing capacity and ensure our citizens have access to high-quality products,” he said.

Applications will open September 15, 2020 and be reviewed by a group from the Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and the Governor’s Office.

The grants require a portion of processed and retailable products to be provided to local food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, prisons, schools, or other charitable organizations to help feed hungry or underserved populations.

For additional information on the program, visit the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s website.

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Wyoming’s “Food Freedom Act” Featured on CBS Saturday Morning

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Wyoming’s first-in-the-nation Food Freedom Act was featured on CBS News on Saturday morning.

The legislation, championed by the late Rep. Sue Wallis and current State Rep. Tyler Lindholm, was passed in 2015 and made Wyoming the first state in the country to adopt legislation that deregulated many direct-to-consumer food sales.

In plain English, it means local food producers can take their products directly to market.

This was something CBS apparently found of particular interest in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Farmers markets have proved to be invaluable during the pandemic by offering fresh food often in open air environments. And in one state it’s becoming even easier to sell homemade locally sourced food, thanks to a law passed five years ago,” said CBS anchor Michelle Miller.

The segment featured many Campbell County residents selling their food products at a local farmer’s co-op including Jordan Madison who makes and sells his own peanut butter.

“Madison doesn’t need his jars inspected or weighed and they’re not subject to any government oversight. He just delivered it to this co-op, where customers buy it directly,” explained the CBS reporter.

Lindholm, contacted by phone on Saturday afternoon, said Wyoming’s “common-sense approach of producer to consumer sales is the envy of most states due to the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Wyoming continues to lead the nation and other states are starting to take notice,” Lindholm said. “We didn’t enact this legislation for emergencies though, we were just tired of arbitrary rules.”

“By removing government from the equation, we have opened the door for communities to thrive,” he said.

The video received attention from legislators on both sides of the aisle. 

State Sen. Tara Nethercott, a Republican from Cheyenne, posted the video on her Facebook page saying it was “exciting to see Wyoming featured on CBS.”

“The Wyoming legislature has continued to de-regulate and allow entrepreneurship to thrive. Representative Tyler Lindholm has been instrumental seeing this through! Proud to support these efforts,” she said.

State Rep. Stan Blake, a Democrat from Green River, posted the video as well.

“So proud to have been a cosponsor of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. Started by Representative Sue Wallis continued by Representative Tyler Lindholm. This is great for Wyoming’s citizens. Buy Local,” he wrote.

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Gordon Upset By Closure Of Lamb Processing Plant

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The impending closure of the country’s second-largest lamb processing plant in Colorado is more evidence of unhealthy consolidation of the country’s meat packing industry, Gov. Mark Gordon said in a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gordon, in the Thursday letter, said he was distressed about the announced purchase of Mountain States Rosen’s lamb processing facility by JBS USA Holdings, a Brazilian company.

“This transaction marks the end of on-site lamb processing and represents further consolidation of the packing industry and increased foreign influence on American markets,” Gordon’s letter said.

JBS was the winning bidder for the Greeley, Colorado, plant in bankruptcy proceedings. JBS, the largest importer of lamb in the country, said it has no plans to process lambs at the plant in the future.

The MSR plant serves sheep ranchers in at least 15 states, Gordon said, and the JBS takeover leaves sheep ranchers in Wyoming and elsewhere with nowhere to process their sheep.

Gordon said he is worried about what the closure will mean to the agriculture industry.

“As a businessperson, today I see a giant getting bigger; as a rancher, I wonder where my neighbors will take their lambs; as a father, I worry for those next generations; and as Governor, I worry about what this loss means to the state and our producers as a whole,” he wrote. “I do not believe there is any realistic way to avoid repeating what is happening today unless we set our eyes on the future.”

Gordon said MSR was itself created in an attempt to resolve the consolidation of the meat packing industry in the hands of a few large companies.

“They rose to become the second-largest lamb processor in the nation and yet, at the end of the day, they are trampled by a monolithic foreign corporation,” he said. “I question whether or not this becomes an antitrust issue. We can dismantle AT&T but cannot look at the companies that supply food to our citizens?”

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso in May joined members of Congress from other states in urging Attorney General William P. Barr to look into allegations of price manipulation and anti-competitive behavior in the beef packing industry.

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Burger King Removes Ad After Wyoming, National Protests

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Within days of protests from farmers and ranchers from across the country, including Wyoming, Burger King has decided to pull a recent ad that discussed methane emissions.

A national advertisement released earlier this month featured country singer Mason Ramsey, who talked about how Burger King plans to reduce methane emissions by adding lemongrass to its cows’ diets.

“Since we are a part of the problem, we are working on a solution,” Ramsey said in the ad.

However, a scientist’s tweets and protests from across the country got Burger King to reconsider the ad.

According to AgWeb, University of California-Davis animal science professor Frank Mitloehner tweeted that some of BK’s information in the ad was misleading or inaccurate.

“IT’S. NOT. THE. COW. FARTS. Nearly all enteric methane from cattle is from belching,” Mitloehner tweeted after seeing the commercial. “Suggesting otherwise turns this serious climate topic into a joke. Reducing methane is a HUGE opportunity. That should be a goal. But we shouldn’t trivialize it for trendy marketing. #COWSMENU.”

Mitloehner said in a podcast interview later that he doubted lemongrass, at the level the company will feed it, will have the desired effect.

BK officials contacted Mitloehner after seeing his response to the commercial, saying they were surprised by his reception. They also asked the scientist to work with them moving forward.

Protestors in Torrington last week also let their opinions be known about the ad, with one telling the Torrington Telegram that the campaign felt like a slap in the face.

Goshen County is Wyoming’s top beef producer, with Carbon County coming in second.

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Wyoming Ranchers Protest Burger King Ad Campaign

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By Tom Milstead, Torrington Telegram. Photo: Tom Milstead, Torrington Telegram

A recent ad campaign by fast food giant Burger King proved to be the last straw for a group of Goshen County ranchers.

Burger King released the Impossible Whopper in August 2019, a controversial to some product which features a meat-free patty made mostly of soy instead of beef.

The latest ad campaign features BK’s plan to introduce lemongrass to cows’ diets to reduce methane emissions.

In it, teen pop-country singer Mason Ramsey sings about how the new BK diet reduces emissions by more than a third and ends with plain text over a shot of a carnival, stating, “Since we are a part of the problem, we are working on a solution.”

That commercial was the tipping point, said Lori Shafer, one of the event’s organizers.

Local cattle producers decided to take a stand. They did so by lining the streets and adjacent parking lot near Burger King in Torrington on Friday with all manner and makes of pick-up trucks and trailers adorned with pro-beef signs and American flags.

“Our goal is to educate the public. We all know that agriculture is struggling right now,” Shafer said. “We need to bring visibility to agriculture in a positive light, the beef industry in particular is taking some really hard hits right now. Our message is meant to be positive to provide that much needed education for the general public to know that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy in Goshen County, and has been for forever.”

The ad campaign was a national campaign, and not supported by the local Burger King franchise.

“As franchise owners, we stand with our ranchers and do not support the recent Burger King advertisement,” Tim Force, owner, said. “We are proud of our agricultural community.”

Goshen County is Wyoming’s top beef producer, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2018, Goshen County produced 115,000 head, 23,000 more than No. 2 Carbon County.

It’s the biggest game in town and it always has been. According to Hugh Hageman, who participated in the demonstration, the beef industry is the local economy’s main driver.

“When you get down to the North Platte Valley, you can start wherever, but if you just started at Whalen Dam, where the diversion dam is and diverts into the canals, and then you go from there and you head down the North Platte Valley and it widens out, and you go as far as you want to go in and everything you see on all sides. There’s a few beans, a few beets, and other than that, everything you see revolves around the beef industry,” he said. “The hay, the corn, all the feed that’s grown is, whether you have any beef cattle or not, our entire valley is totally for beef cattle. And we just feel like it’s time to start standing up for our industry.”

And for longtime producers like Linda Nichol, the fact a company like Burger King – which has made billions from beef products – would release ads that seem to target the very industry that made it is unthinkable.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said. “It angers me because Wyoming ranchers the ultimate conservationists. Ranchers produce more grass, more clean air, more wildlife, more water. They produce a better life. They stop the development of open spaces, which open spaces are disappearing and they’re very important.”

The ranchers weren’t alone, either. They held court in the former Shopko parking lot for around two hours, and the entire time cars and trucks blared their horns in a show of support for the industry.

“It’s very encouraging,” Morgan Cross-Shoults, one of the demonstrators, said. “It kind of counters what you see when, as a rancher and a producer, you first see the ad. All the honking and the support from us being out here captures those same feelings. It shows that people do support and people are standing with farmers and ranchers.”

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States peaked in the mid-2000s, but have been in decline ever since.

The Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions reported that by 2025, US emissions would be 18% below the peak in 2005. According to the C2ES, agriculture accounts for 9% of the US’s emissions, and about a quarter of that is due to methane produced by cattle, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those numbers are small compared to transportation, which accounts for 28% of emissions, electricity, which accounts of 27% and industry, 22%.

The beef industry is shouldering too much of the blame, Hageman said.

“It’s been going on a long time, where the beef industry is being blamed for too much carbon footprint, global warming, climate change – whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Then, when these bigger corporations start going out and piling on, then when you have this pandemic just crushing the industry, as far as prices go, and you’ve got all that together and people really want to start standing up for the industry and start going out there. Basically, we’re going out there and telling the truth. We really need to get the truth out there about our product, about what we do.”

According to Cross, the attack on the beef industry is indicative of a further erosion of values.

“This shows so much of where our country has fallen to,” she said. “We see on the news every day that people are tearing down the statues of the people who made our country great, who made our country what it is. And that’s the same thing of America. They forgot who got them there, and that was the ranchers of America producing this amazing beef – and now they’re trying to sell lab-made beef. We’re forgetting the blessings that made us what we are.”

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Report: Wyoming Residents Receiving Strange Seeds From China

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A number of farmers from across the country, including Wyoming, have reported receiving strange seeds from China that they didn’t order.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture is warning anyone who receives seeds in the mail from China that they didn’t order to not open the sealed package or plant them and to report what they receive.

“Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock,” WDA wrote in its Facebook post.

If a Wyoming resident receives unsolicited seeds in the mail, they should keep the seeds and packaging and contact the local USDA-APHIS office at 307-432-7979 or to get instructions on what to do next.

According to a Facebook post from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the seeds are sent in packages that usually state the contents are jewelry. This is known as agricultural smuggling.

Other states such as Virginia, Kansas and Utah have reported residents receiving similar packages.

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Residential Use Of Herbicide Reason For Laramie Brown Trout Deaths

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The use of herbicide on home lawns and gardens was the likely culprit in a number of brown trout deaths in Laramie’s Spring Creek in late May, according to the state Game and Fish Department.

According to a news release, Laramie residents contacted the regional office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on May 26 after finding several dead brown trout in Spring Creek.

Fisheries biologist Steve Gale conducted an evaluation of Spring Creek from 15th Street downstream to Eighth Street and observed numerous dead trout within that section. Multiple size classes of brown trout were affected, but no other species of fish was found dead.

Brown trout are the most abundant fish species in Spring Creek.

Gale’s tests of the creek’s water quality revealed no problems, so he sent more than 20 of the dead fish to the department’s laboratory for examination.

“Our meter measures the quality at the time of testing, so whatever had happened had already gone through the system,” he said.
Brandon Taro, coordinator for the department’s Fish Health Program, said an examination of the fish indicated that herbicides were responsible for the deaths.

“All the fish had enlarged livers, which is consistent with the effects of herbicides on fish,” he said.

Laramie regional fisheries Supervisor Bobby Compton told Cowboy State Daily that a heavy rain in late May caused runoff tainted with herbicide to enter the creek.

Gale said algae were dead from where a storm drain empties into the creek below the 15th Street Bridge downstream to the Ninth Street Bridge. The algae above the storm drain were still green and apparently unaffected.

Compton noted that while this type of poisoning isn’t common, it does happen every two to five years when the city experiences a heavy rain. While he doesn’t expect any long-term effects from the deaths, he did point out that the incident could be prevented.  

The department’s news release included recommendations for how Laramie residents can safely use herbicides to avoid such poisonings in the future.

“Proper application, storage and disposal would definitely eliminate this type of situation,” Compton said.

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Enzi, Barrasso Call For Reform In Meat Processing Industry

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyoming, called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday to look into reforming the meat processing industry.

The two joined a bipartisan group of legislators in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking him to consider areas for regulatory and programmatic reform in the industry.

“When high-capacity processing facilities experienced (coronavirus) outbreaks amongst employees, operations were forced to shut-off or slow down production, leaving the rancher with livestock they could not move and the consumer with either empty grocery shelves or overpriced products,” the senators wrote. “These pitfalls can be avoided in the future if we take action today to promote a diversified food supply chain. Regulations must be streamlined to remove barriers impeding small and medium-sized meat processors.”

The legislators included Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In April, Wyoming legislators Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, called for an investigation into meat processors, accusing them of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to make record profits.

They both criticized the four major meat packing companies, Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill for creating a monopoly that hurts ranches and small cattle producers.

Driskill recommended the public call for an investigation into these companies and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates interstate and foreign commerce in livestock, dairy, poultry and related products.

Lindholm blamed the companies’ misuse of the Federal Meat Inspection Act as one of the problems behind rising beef prices for consumers, but not ranchers. 

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Rancher Videos 2,600 Sheep Crossing Bridge By Drone

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2600 sheep crossing Ten Sleep Creek, but don't try to count them…you're liable to fall asleep. No sound…double-time.

Posted by Don Anderson on Saturday, May 2, 2020

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Our friends over at the radio station 95.5 My Country, spotted something pretty interesting the other day: an aerial view of 2,600 sheep crossing a river in Wyoming.

Seems like a rancher up in Ten Sleep got the idea to launch a drone above a bridge over Ten Sleep Creek and then began moving the sheep across the bridge.

What’s it like? It’s popular. Don Anderson said the video has been viewed more than 10,000 times now.

We think it looks a little like driving down to Denver International Airport on I-25.  It starts off at a good pace. Someone gets confused or drives slowly in the passing lane (which should be a felony) and all of a sudden, there’s mass confusion followed by a pileup.

Thanks to sheepdogs (and they are amazing to watch in this video) and a few cowboys, the traffic gets going again.

The Colorado Highway Patrol could learn something from this video.  Enjoy!

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Enzi, Barrasso Call For Investigation Into Meat Packers

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s U.S. senators on Tuesday joined a bipartisan call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices in the nation’s beef packing industry.

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso joined 17 of their colleagues in signing a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr asking for the Justice Department to look into allegations of price manipulation and anti-competitive behavior in the cattle industry.

Ranchers have long complained that because four major companies control more than 80 percent of the cattle industry, those companies in effect control the industry and keep prices paid to ranchers for their beef artificially low.

The letter said recent price differences between the amount received by beef packers and the amount they pay ranchers are threatening the survival of cattle ranches.

“Cattlemen across America seriously question the ability for their children to take over what are frequently multi-generational family-owned operations that serve as the engines for their communities and our country’s food supply,” the letter said. “It is critical for the DOJ to act expediently to investigate these concerning circumstances.”

The letter noted that since February, the price paid to producers for cattle has dropped by more than 18%, while wholesale beef prices have increased by as much as 115%.

Without action, America’s beef supply chain could collapse under the weight of poor prices, the letter said.

“It is critical for the DOJ to act expediently to investigate these concerning circumstances and evaluate potential competitive harms,” it said.

Eleven state attorneys general have also asked for investigation, as have a number of individual senators.

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Wyoming Hunger Initiative Ropes Local Cattle Producers For New Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative (WHI), headed by First Lady Jennie Gordon, is launching a new program in conjunction with various state entities aimed at getting Wyoming-produced goods to the tables of families in need of food.

“Food from the Farm + Ranch” is a collaboration between WHI, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Custom Meats, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies. The collaboration is intended to use Wyoming products to care for Wyoming citizens.

Three beef cattle have been donated by Wyoming producers to be processed at Wyoming Custom Meats, which is located in Hudson. The meat will be donated to Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies to be distributed throughout the state as a vital source of protein.

Employees from the Wyoming Department of Ag donated the processing fees for two of the cattle. WSGA members donated the processing fees for the third. Additional processing dates have been scheduled for later in May to accommodate donations from other local producers.

“Being a producer myself, my initial vision for the Wyoming Hunger Initiative was to encompass a component of agriculture that would be part of the solution to food insecurity in our state,” Gordon said in a news release. “I am beyond excited about the immediate partnership between so many entities working together to ensure longevity of the program.”

The end goal of the program is to reach a point beyond the coronavirus pandemic where families and pantries across the state can purchase meat from local producers instead of seeking an out-of-state supplier.

While farmers and ranchers are supporting the food bank during this time through the donation of livestock and processing fees, the hope is that residents will support Wyoming producers now and in the future.

Wyoming currently has two United States Department of Agriculture-approved beef processors.

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Wyoming Hog Farmers Facing Doom Without Federal Aid Plan

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s pork producers could face hard times following closures of major meat processing plants across the U.S., but a federal program is in the works to lessen the blow.

With three of the country’s largest pork processing plants — Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, JBS pork processing in Worthington, Minnesota, and Tyson Fresh Foods in Waterloo, Iowa — closing during a portion of the pandemic, Wyoming is running out of places to send its pigs, said Jeremy Burkett, the Wyoming Pork Producers Council executive director. 

“We’re going to see the trickle-down effect in Wyoming,” Burkett said. “It’s just a matter of weeks before we see no need for our pigs.”

The closures were a result of extremely high COVID-19 infection rates among pork plant workers. Nearly 900 of 2,200 workers tested positive at a Tyson plant in Indiana.

After 850 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at Smithfield’s South Dakota plant, the facility was closed. However, it is partially reopening in the face of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on April 28 compelling some meat processors to continue operations. 

Reopening the plants could help some producers, but the biggest initiative to prevent the nation’s hog farmers from going under comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) could provide ag producers with about $19 billion in relief funding during the next few months, said Derek Grant, a Wyoming Department of Agriculture spokesperson.

“About $9.6 billion of that is going to be directed toward livestock,” Grant said. “And we’ve heard about $1.6 billion could be set aside for hogs, but a lot of the numbers are still fluid.” 

If eligible, ag producers could receive $125,000 per commodity, allowing producers with diverse crops or livestock to apply for more relief, but Grant explained no entity can receive more than $250,000. 

Burkett said the largest pork producers in Wyoming focus solely on hogs. 

“There is roughly 750,000 weaned pigs shipped out of the state every year,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of corn and soy beans here, so we provide the weaned stock to finishers in the Midwest.” 

Finisher operations take in weaned livestock and feed them a special diet, fattening them up before sending the animals to a meat processor.

Pork operations are active throughout the state, but are most common in Laramie, Platte and Converse counties, Burkett said. 

The lack of markets for Wyoming’s pigs has put producers in a difficult position, Burkett said.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” he said. “We’re working closely with the USDA, our producers and all the professionals in our industry to come up with a means and measure to cope with the certain circumstances we have.”

Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan said not having a place to send weaned pigs is a major problem for producers.

“Once those pigs are past a certain age, the become less marketable,” Logan explained. “But, it’ll really depend on the type of the operation whether or not this will have a huge affect on them. I do, however, think it will affect everybody in some way.”

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Magagna: U.S. Needs Investigation Now on Price Gouging by Meat Packers

in News/Coronavirus/Agriculture

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An investigation into price gouging by major meat packers is a welcome action for Wyoming beef producers, Jim Magagna, Exeuctive Vice President of the Wyoming Stockgrowers, said on Friday.

Magagna, appearing on Town Square Media’s “Economy Town Hall” broadcast on the company’s Wyoming radio stations, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s formal investigation on pricing practices in the meat industry is necessary.

He said the problem is that there are thousands of beef producers in America but there are only four major meat packers and those meat packers get to control the price of beef for consumers.

“It is hard not to see that they are making huge return on their investment buying live cattle and then marketing box beef,” Magagna said. “And that price of that box beef has gone up very significantly.”

How big is the disparity?

Lex Madden, from the Torrington Livestock Markets, told the Casper Star Tribune that meat packers make between $500 to $600 per head of cattle while producers earn $105 to $100.

“It’s just frustrating how greedy and ruthless the packers are,” Madden told the newspaper. “They’re smart business people but they’re so ruthless and greedy that they do not care about the American rancher, farmer or producer.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in early April it would look into the difference between the prices received by meat packers for beef and what is paid ranchers.

In addition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s investigation, Magagna said the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association has reached out to President Trump and Attorney General William Barr to conduct an investigation.

“We’ve asked for a full investigation because we need to determine if laws are being broken,” he said.

“Beyond that, this is a wake-up call for our industry. We face some fundamental structural problems,” he said.

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Legislators Call For Investigation of Meat Processors For Monopolistic Practices

in News/Coronavirus/Agriculture

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming legislators joined Wyoming’s congressional delegation in calling for investigations into the four major beef processors in the United States, as the companies continue to make record profits during the coronavirus pandemic.

While retail beef prices have surged due to consumers hoarding beef, prices paid ranchers for cattle continue to stay low. State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, noted that cattle prices are some of the lowest he’s seen in 40 years of ranching.

“This as bad as it’s ever been,” Driskill said. “We’re really in a segment where people are going to see mass closures in the ag industry.”

Driskill and his Wyoming House of Representatives colleague Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, both criticized the four major meat packing companies, Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill, for creating a monopoly that hurts ranches and small cattle producers.

Driskill recommended the public call for an investigation into these companies and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates interstate and foreign commerce in livestock, dairy, poultry and related products.

The simple step of shopping locally for meat would also be of major help, the senator added.

“The people who produce beef and the consumers are both losing out right now with this monopoly,” Driskill said. “People need to come out and say ‘If you’re going to break the ranchers, at least give us cheap food.'”

On the other hand, Lindholm blamed the companies’ misuse of the Federal Meat Inspection Act as one of the problems behind rising beef prices for consumers, but not ranchers. He believes the four major meat processing companies are using the act to push out competitors, allowing for them to process more than 80% beef in the country.

Lindholm suggested a complete repeal of the act in favor of letting the states decide how to regulate meat processing. He agreed with Driskill about buying meat locally as a solution.

“Major corporations are going to make the American West disappear,” he said. “Everyone loves seeing the green landscapes and wide open spaces out here, but the reason we have that is because of agriculture. We have to find suitable ways to promote local agriculture.”

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney signed on to a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting it provide immediate assistance to cattle producers.

The letter asked USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to take advantage of the resources provided in the recently-enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act, including the replenishment of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and additional emergency funding. This would facilitate the stabilization of farm and ranch income for producers who are facing market volatility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, the letter said.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the need for domestic food security,” the members of Congress wrote. “All farmers and ranchers are vital to our country’s ability to keep food on the table in a future pandemic or related crisis, and many producers, including young producers, are often highly leveraged and cannot fall back on years of equity in a time of crisis. As such, we urge you to quickly deliver relief to producers as we work to lessen the economic impact of this pandemic.”

Both Driskill and Lindholm praised members of the delegation for calling on the USDA, but Driskill also admitted that the federal help will come with a bit of a stigma.

“We don’t want government payments,” he said. “We just want the ability to compete in a fair marketplace. This isn’t about getting rich. We just want to get a fair share of the profitability.”

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Sugar Beet Producers Feel Strain Of Bad Weather, Costs

in News/Agriculture
Sugar beets

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

They create the stuff of magic, equated with deliciousness. And they could make or break a family business.

Sugar beets are a mainstay crop in Wyoming. But in northern Wyoming, where the growing conditions are optimal, farmers who grow sugar beets are facing a hardship like they’ve not seen in generations.

Between a hard frost last fall that left sugar beets frozen in the ground and mounting costs for renovations in other factories in the Western Sugar cooperative, sugar beet growers in the Bighorn Basin are facing a grim financial future. 

That’s according to Kurt Dobbs, the agronomist and field representative for the Bighorn Co-op in the northern half of the Bighorn Basin.

“The farmers around this area, they grow really good beets and are very good at yield,” he pointed out. “But it’s been three years in a row that they haven’t received the money that they need to receive for their crop.”

The growers in the Bighorn Basin are part of the Western Sugar Cooperative, which has factories in Lovell, Billings, Montana, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fort Morgan, Colorado. 

The Lovell producers farm over 16,000 acres of beets collectively, according to Casey Crosby, a fourth-generation sugar beet grower in Cowley. 

Crosby, who also has a masters degree in business, said the economic hit of crop losses to the local communities could exceed $14 million. 

“It’s a challenging time in agriculture in general, but right now, with the issues we’ve had with our co-op, and then the weather on top of that, it’s crippled a lot of farmers,” he said.

Those issues include bad weather in two of the last three years. In between, when the harvest should have yielded a payment, Crosby said the profit went to offset costs in other areas of the Western Sugar Cooperative.

Rodney Perry, the Denver-based CEO of Western Sugar, said that the organization is working with the USDA on a disaster relief program that may provide area farmers with some much-needed assistance. 

Perry noted the program is similar to the federal government’s WHIP assistance fund (Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus), which provides disaster payments to offset losses from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms and wildfire. 

Crosby said the assistance could mean the difference in whether or not many growers will be able to farm next year.

Crosby is one of the lucky ones – of the 4,000 acres that he farms with another local grower, only 700 of those acres are planted in sugar beets. But as Dobbs pointed out, there are many other farmers whose livelihoods depend on the sugar beet crop.

“The farmers have to get paid for their sugar beets and they haven’t been,” Dobbs said. “So if that continues, you will see farmers going bankrupt.”

Wyoming Beef: Big Marketing Opportunities with Farm-to-Table Movement

in News/Agriculture

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Cattle outnumber people nearly two-to-one in Wyoming, but buying beef identified as locally raised can be a challenge, a Wyoming Stock Growers Association spokesperson said.

“These animals often get shipped out as calves, and they might even come back as yearlings, but they lose their identity as Wyoming beef,” said Jim Magagna, the Stock Growers Association’s executive vice president. “You may have eaten a lot of them throughout your life, but you’d never know it.”

A trickle-down affect of the farm-to-table trend is an American curiosity about where food comes from and a desire to consume locally produced vittles. This curiosity is increasing the demand for both small and large meat processors in Wyoming, Magagna said.

“I don’t know that (beef processing) was ever less common,” he said. “We’ve always had a good array of small processors throughout the state. But we’ve never really had processing on a level where we were providing volume of product.”

That could soon change.

Niche demand

Up until two years ago, Magagna said Wyoming didn’t have any beef processors inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

State-inspected facilities can ship products throughout Wyoming, but not across state lines. USDA-inspected facilities can ship their products anywhere within the U.S. and internationally.

Nowadays, the state is home to two USDA-approved facilities, another is transitioning from state-inspected to USDA-inspected and two more are in the construction phase, said Ron Gullberg, the Wyoming Business Council business development director.

“In 2018, the ag marketing bill — Senate File No. 108 — looked at the data saying Wyoming beef is a dominant industry, but it’s not a value-added industry,” Gullberg said. “It’s a commodity industry. So, we’re looking at how we can work to develop strategies to bolster processing in Wyoming.”

Last summer, the Business Council initiated a beef study that could provide beef producers and processors information essential to capitalizing on Wyoming branded beef products, he said.

“We’re asking the question, ‘How big can we go to fill a niche demand for Wyoming beef?’” Gullberg said. “(The study) has  three parts: Market opportunities,  opportunities for offal or byproducts of the processing, and workforce.”

The study is slated to be completed within a few weeks, but not everyone is waiting for the results.

Homefront processing

Born and raised in northeast Wyoming, Kelsey Christiansen grew up around meat processing.

“When I was young, my dad and grandfather ran a small butcher shop,” Christiansen said. “That caught my interest, then in college, I got a job working at the meat lab at the University of Wyoming. That really pulled it all together for me.”

With 15 years of experience in meat processing, Christiansen decided to open his own USDA-inspected meat processing plant — the 307 Meat Company in Laramie.

“If we’re one of the leading cattle-producing states in the nation, then we should be able to eat our own meat,” he said. “Most all the cattle leave the state to be harvested. Hopefully, we’re making a move to change that.”

The plant is not operational yet, but Christiansen said he plans to open its doors this spring. 

“My main focus of my business plan is to be a service company and a private label company,” he explained. “Whether you have a 100 head of cattle or 15, you can bring them to us, and we’ll process them and put your labels on them exactly how you want.” 

While most ranchers send their cattle out-of-state to large-scale processors, because shipping in bulk is more economical, Christiansen said there is a growing interest in small-scale operations.

“There is a massive shortage in small meat processors to do work for the little man,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Wyoming and the beef industry as a whole. I think you’re going to see a change in dynamic across the state with a couple more processors coming on line in the near future.”

Farm Bureau Provides Tips for Tackling Springtime Ag Challenges

in News/Agriculture

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Spring is fraught with dangers for Wyoming’s agriculture producers, but networking and planning can help farmers and ranchers mitigate the worst mother nature has to offer, a Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation spokesperson said.

“The biggest challenge come spring is the weather,” said Brett Moline, the Farm Bureau public affairs director. “You have to be prepared for anything, because you’ll just never know what you’ll have year to year.”

As a reminder for old hands and a guide for the new ranchers, Moline provided a list of Wyoming ag producers biggest springtime hurdles and tips on how to clear them.

Problem: Calving in a Storm

For many ranchers, Moline said spring is a time of new life and the frailty it presents.

“Spring is the typical birthing season,” he explained. “But big storms and high winds can be a pretty big problem.”

Upon exiting the womb, newborns can struggle to keep their body temperatures up if the animals don’t have proper wind breaks and shelter.

“When they get wet, they can’t get dried off and warmed up,” Moline said. “They come out of something that’s 95 to 100 degrees to something that’s 10 degrees — that’s pretty shocking, and many don’t recover.”

Solution: Break the wind

Out on the range, shelter can come in several sizes and shapes from dense shrubbery to sizable structures.

“Most ranchers will run their first calf heifers through a barn,” Moline said. “It may not be heated, but it’s out of the wind and that’s half the battle sometimes.”

In areas with dense shrubbery and tree coverage, ranchers can use the landscape to protect the young, but not all pastures are created equal.  

“On the high plains around Laramie County, ranchers don’t have a lot of natural shelter,” Moline explained. “People will build wind breaks to make sure the calves have the best chance.”

Alternatively, some producers push their calving season back until around July to avoid the snow season altogether, he said.

Problem: Predators

Coyotes and wolves looking for a meal after a long winter can pose a significant threat to shepherds with lambing sheep, and in some cases, cattle as well.

“Predation will always be a problem,” Moline said. “I don’t think there is a solution that eliminates predation, but that’s not the goal. Ranchers just want to keep their predation loss down enough to allow them to still be economically sustainable.”

Coyotes cause real problems for sheep herds, especially during the lambing season. Cattle, on the other hand, present more of a problem to themselves when predators are on the prowl.

“I had a rancher tell me he didn’t think he’d ever lost a calf to a coyote,” Moline said. “But, he lost several to their mothers stepping on them when trying to defend against coyotes.”

Solution: Work with Local and State Agencies

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and county predator boards are excellent resources for dealing with predation, Moline said.

“Some county predator boards will locate the coyotes’ territory, fly over and take out some coyotes before birthing season,” he said. “For sheepmen, guard dogs are a good measure.”

Sheep dogs raised with the herd can reduce attrition caused by predation.

For cattle, the window of vulnerability is relatively small.

“Once a calf gets a few days old, a coyote isn’t going to be too much of a problem,” Moline said. “The trick is making sure they are safe those first few days.”ttps://wyagric

Problem: Balancing the Water Supply

Spring is planting season, and too much precipitation can be just as harmful as too little, Moline explained.

“It’s got to be dry enough to get a tractor in there, but you don’t want it too dry — it’s all about that balance,” he said. “If your planting is delayed, your harvest is going to be delayed, then you start worrying about snow again.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined too much precipitation was the cause of a recent irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County, which cut water off to hundreds of farmers on thousands of acres in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Solution: Preparation and Networking

Keeping an eye on the snowpack report can help producers predict how much irrigation they’ll need, Moline said.

“Listening to the weather report is big for ag producers,” he said. “They need to figure out what works best for them. But I think that’s what makes producers such a unique community. Ranchers and farmers always look at a problem and figure out how to adapt.”

For too much water, Moline said the best a farmer can do is wait it out and hope for the sun to shine.

For too little, planning ahead and adjusting crops to suit the availability of irrigation could prevent a lot of heartache, he said.

“Work with your neighbors — networking is key,” Moline said. “Together, you can make a plan to address each situation as it comes.”

Meatless Options Having Little Impact on Wyoming Beef Producers

in News/Food/Agriculture

By Tim Mandese
Cowboy State Daily

Despite a growing trend toward meatless meal options, Wyoming’s beef producers are not seeing much of a decline in the demand for their product.

Plant-based meat substitutes are popping up in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. Burger King sells its Impossible Whopper, Qdoba has an Impossible fajita and burrito. Even Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a plant-based patty as a sausage substitute on its breakfast menu.

Although plant-based meat substitutes are more available than ever, their presence in the market has not dampened the demand for Wyoming beef, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“I think it’s gotten a huge amount of media attention because it’s something new,” Magagna said. “The media attention far exceeds what it’s gotten in the meat case and grocery stores or food establishments. At this point in time, the percentage of the market they’ve taken is so very small that we certainly haven’t felt an economic impact, but that could come if this continues to grow.”

WSGA figures show plant-based foods make up a little more than 1 percent of the beef market.

“The hype would lead you to believe it’s taking over the country and I dont see any evidence of that,” Magagna said.

The majority of current media attention is centered around meatless products from a company called Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 by Dr. Patrick O. Brown.

Impossible Foods did not respond to an emailed request for an interview. However, the company’s website said its mission is to end the use of animals to make food. The company’s goal is to make convincing meat, dairy, and fish from plants-based sources.

In 2016, Impossible Foods launched its first product, the Impossible Burger, a substitute meat patty. Today, it’s served in 15,000 restaurants world wide.

According to the company’s website, the patty used in Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is made of the following ingredients:

•Soy-protein concentrate
•Coconut oil

•Sunflower oil

•Natural flavors.

Impossible “meat” also contains 2% or less of:
•Potato protein
•Yeast extract

•Cultured dextrose
•Food starch, modified

•Soy leghemoglobin (Heme)
•Soy-protein isolate
•Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
•Zinc gluconate
•Thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
•Sodium ascorbate (vitamin C)
•Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6)
•Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

•Vitamin B12.

According to, its patty is made mostly of soy protein derived from soybeans.

Another soy ingredient, and the one said to be responsible for the meat-like taste, is soy leghemoglobin.

“Soy leghemoglobin is short for legume hemoglobin — the hemoglobin found in soy, a leguminous plant” said the website. “Leghemoglobin is a protein found in plants that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life. Heme is found in every living being — both plants and animals.”

Given the list of ingredients found in the meatless patties, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association is working with legislators to set labeling standards for plant-based products.

“Our big concern and our focus the last couple of years is on how these products are advertised,” Magagna said. “If they are advertised for what they are and it’s fair competition, it’s a free marketplace, as long as it doesn’t lead people to think they are eating real meat when they are eating plant-based products.

“We’ve worked on and are still working on legislation at the national level and we passed a bill here in Wyoming last year in our legislative session, that identifies how those products have to be labeled,” he added.

The introduction of a meat alternative has helped the beef industry better understand what it must do to compete in changing markets, Magagna said.

“There’s plenty of evidence out there that red meat is an important part and a healthy part of a balanced diet,” Magagna said “If it’s done anything, in one way it’s helped us, because it’s inspired us to better recognize the need to market our product and to focus on marketing the healthy attributes of our product”

Wyoming Ag Year in Review: Crops Hit Hard in 2019, but There Was a Silver Lining

in News/Agriculture

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Agricultural producers were hit hard by weather across Wyoming throughout 2019, but on the upside, government agencies rose to the occasion on many fronts, a Wyoming Department of Agriculture spokesperson said. 

Stacia Berry, Department of Ag deputy director, said 2019 was a challenging year for farmers and ranchers alike, but Wyoming came out on top by the end. 

Listed below, Berry highlighted major problems producers faced in 2019 and notable boons for the industry from the department’s point of view.

High: Trade momentum

In December, the U.S. House approved the United Sates-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum in the trade area,” Berry said. “From an agriculture perspective, USMCA is something we’re excited to see moving forward.” 

While the agreement is heavily focused on the automotive industry, Berry said it could also provide several benefits to ag producers who trade internationally.

“Mexico and Canada are two of the top three markets for ag goods exported from the U.S.,” she said.

The nation is also in the first phase of trade negotiations with China and opening additional market access in Japan.

“Those three trade deals are going to provide more opportunities for export for agriculture in general, but also more opportunities for (Wyoming) producers,” Berry said.

The Wyoming Business Council is getting ahead of the trade deals with a Wyoming beef industry study that could help producers understand how best to capitalize on foreign markets, said Ron Gullberg, the Business Council business development director.

“Even though there’s trade deals being cut, it’s not like the flood gates open, and we’re ready to ship a bunch of beef,” Gullberg said. “We’ve got to work on the supply and logistics, too.”

High: Governor’s initiatives

The ag industry received significant support from the state’s executive branch in 2019, Berry said. 

“Gov. Mark Gordon has a great focus on agriculture in land health, soil quality and his focus on invasive species,” she said. “As well, (Wyoming’s) First Lady (Jennie Gordon) released big news last year with a hunger initiative for children around the state.”

In October, Gov. Mark Gordon launched an initiative to slow the spread of invasive plant species across Wyoming.

Wyoming’s agricultural lands could experience significant impacts as a result of terrestrial invasive species, Berry said.

The initiative is slated to include both technical and policy teams.

To address food insecurity, Jennie Gordon founded the Wyoming Hunger Initiative last year. 

“As agriculture is in the food production and safety businesses, they have great initiatives that work hand-in-hand with the work that is being done,” Berry said. 

Working together, ag initiatives, non-profit organizations and Jennie Gordon’s initiative could significantly reduce the number of people in Wyoming who spend their days wondering where the next meal will come from, she added. 

High: Leadership positions

Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto was honored with high-level national appointments that could allow Wyoming to play an integral role in future policy decisions, Berry said.

“We are strategically positioned right now for Director Miyamoto to serve as the president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA),” she said. “He was just installed as the secretary-treasurer on the board, and will be the president four years from now.”

The position could grant Wyoming access and opportunities in national policymaking decisions that could affect the state. 

“To my knowledge, there has never been a president of NASDA from Wyoming,” Berry said.

During the summer of 2019, Miyamoto was also appointed president of the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association (WUSATA).

“WUSATA promotes the export of U.S. food and agriculture products throughout the world from the Western region of the country,” Berry said.

In conjunction with those leadership positions, Berry said the department has worked with the Wyoming Congressional Delegation to support farmers and ranchers in Washington D.C. 

Low: Weather 

A late spring and early winter prevented ag producers from getting seeds in the ground early enough and forced many to prematurely harvest their crops.

“In April and May, it was good and bad in that it was wet and cold,” Berry said. “Even though we were getting more moisture than we typically would, alleviating drought worries, that also put most everybody behind on spring work.”

Ag producers waited out the weather, which pushed harvest time later into fall, creating a domino effect that came to a head when the snows flew early. 

“Summer felt like it was here, and then, gone,” Berry said. 

While the weather affected crops statewide, she explained its impact was particularly felt by sugar beet producers and by crop producers in southeastern Wyoming, where increased spring precipitation was determined to be the primary factor in the  Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapse. 

Low: Tunnel collapse

In July, a century-old irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farm land in Wyoming and Nebraska without water during the hottest stretch of the year.

“(The USDA Risk Management Agency) were able to determine the cause of the collapse was weather related,” Berry said. “That was a very positive thing, because it meant ag producer’s insurance could cover their losses.”

Originally estimated to cost the economy about $90 million, the collapse affected more than 400 producers in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

A bout of late summer precipitation staved off the worst of the damages, a University of Wyoming spokesperson said in December

Tunnel repairs are slated to be complete by spring. 

Low: Sugar beet harvest

Sugar beet markets have been in flux for the last several years, resulting in the 2018 closure of a nearly century-old sugar beet plant in Goshen County, but weather was the culprit behind crop problems in 2019.

“A late spring and an early winter really hurt the sugar beet producers,” Berry said. “Your crop is never going to be as good when it’s frozen in the ground, and you’re trying to dig it out.”

A root product, freezing in the ground reduces the beet’s sugar content, and subsequently, its market price.

In December, Gordon sought to have the USDA declare Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties federal disaster areas as a result of the decline in beet harvests.

““Weather is a defining part of agriculture,” Berry said. “Wyoming is home to a lot of harsh weather, and you have to be very resilient as an agriculturist in any part of the state.”

It’s not yet clear if 2019’s weather will impact the 2020 growing season, but Berry said the department has its fingers crossed for a break in the storm.

“Even though winter showed up early, it depends on how long it decides to stay,” she said. “Weather really can dictate how any year goes for agriculture.”

The Value of Rural Subdivisions

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Agriculture
Sublette County

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Private ranches help to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, while urban dwelling condenses the size of the human imprint on the landscape. These benefits are readily understood, but the importance of rural subdivisions to local communities is often overlooked.

Rural subdivisions suffer from love/hate status. While many residents hate to see fragmentation of rural land, many other people dream of living on a few acres outside of town. They love the freedom offered by rural living, including raising their children with more outdoor space, and having animals that would be prohibited by municipal living. The large percentage of government land ownership in Wyoming serves to make land use planning for private property all the more critical since energy development on public land can cause a large influx of people in need of housing, yet the burden for providing housing falls to the limited amount of private land available.

Nearly half of Wyoming is managed by the federal government, and Wyoming continues to maintain its status as having the lowest human population of any state in the union. With our traditional public lands-based boom-and-bust energy cycle comes tremendous ebbs and flows in our human population. Sublette County is a prime example. With less than 6,000 residents in the county in 2000, the county boomed to a high of 10,476 people by 2012, with most of this growth associated with net migration due to energy development. With the energy bust, the county population declined more than 6 percent by 2019, to just over 9,800 people.

With the bust, Sublette County lost about 663 residents from its peak population. By 2017, 46 percent of Sublette County’s housing units were classified as vacant. That’s a startlingly high vacancy rate, but Sublette County has long been known for its hosting of “second” homes to people living outside the county. About 68 percent of the county’s vacant units are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use (second homes), and 15 percent of the county’s vacant units are for rent or sale. But another 15 percent (428 homes) are classified as “other” vacant, which means they are not for sale or rent, or otherwise available to the marketplace. According to the Wyoming Community Development Authority, “These units may be problematic if concentrated in certain areas, and may create a ‘blighting’ effect.”

Although we lost more than 660 residents, what we see now is that some of the people who moved to Sublette County to work in the gas fields have decided to stay; either hanging on to what energy jobs are available, or finding other ways to make a living. They may have moved here for the boom, but have determined to stay for other reasons, despite the economic downturn. While some of these residents live in town, and some have constructed homes on large acreages, most often I see their presence reflected in rural subdivisions. They have greenhouses, art studios, vegetable gardens, and chicken coops. The kids learn to ride bicycles on dirt driveways; they construct primitive forts in their yards; and they go out into the pasture to “camp” in the summer. They wade in irrigation ditches on hot days, ride incessant laps on snow machines and dirt bikes, and feed calves, pigs, and lambs for show at the county fair.

Most of these families have animals – cats and dogs, chickens and other fowl, small and large livestock, and horses – and all of these animals require both space and food. Since the acreages are too small to be self-sustaining for their domestic animals, animal feedstuffs must be purchased and brought in, which adds to the local economy. I drive by a busy feedstore across from a rural subdivision every time I drive to town.

Although some decry rural subdivision of land for its scarring of the landscape and harm to nature, I maintain that for these rural residents, they are living as close to nature (blemished though it may be) as they possibly can. Their animals are what connect them to the land, and when the jobs that brought them here may go elsewhere, it is the land and animals that keep them here.

While some may notice the horses standing in a dirt-packed corral, I see that the horse owners have corralled the horses to give their limited pasture time to rest and grow. I see those horses loaded for roping competitions, fairs and rodeos, for family pack trips and hunting adventures, and for kids to ride bareback on the vast public lands nearby, where the kids climb off to explore horned toads and other wonders of nature that surround them.

While some see rural sprawl, I notice the installation of flowerbeds, scattered wildflowers over septic systems, and boxes lovingly crafted for bats, bluebirds, and kestrels. I see people who have taken some level of food security into their own hands, raising animals to provide meat for the freezer, and living and learning about the cycle of life and death, and knowing where their food comes from.

All forms of living have both societal and environmental impacts (negative and positive), but rural subdivisions are often maligned. This view fails to recognize that people can be drawn to our communities with properties in rural subdivisions, and these rural ranchettes can serve as anchors that connect communities while supporting local economies.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email

Year of the Pig sees Wyoming cut the fat, celebrate equality, go gaga for choo-choo trains

in Energy/Jobs/News/wildlife/Agriculture/Transparency/Business
Year of the Pig

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

In 2019, Wyoming celebrated the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, welcomed back members of the Black 14 and bemoaned the worsening coal crisis.

Cowboy State Daily was there to cover it all.

Here’s some of our top stories from throughout the year.


Mineral extraction in Wyoming could enter a slump in the next four years, and the coal industry is slated to experience the worst of it, according to a report produced by Gov. Mark Gordon’s Power Wyoming initiative.

Some of the initiative’s scenarios predicted a recovery period in two years, but most, and the most likely, predicted a devastating decrease in both Wyoming’s total employment and population.

For the residents of coal country, those predictions could be life changing.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now, we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

Although several hundred miners returned to work at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines after Eagle Specialty Materials assumed ownership from the bankrupt former owners, Blackjewel, the reverberations of 600 coal miners being laid off in one fell swoop earlier this year are still being felt statewide.

Corporate income tax

Despite dying in the Senate during the 2019 Legislative Session, a legislative committee is once again studying a proposal to impose an income tax on so-called “big box” stores.

The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee listened to testimony in September regarding a 7 percent corporate income tax on companies with more than 100 shareholders.

A similar proposal, House Bill No. 220, referred to as the National Retail Fairness Act, was not considered by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee before a deadline in February.

Both measures were raised as state officials were faced with rapid declines in the state’s mineral tax revenues, historically the biggest contributors to Wyoming coffers.

Irrigation collapse

After an irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska without water for months this summer, officials are looking into ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Built by the Bureau of Reclamation more than 100 years ago, the Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapsed in July, causing the governors of Wyoming and Nebraska to declare states of emergency.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture later said crop losses would be covered by insurance, a previous economic analysis report produced jointly by the Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension originally estimated the collapse could cost both states about $90 million combined. 

Opening the books

After a years-long legal battle between Wyoming officials and non-profit organizations over state government transparency, Wyoming State Auditor, Kristi Racines released Wyoming’s checkbook  shortly after taking office in January.

The data dump contained approximately 4.9 million line items of expenditures made by state agencies during the last six years, but it does not include several spending categories such as state employee salaries or victims’ benefit payments.

Racines took transparency a step further and launched a website dedicated to providing the public with basic spending data for the state.

Using the data provided through both the checkbook and website, Cowboy State Daily covered a series of state spending stories including the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s sponsorship of rodeo teams, the Wyoming Department of Correction’s purchases of religious items and a look at Wyoming’s own air fleet

Big Boy

The largest steam engine ever built, the Big Boy locomotive, crossed Wyoming for the first time in 60 years, bound for Utah and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway.

“A steam locomotive is a living, breathing piece of machinery,” said Bob Krieger, a former steam locomotive engineer who now runs the UP Historical Society in Cheyenne. “You can see its muscles. You can hear it breathe as it pulls a grade. All steam engines do that. The Big Boy is just the biggest.”

Train enthusiasts from all over the world flocked to Wyoming to witness the historic trip.

Capitol renovations

State agencies started moving back into the Wyoming Capitol building this summer as a $300 million renovation project neared its end.

The refurbishment of the 129-year-old Capitol was the centerpiece for the Wyoming Capitol Square Project that also involved updating the Herschler Building to the north and the space between them.

The reopening ceremony coincided with the celebration of Wyoming’s Statehood Day, and the unveiling revealed a Capitol building considered to be much more accessible to the public, with larger rooms, broader passageways and more open space.

“They’ve done a lot of stuff here that opened up the Capitol,” said Joe McCord, the former facilities manager for the Capitol. “The stairs going into the House and Senate are wide open right now. Downstairs, you’ve got the galley that’s wide open. The rooms are bigger. I just love it, what they’ve done. They’ve done a great job.”

Despite being mostly complete, many agencies were still working with temporary furniture towards the end of the year as the state worked out the details of new furniture request for proposal.

Taco John’s

There was a whole lotta Mexican goin’ on at Taco John’s 50th anniversary this year, some of which the company is taking to Minnesota.

While founded in Cheyenne half a century ago, the fast food chain announced in December it was expanding its corporate office to Minneapolis, where there are more than 200 Taco John’s locations within a few hours drive from the city. But for those readers who can’t get enough oles, the franchise is slated to remain headquartered in Wyoming. 

Women’s Suffrage

State legislators kicked off the 2019 Legislative Session by passing a measure setting aside a day to recognize Wyoming as the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote.

The measure declared Dec. 10 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day,” which marks the day in 1869 when Territorial Gov. John Campbell signed the bill giving women the right to vote in Wyoming.

Marking the occasion with music, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra commissioned an original work from American composer Stephanie Ann Boyd. 

“Wyoming, of course, put through women’s suffrage about 50 years before everybody else, and so we’re taking the inspiration of that, and the stories of the women that were instrumental in that, and writing a piece about them, but also writing essentially a 25-minute minute love letter to Wyoming,” Boyd said.

On Dec. 10, women and men marched to the Capitol commemorating the newly declared holiday and highlighting instances of inequality that still need to be addressed.

Black 14 

Fifty years after the University of Wyoming expelled 14 members of its football team, known as the Black 14, for wearing black armbands onto the field, race relations are still strained in the Equality State, said Mel Hamilton, one of the Black 14.

“It’s a shame to say, but it’s pretty much the same as when I entered Wyoming in 1965,” Hamilton said, adding, “with one exception — it went underground.”

Adding diversity to the history books and teaching students how minorities contributed to growth of the U.S. as well as informing them how racism was cultivated by ignorance would be a strong step toward improving Wyoming’s future race relations, Hamilton said. 

“They must be allowed to learn what other races have given this country,” he said. “They are ready to lead the way if we — the old vanguard — just get out of the way and let them do it.”

Chronic Wasting Disease 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a draft plan to address a fatal disease running rampant through the state’s wildlife population.

“(Chronic Wasting Disease) has been documented spreading throughout the state, and there are areas where its prevalence is high enough that we think it could be having significant impacts on some of our herds,” said Justin Binfet, one of the plan’s authors and a Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator. “The plan is based on recommendations that were developed through an extensive collaborative process.”

Dubbed a “suite of strategies,” the plan suggests managing the disease by installing wildlife feeding bans, potentially targeting mule deer bucks during breeding season, voluntary and mandatory submission of harvested animal samples and working with landowners, cities and counties to eliminate areas with unintentionally high concentrations members of the deer family.

Repairs on track for collapsed irrigation tunnel near Torrington

in News/Agriculture
Goshen Irrigation Canal water

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As repairs move forward on an irrigation tunnel near Torrington, the Oregon Trail Community Foundation (OTCF) is slated to disperse donations to affected farmers.

“We’re working on the repairs that the (U.S.) Bureau of Reclamation is requiring, so we can run water next year,” Goshen Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said. “We have to put in some more support ribs and do some void grouting (between the tunnel wall and surrounding soil) still.”

Built by the Bureau of Reclamation more than 100 years ago, the Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapsed in July, cutting irrigation water off to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska.

To help farmers recover losses to crops resulting from the collapse, the OTCF announced it would soon start dispersing $300,000 in donations raised by various organizations and events in the area.

On the tunnel repair side, funding is still in the works, Posten said.

“The Bureau of Reclamation hasn’t paid for anything, but they have offered us some loans,” he explained. “We did get some funding from the Wyoming State Land and Investment Board — about $4 million.”

The long-term loan was given at a 2.5 percent interest rate and could pay for about half the cost of repairs, which Posten said were estimated to be about $8 million.

The boards of directors for both the Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation districts are considering applying for additional funding from the State Land Investment Board in the near future, he added.

While the initial estimates for economic impact of the collapse varied wildly, Brian Lee, a University of Wyoming Extension agriculture economist, said the affected area’s economical outlook is much brighter than originally estimated.

“I don’t think the damage to the crops was as bad as it could have been,” Lee explained. “I think a lot of people got water at the end of the season, right when they needed it.”

Based out of the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture and Research Extension Center in Goshen County, Lee co-authored a report estimating a total loss of all the crops irrigated via the tunnel could run about $90 million. The report assumed crop insurance would not cover losses, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency has since decided crop losses would be covered by insurance.

“Rather than a payment per acre, which was previously speculated,” Lee said, “(ag producer’s) insurance will work with them on their losses based on the insurance coverage they had at the beginning of the season.”

While the situation is better than predicted, the area could still suffer.

“There’s going to be a cost with all these tunnel repairs, and some of that will come back on these farmers with increased irrigation costs,” Lee explained. “We’re talking long-term loans that are going to be around for awhile.”

Beginning at the Whalen Diversion Dam near Guernsey, the Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation districts’ main canal runs through three tunnels on a 129-mile stretch across Goshen County and Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska.

To prevent future collapses, Posten said the district boards voted to upgrade the tunnels with permeation grouting, which could cost an additional $3.5 million.

Once funding is secured for both the current repairs and future upgrades, the projects could be complete in 2021, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported.

As the two states work toward preventing future collapses, Lee said ag producers could be considering additional protections.

“I think a lot of people — midway through the season — they didn’t have any water and got to thinking about different ways to get water to their plot or different crops to plant next season,” he said. “In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little more risk mitigation crops going in.”

Center pivots for irrigation — in which water is pumped to sprinklers that move in a large circle — could be another option, Lee said, but the statutes regulating water usage by center pivots are so complex the equipment might not be viable without new legislation.

Tracking Wild

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
Good deer
Researchers use radio collars to track mule deer migration through the Wind River Mountains. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

There are probably thousands of tracking devices installed on wild animals in Wyoming.

From collars or eartag transmitters placed on big game animals and large carnivores like wolves and bears, to backpack harnesses or neck bands installed on a variety of bird species, and the surgical insertion of devices into fish, the amount of wildlife tracking conducted every year in Wyoming is astounding.

The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed.
The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

But the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) can’t tell you how many animals are wearing these devices. I know that because I asked: first informally, and when that didn’t yield any information, I was instructed to submit a formal request, which I did. The response noted “there is not an easy way to show how many animals actually have collars on them at this point.” I was told that “it would take quite a few hours to go through each permit report” to see how many animals were actually collared under each permit issued by the department even in a single year, but if I wanted to pursue the matter, the agency w