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Sheridan Police Say They Didn’t Threaten Closure of Restaurant But Non-Compliance Could Lead to Closure

in News/Coronavirus/Business
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sheridan police did not threaten to shut down a Sheridan restaurant because its employees were not wearing face masks, a spokesman said Thursday.

Instead, Police Chief Rich Adriaens and another officer met with Smith Alley Brewing Co. co-owner Tiffany McCormick to explain the health rules that are in place as restaurants and bars begin to reopen across the state, said Lt. Tom Ringley.

“We never threatened to close the restaurant,” he said. “But closure could be a consequence of non-compliance. As far as we know, she’s in compliance of all of the mandates.”

On Wednesday, McCormick broadcast a 24-minute livestream on Facebook, telling viewers about how Adriaens and another uniformed officer told her that if her business didn’t comply with health regulations, it would be fined and its license could be revoked.

Last week, Sheridan County was given exemption approval to open its bars and restaurants before statewide orders were to begin relaxing on May 15. The exemption was granted by the state on the condition that restaurants follow 21 health safeguards, including one requiring staff members to wear face masks. The conditions are similar to those that will be in place when all the state’s restaurants and bars reopen Friday.

Of the 21 mandates, McCormick declined to require her employees to wear face masks, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

HIPPA guarantees the privacy of health care records and information. The ADA guarantees equal employment opportunities for the disabled.

“I, myself as an employer, cannot ask my employees why they refuse to wear a face-covering. I cannot ask them to do that,” McCormick said in the video.

Ringley said Adriaens and another officer met with McCormick after the department received a complaint about Smith’s employees not wearing masks around 12:40 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re trying to seek compliance through education, warnings and citations as an absolute last resort,” Ringley said. “When we got the complaint on Wednesday, Chief Adriaens and the second officer went and met with the owners to educate them on what the standard was and how they weren’t in compliance.”

Adriaens brought a second officer to the discussion because that officer was carrying a body camera and could record the entire encounter.

Later Wednesday night, an officer on foot patrol in downtown Sheridan checked in on the brewery and saw that employees were wearing masks, complying with health orders.

Ringley explained that he empathized with McCormick’s situation as a small business owner and understood why she might have complaints. But ultimately, the Sheridan police have no desire or authority to close any bar or restaurant, he said.

Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily in an email that a brewery wouldn’t be a fully-covered entity under HIPAA like the Health Department or a hospital would be.

“Beyond that, we will decline to interpret how privacy rules would or should be applied to a particular business,” Deti wrote. “The statewide and county public health orders in effect are lawful; enforcement is primarily left to the discretion of counties.”

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Cheyenne Hospital Likely to Lose $10M for April Due to Coronavirus

in News/Health care/Coronavirus/Business
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The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center will likely see a loss of close to $10 million for the month of April, its CEO said in a statement Friday.

Hospitals across Wyoming have taken major financial hits during the coronavirus pandemic, due to the increased social distancing practices calling for fewer people to be in the building at one time and the cancellation or postponement of elective surgeries and other procedures.

CMMC CEO Tim Thornell said the hospital lost $1 million in March and is projecting an operating loss of close to $10 million for April.

“Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, like every other hospital in Wyoming, is certainly feeling the negative financial impact that COVID-19 is having,” Thornell said in a statement. “We are seeing about a 30% reduction in inpatient care and an upwards of 50% reduction in outpatient care.”

The hospital system is managing the situation, but Thornell noted that these losses aren’t sustainable in the long term. To address funding shortfalls, CRMC is using financial reserves to supplement current operations, which means major capital projects have been placed on hold to divert funds to daily operations.

There is also a hiring freeze in place at the hospital and overtime is being limited. Reduced hours have been implemented for select non-urgent service lines.

“Our volumes are down in all areas,” Thornell said. “We have a strong and dedicated staff that continues to provide the best possible care to our community during these challenging times.”

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Gordon Extends Health Closures/Orders Until April 17

in News/Coronavirus/Business
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist have extended the three statewide health orders closing some businesses and restricting gatherings through April 17 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The current orders have closed public places such as schools, bars, coffee shops and some personal service businesses such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, as well as limited gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or confined space (including outdoors). Food establishments providing curbside services, delivery or drive-thru can remain open.

“I have extended these orders in consultation with Dr. Harrist,” Gordon said in a news release. “Because we’ve seen cases identified in additional counties and growth in the case numbers, it’s clear how important it is for us to take sustained action. I understand the ongoing strain that these measures are having on businesses, workers and Wyoming communities. But it is imperative that our citizens respond to this public health crisis by staying home whenever possible and practicing proper social distancing when they must go out. This is how we can save lives and protect people’s health.”

Harris emphasized the extension is necessary because social distancing measures are critical to slowing of the spread of the virus and monitoring the impacts of those measures on the outbreak in Wyoming.


“The best tool we have to reduce the potential burden on our healthcare system and save lives is for all of us to limit our contact with other people as much as possible,” Harrist said in a news release. “Of course it is most important for people who are ill to stay home unless they need medical attention.”

The state currently has 70 confirmed cases of the virus.

Lander Gin Distiller Now Making Hand Sanitizer

in News/Coronavirus/Business
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By Paul McCown, owner of Huck Gin in Lander

A few months back, I decided to formalize something I’ve done for fun in the past: making gin.

After my lovely bride questioned my sanity (she has occasions to do this on a regular basis), I decided to start a gin distillery right here in Lander.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pulling together all of the ingredients, equipment, and licensing required.

My first product, Huck Gin, will have a leading flavor profile of juniper, accompanied by strong infusions of huckleberry, all made from locally-sourced ingredients from right here in Lander and the Rocky Mountain West.

Now, with coronavirus impacting our community, I was asked by the Wyoming Business Council in conjunction, with the state of Wyoming, if I could convert my gin stilling operation to focus on the production of germ-killing hand sanitizer?

This was certainly never part of my plan, but with such a strong need across the state, I feel a firm calling to give back to this wonderful place I call home. So while I’ll be busy at my distillery, it won’t be from creating Huck Gin just yet. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other distilleries in the state. On a recent afternoon, we all had a call together with the federal agencies that will be required to get this done.

I can’t stop thinking about how amazing this community and state are. Competitors, all putting it aside for a higher cause. This is truly a special place. 

Editor’s note: A number of Wyoming distilleries have committed to producing sanitizer to help make up for shortages, including Backwards Distillery in Casper, Koltiska Distillery in Sheridan, Chronicles Distilling in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs Distilling, Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby and Jackson Hole Still Works and Grand Teton Distillery in Jackson. The Wyoming Business Council on Tuesday was directed to provide financial assistance to any distillery manufacturing hand sanitizer.

Grocery stores announce special hours for vulnerable adults, limit daily hours

in News/Coronavirus/Food/Wyoming/Business
Apple City Festival
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbing every day, grocery stores across the country have recognized a specific need among customers. 

Certain groups, such as the elderly, people who have underlying health conditions and pregnant women, are the most susceptible to the coronavirus. With the addition of people panic buying unnecessary extra supplies, those vulnerable adults are often risking their health to shop in grocery stores with empty aisles. 

But more and more grocery stores across the country and in Wyoming have pledged to create special hours for these high-risk individuals, allowing them to come into stores for a certain amount of time and shop at a time they can avoid large groups of people. 

Walmart announced an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday until April 28. Customers 60 and older will have the opportunity to begin shopping one hour before the store opens for the general public. The pharmacy and vision center will be open at this time, as well.

Albertsons and Safeway will reserve two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 7 to 9 a.m., for vulnerable shoppers, including seniors, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems. 

Dollar General will designate the first hour at all of its stores as open daily to senior shoppers. 

Big Lots will reserve the first hour of each day for seniors and those most at-risk concerning the virus.

Many of these chains, such as Walmart and Albertsons, are also limiting their daily hours to help combat the spread of the virus.

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
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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.

Coal

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.

Gambling is booming under the radar, hurting players, state coffers

in News/Business
gambling
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Traditionally, Wyoming takes a conservative stance against the gambling industry, but technological innovations and legal gray areas are moving the state closer to its Wild West roots, a state senator said.

“We really don’t know what’s there, and it varies county to county and town to town,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “You may have a poker game in one town, and the next town over, it isn’t allowed.”

The overview of gambling in Wyoming is further muddied by “skill games,” which are becoming increasingly popular barroom additions across the state.

“We had so-called skill games or gray games come in on what they saw as a crack in the law regarding skill games,” Driskill said. “At this point, there’s probably between 500 to 1,000 of these machines out there that at some point in the past would’ve been deemed illegal.”

A member of the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, Driskill is drafting a bill that would transform the state’s Pari-Mutuel Commission, which currently oversees horse racing and historic horse race gambling ventures, into the Wyoming Gaming Commission, which would oversee gambling on a broader spectrum.

“The attempt at the commission and the new bill are not attempts to expand gaming in Wyoming, merely to define what’s already there,” Driskill said. “It would also create a model that anyone who is gaming in Wyoming would need a permit or a license, so the state knew where and what gaming is occurring.”

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said he’s lobbied for both the alcohol and gaming industries throughout the years, and Wyoming could benefit from an oversight committee.

“There’s nothing keeping bad operators from coming in and setting up shop right now,” Moser explained. “(The Liquor Association) is in a highly regulated industry, and we appreciate oversight, because we serve a product that provides some wonderful benefits when consumed in moderation, much like the gaming industry.”

Many of the skill games currently operating in the state are located in places that serve alcohol, so the operators Moser represents have questions about how to keep it all above board.

“We don’t want our retailers to get in trouble,” he said.

Determining what is legal, however, is complicated, Driskill said.

“Right now, there’s really only two entities that regulate gambling — the county attorneys and the (then-Wyoming) Attorney General,” he said. “Consequently, because of the number of lawsuits in the works by the gaming industry, (the county attorneys) aren’t willing to take it on, because these guys have enough money to take it to court. They don’t want to end up in endless litigation.”

Mired in gray areas and absent the support of county attorneys, gambling is being overlooked by local law enforcement, Driskill added.

“From the testimony we’ve had in the counties, their law enforcement in cities and counties don’t know what’s happening in their boundaries at all,” he said. “It really leaves it to the Wild, Wild West.”

Despite most gambling being illegal throughout the state, games are taking place on a regular basis. But, without oversight, the players bear all the risk.

“The machines that are out there, you don’t know what they’re set at, 1 percent (payout) or 80 percent,” Driskill said. “You really don’t have anywhere to go if someone cheated you in a poker game or to report a bad machine.”

A gaming commission could alleviate many of these problems, but it’s not a new idea.

“Gaming commissions have been proposed in some form for the last decade,” Moser explained. “We’re the only state that doesn’t license bingo or pull tabs, and the skill games are falling into the same area.”

Skill games are typically defined as games in which interaction with the player affects the result, he said.

“They consider video poker as a game of chance,” Moser said. “Games of skill are legal and games of chance are not for the most part.”

Responding to an inquiry from Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigan requesting a formal opinion regarding some machines manufactured by Banilla Games, Attorney General Peter Michael listed ten skill games his office deemed gambling. Those games include:

  • Bathtime Bucks
  • Fruity Sevens 
  • Searing Sevens 
  • Snake Eyes
  • Wheel Deal
  • Spooky’s Loot
  • Mega Money Reel 
  • Lucky Striker 
  • Major Cash
  • Pedro’s Hot Tamales

Moser explained Michael’s formal opinion determined these games were won by chance, rather than the player’s skill.

Despite the list, Driskill said numerous other machines are still in operation.

“These machines are nearly doubling every year,” he said. “The initial numbers right now indicate that the creation of the commission and authority to require licensing would raise $12 million to $15 million for the state.” 

With or without oversight, Driskill said gambling is growing in the Cowboy State.

“The biggest takeaway is whether you’re pro-gaming or against, you’re going to have major expansion in gaming if you don’t do anything with it,” he said.

Cheyenne brothers see success with slime

in News/Community/Business
Dope Slime Whiteaker bros
Mark Whiteaker (left) stretches some bead slime that he and his brother Joe Whiteaker (back), both of Cheyenne, make and manufacture through their business called Dope Slimes. (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Slime is sublime for Cheyenne brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker.

The savvy entrepreneurs run a thriving business called Dope Slimes that makes and ships homemade slime across the country and to other parts of the world.

Slime is a gooey and stretchy substance that is taking much of the globe and the Internet by storm. Slime’s history goes back 30 years, but it has become wildly popular now, especially among kids who like to make it. 

“Slime looks so amazing,” Mark said during an interview with Cowboy State Daily as he gently pushed his fingers deep into a thick layer of fresh slime.

The brothers make about 100 varieties of slime in different colors, textures and scents. They package their slime in clear plastic containers and sell it on their website and platforms like Etsy and eBay. They also post their own videos on Instagram to show how to make perfect slime.

A batch of the slime created by Dope Slime, a Cheyenne company run by brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker. The brothers sell more than 100 varieties of slime online. The basic recipe is relatively simple, they say: Elmer’s white glue, Borax and water. It is Mark’s imagination that allows the company to create slimes with different textures, scents and colors (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Slime creators use social media sites to market their work, Joe said, adding that in one month, anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million searches for “slime” are logged on Google.

Mark, 16, is the creative force behind Dope Slimes. 

Using a simple recipe — “Elmer’s (white school) glue, Borax and water,” according to Mark— the brothers and a few of their employees stir the ingredients using large stainless steel industrial mixers. Then Mark’s imagination provides the magic, as he creates a wide variety of slimes — from banana to funnel cake.

Mark’s slime is known for its distinctive aromas. A fluffy cloud slime called Lavender Dreams has the pleasing scent of the flower. 

DIY Pizza Kit combines five scents to create the smells of pizza sauce, cheese and buttery dough. Cotton candy bubblegum smells as good as it sounds.

Texture is also important for excellent slime. 

“Say I’m doing a slime inspired by an ice cream. I’d like to make the texture like ice cream,” Mark said.

Mark began making slime in the eighth grade for fun. “It’s stuff to do when you’re bored,” he said. 

He started the business when he was 14, but couldn’t keep up with the demand. 

Joe stepped in to help and is now an integral part of the business. 

Cheyenne brothers Mark and Joe Whiteaker with some of the slime created by their company, Dope Slimes. The company has sold more than 150,000 units of slime online. (Photo by Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Joe, 24, handles the business end from customer service to packaging, labeling and ordering. He also manages the company’s website, which includes photos and commentary about each slime type. Although Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wyoming in May, he plans to continue working with slime.

The brothers have sold more than 150,000 slime products (they also make dope putty) and their slime has won awards for its quality. 

Slime has given them a taste of celebrity as they have been invited to attend many slime conventions throughout the country. These expenses-paid trips soon will include one to a convention in Brazil. 

They have become well known partly because of their 500,000 followers on Instagram.

Two of the leading YouTube slime experts have noticed them, too. Karina Garcia, also called the “Queen of Slime,” and Talisa Tossell of London, England, gave high praise to their slime in online reviews.

The brothers are gearing up for a busy Christmas season.  

“We take it pretty seriously. It’s not just a side business,” Mark said.

For more information on Dope Slimes, visit the website DopeSlimes.com

Hemp industry, Ag Department await USDA response to state’s regulatory plan

in News/Agriculture/Business
CBD oil
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Hemp could be a cash crop for Wyoming growers in coming years, but seeds can’t be sown until the U.S. Department of Agriculture signs off on the state’s regulatory program.

“We have not heard much back from the USDA,” said Stacia Berry, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) deputy director. “They anticipate having their rules out this fall.”

Hemp was legalized in 2018 after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows ag producers to grow hemp as long as the plants contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In February, the Wyoming Legislature approved legislation removing hemp products from regulation by the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, giving rule-making authority to the WDA and requiring the department to submit a state plan for the regulation of hemp to the USDA.

The WDA plan was submitted to the USDA in April.

Regulating hemp

Hemp is marijuana with a THC level lower than 0.3 percent and is grown for three primary products: Cannabidoil (CBD), seeds and grains.   

“(THC) is a genetic trait that you select for,” Berry said. “One of the things that can be a little tricky is, like any crop, it can change a little under stress, like heat or water stress.”

The WDA’s analytical services lab in Laramie will be tasked with testing hemp crops before harvest to ensure the plants have not crossed the allowable THC threshold, she said.

“We will have inspectors that go to the different farms and do testing, collect samples, then return those samples to the lab,” Berry explained.

Additionally, she said her department will work closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure the regulatory guidelines are followed.

The discussion about how to appropriately regulate hemp began about five years ago.

“We have worked extensively with other states’ departments of agriculture,” Berry said. “Especially in regards to understanding their approach to regulation: What has worked for them, what hasn’t worked.” The WDA gained significant insight from the Colorado and Kentucky licensing and testing protocols.

“Those are two of your highest-producing hemp states,” Berry explained.  

Processing and education

Ag plays a major role in economic development throughout the Bighorn Basin, so Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, has spent the last year cultivating relationships with potential partners in the hemp industry. 

“There’s 25,000 to 50,000 products that can be made with hemp,” Bekes said. “Right now, most of the processors are looking at the CBD oil extraction.”

The biggest challenge for growers in the coming years is finding partners on the processing side, she said. 

“Our growers can grow anything, but if we can’t get it to market, it doesn’t do us any good,” Berry said. “I would caution any grower not to grow hemp without a contract.”

Once the USDA approves the regulatory program, processors can cement plans for building facilities to accommodate the predicted influx of hemp in 2020. Until then, Bekes said it’s important to bring as many partners as possible to the discussion table.  

“The biggest component is education,” she explained. “If people are considering hemp as an opportunity, whether it’s growing, processing or end products, I would really emphasize education, awareness and communication.”

The Wyoming Hemp Association, www.wyhemp.org, could be an information source for interested parties in the future, along with the WDA and University of Wyoming.

Jim Heitholt, director of the UW Powell Research and Extension Center Agricultural Experiment Station, confirmed his staff would conduct basic studies about the the viability of hemp crops in the Bighorn Basin once the USDA approved the WDA plan. As the new year draws near, both Bekes and the WDA said they’ve seen increased interest in hemp from around the state, but so far, it’s been a waiting game.

“Right now, we’re all preparing for it to be in the ground in 2020,” Bekes said. “In the meantime, the Wyoming Hemp Association has reviewed the WDA plan and engaged in conversations with the WDA and law enforcement. Growers and processors continue to work in the background.”

Bighorn Basin brews feature area barley

in News/Agriculture/Business
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Some brewmasters in the Bighorn Basin are using barley from nearby fields in their products — shipped by way of Wisconsin.

Some of the basin’s barley growers sell their grain to Briess, a malting company based in Wisconsin. Briess malts the barley in Wisconsin and returns the malt to Wyoming, where area brewers use it in their beer.

The barley produced in the basin is consistently high in quality, said Rick Redd, regional manager for Briess, making it very attractive for use in malting.

“We’re in a high mountain desert, which has very little (precipitation), which means the barley doesn’t get a lot of rain on the plants during the growing season,” he said. “The growers control the water they put on it through irrigation.”

Fred Hopkins, who grows a number of crops including barley at his basin farm, agreed the quality of the basin’s barley is good.

“It’s fairly consistent,” he said. “It’s very rare that we have quality issues with our barley. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the irrigation, our soils or maybe a combination of all three.”

Briess uses barley from across the country to create the malt used by 85 percent of the nation’s craft brewers, Redd said.

Malt is made by wetting barley to begin the germination process, which converts the grain’s starches into sugar. The germination process is halted by drying before the malt is shipped back to brewers.

Bart Fetzer, of the WyOld West Brewery in Powell, said he likes to use Briess’ product both because of quality and because it comes from local farmers.

“It’s also about giving back to the local community, keeping the money here instead of sending it all out somewhere else,” he said. “We support the local farmers. We brew here with Briess grains and then when it’s all done, the spent grain goes into tubs and we give it to local cow farmers. So it’s kind of a circle of life kind of thing.”

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