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Wyoming Agriculture

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

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

Losing a calf means losing revenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moisture was worth the extra work, Hawk said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo By Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

Neither does Cowboy State Daily Meteorologist Don Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Acacia Acord
18622

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Acacia Acord

Everyone Impacted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relief programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weathering Tough Times

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

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

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

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

Shawn agreed.

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

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

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

Relatively Healthy in Wyo

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

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

Animal husbandry? With bees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beekeepers Are Livestock Owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bees Are Union Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18527

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite its laborious nature, he loves the work.

Dying Breed Of Sheep Shearers

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

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

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

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

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

“No George Jetson Machine”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Generation of Shearers

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

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

‘It’s really tiring,” Tucker said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap Way to Travel the World and Meet Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18396

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor wasn’t the only one who stopped. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Tessa Baker

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

And he turned 12 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NILE Merit Heifer

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

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

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

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

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

Thompson’s commitment to agriculture is unwavering.

“This is my lifestyle,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First field, first tractor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Thompson gets older, his responsibilities also grow.

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

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

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

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

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Sugar Beets: Counting On A Fall Finish

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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roller coaster weather

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

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

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

Weather watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reduced district acreage

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

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

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

Factory pace picks up

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

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

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

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

Sugar content in 2021 crop is looking good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reprinted with permission from The Powell Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Every year is different,” George said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Farm Bureau Provides Tips for Tackling Springtime Ag Challenges

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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.”

Wyoming Ag Year in Review: Crops Hit Hard in 2019, but There Was a Silver Lining

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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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