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Enzi, Barrasso Call For Investigation Into Meat Packers

in Agriculture/News
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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

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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.”

Farm Bureau Provides Tips for Tackling Springtime Ag Challenges

in Agriculture/News
2819

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 Agriculture/Food/News
2736

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:
•Water

•Soy-protein concentrate
•Coconut oil

•Sunflower oil

•Natural flavors.

Impossible “meat” also contains 2% or less of:
•Potato protein
•Methylcellulose
•Yeast extract

•Cultured dextrose
•Food starch, modified

•Soy leghemoglobin (Heme)
•Salt
•Soy-protein isolate
•Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
•Zinc gluconate
•Thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
•Sodium ascorbate (vitamin C)
•Niacin
•Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6)
•Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

•Vitamin B12.

According to ImpossibleFoods.com, 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 ImpossibleFoods.com 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 Agriculture/News
2712

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.”

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