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Residential Use Of Herbicide Reason For Laramie Brown Trout Deaths

in Agriculture/News
5058

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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

in Agriculture/Business/Food/News
5017

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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

in Agriculture/News/Transportation
4614

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

in Agriculture/News
4471

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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

in Agriculture/Food/News
4353

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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

in Agriculture/News
4344

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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 Agriculture/Coronavirus/News
4312

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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 Agriculture/Coronavirus/News
Cows
3839

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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 Agriculture/News
Sugar beets
3112

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 Agriculture/News
2852

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.”

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