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Spring is here, we hope, and we are all wondering what lamb, calf, yearling steer and heifer prices are going to be this summer and fall. Then, the hard part for some of us is guessing what part of the summer and fall would be the best time to sell. What is the best method to use to make that decision? Do we read up all we can on the issue, do what we have always done, flip a coin or shake the dice? Remember, making the decision isn’t hard. It’s living with the decision that’s hard.

Looking over a crop and livestock forecast by the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri – and reported by CattleFax – gave some interesting facts.

The report projected declines in corn and wheat acres this spring, but it still sees higher corn and wheat planted acres than what was forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). FAPRI also projected slightly stronger prices for both corn and wheat than what USDA has also projected. As far as net farm income for 2017, the report said that the small jump in grain prices is going to be offset by lower livestock prices projected. That’s not good news.

Livestock prices have held up for the first quarter of the year. In cattle news, bull sales have been strong for the most part, if that is any indication, but there have been a number of forecasts for lower prices, even though beef exports have been strong. 

I always like to watch on Wednesdays and see what the local grocery stores are advertising, as far as what meat is on sale. If it’s beef, I’m always curious what cuts they are pushing. After all, that is the demand or what they have a lot of and need to sell that week.

Each week, USDA releases the featuring activity for the grocery stores. The latest report through CattleFax said that beef featuring in February averaged 5.5 ads per store. This was up from February 2016, with 5.2 ads per store. It was also the largest number of ads in February since 2012 for featuring beef. But the primal weighted beef-featuring was $5.58, down 53 cents from the same time a year ago.

Pork featuring was at 3.3 ads per store, and that was two percent below a year ago. Then, the bad news for beef producers, chicken featuring was at 1.9 ads per store, two percent above a year ago.

Some good news was that in February, 52 percent of total meat featuring was beef ads, compared to 51 percent in 2016. The trend of featuring beef over pork and chicken was strong in 2016, and this has continued into this year.

The report said that the ratio between the composite cutout and the USDA all-fresh retail beef price can give an indication of the margin that retailers have. A smaller ratio indicates a stronger retail margins. The report also said that retailers are finding value in using these meat products to entice customers into their stores, resulting in increased competition among grocery stores or retail outlets.

CattleFax said featuring beef at a higher rate compared to other proteins is a positive for the beef market, but everyday retail prices will need to decrease to motivate retail demand that sustains longer than the shorter-term price.

That price decrease, plus a strong beef check-off, will help get beef prices where we want them.

We have to be careful these days, thinking we may have it made and it’s time to relax and take it easy. That may be the worst thing we could do.

Since an Appeals Court has ruled in favor of Wyoming in the lawsuit concerning the management of the grey wolf and since we have an administration in Washington, D.C. that we hope will be more in tune with agriculture’s way of thinking, we may think that it’s time to snooze. Wrong.

I feel that now is the time to make up lost ground, and we have plenty to make up for. The past few years haven’t been kind to agriculture or public lands ranching, but we need to hang together to get some changes made. It is no doubt that working together and not slinging arrows at each other in the ag or the public lands arena is in our best interest. Our goals and needs for farming, ranching and taking care of our families and businesses are all about the same. It’s how we get there that causes the trouble. It’s kind of like when there’s only one toy dump truck in the sandbox in elementary school. We always lose when we all start drawing lines in the dirt. It’s alright to say what you stand for. Just don’t cuss the other person in agriculture, saying they are wrong. Enough said.

On the wolf issue, just because the Appeals Court ruled for Wyoming, doesn’t mean Wyoming can start managing the wolf today. The Plaintiffs will have 45 days to file a petition to the court describing where they disagree with the ruling, and then the court has seven days to respond to the petition. The bad part is that while new wolf packs are forming and wolves are starting to den in new country, the Plaintiffs could file on the 45th day, and then we wait seven more days for a ruling after that. It’s only after that point that agencies can transfer management. So, we may be looking at a good two months before Wyoming gains control of wolves again. Or Plaintiffs could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to override the Appeals Court. That would take years.

Despite all the good news on the wolf issue in Wyoming, we also need to work on the wolf bill making its way through Congress. The U.S. House is okay with it, but, as we said last week in this column, the U.S. Senate may not be. There are just too many Senators without any skin in the game. First, those who want more wolves have been getting to eastern Senators with fake news to get those Senators to vote against delisting bills. Our Congressional delegation needs all the true stories and documentation on wolf impacts that we have. We have those stories, and we need to tell them.

We also need to tell our story on public lands ranching. Even though the current administration is pro-business, the other side is still beating on their doors with their same message, and we need to educate. We have a good story to tell, and to stay in business, we all have to tell it.

We need to work together with our conversations. A good conversation means being able to disagree and still continue the discussion without being disagreeable.

With “fake news” and misinformation all the rage these days, it is hard to get the real news out in front of the public. One rumor or wrong statement on social media will kill you. 

Earlier this week, President Trump said in an interview on his immigration policy, “My messaging isn’t good.”

He awarded himself a grade of a “C” or “C-plus” on communicating. I agree that is a fair grade for him, but he also clarified that he would give himself an “A” for achievement and an “A-plus” for effort. I would also agree with that.

The facts is, in this day and age, we have to tell our story or manage it so the correct facts get out to the public.

What I’m getting at here, is last week, I was privileged to be on a Wyoming Stock Growers Association roundtable conference call with Congressman Liz Cheney. She first explained what she had been doing in her first 100 days representing Wyoming, and then it was opened up for questions or comments from the participants.

My question to Congressman Cheney was, “How fast is the bill to delist the wolf moving through Congress? The wolf is moving into new areas of Wyoming and killing livestock, and ranchers can’t do anything about it, nor can Wildlife Services, until there have been at least two documented kills.” 

Congressman Cheney’s response was that it should move through the U.S. House fairly rapidly, but they may have trouble in the U.S. Senate where a number of Senators can vote against delisting the wolf because the wolf is not an issue in their state. And the wolf advocates have labeled the bill, the “Puppy Killing Bill.” These Senators are getting calls not to vote for the bill, based on that moniker.

Congressman Cheney asked anyone having issues with the wolf to e-mail her office, either in Wyoming or in Washington, D.C., documenting what is going on with the wolf and your livestock. People with wolf problems should send the number of kills and the area of the state, including all the relevant informationabout the incident so she can use it in visiting with Senators from states without wolves to explaining our issues. Also, her staff wants information on how the Endangered Species Act is not working in regard to the wolf and the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do their jobs under the Act.

After the conference call, it was evident that Congressman Cheney has hit the ground running and, with her important committee appointments, is really working and fighting for Wyoming. She needs your help now.   

Our Wyoming State Legislature started this week, with Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State address on Jan. 11. The House and Senate convened at noon that day and will meet until March 3. Although last year was the budget session, dollars will be the main topic this year, too.

One of the main topics will be how to fund our K-12 schools. One hears that Gov. Mead and the legislators really don’t have a plan as of yet, but that issue will be for the legislative process to work out. You can bet that there are some good ideas going around the Capitol, and if not, they don’t let on to us.

The K-12 schools will face a $400 million shortfall in the years ahead. So how do we deal with that amount every year? Along with that, school construction dollars are about gone, I hear. How do we maintain all the newer schools that have been built the last few years?

Who would have ever thought that a time would come where the President of the U.S. would stop leasing coal on federal mineral rights and tax the electrical generating plants for burning coal? Instead of burrowing their head in the sand, the federal government needs to help states more find ways to burn the coal with less carbon. If we went to the moon, we ought to be able to find ways to develop clean coal and not destroy the states and towns who have the coal to mine.

Raising property taxes is not a popular idea, nor is having a state income tax. In fact, raising any taxes will not get you a free cup of coffee. I have always supported raising the sales taxes, if needed. It is a fair way to make sure we all pay and that one industry or age class doesn’t get nailed. And it is a fair way that taxes everyone who comes and enjoys what we have to offer as a state, such as good roads, scenery and good people.

Besides school funding, the legislators have to find a way to come up with $80 million to repair the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Remember, they built it on unstable ground 15 years ago, kind of like some schools around the state. That is a huge problem that will take some discussion.

The state has some rainy day accounts with not much policy on when and how to spend those funds. That, too, needs to be debated. There are those who just blame the Republicans for not want wanting to spend those accounts. Remember, under our state constitution, we have to balance the state budget every two years. Spending money like our federal government will just get us in trouble, affecting Republicans, Democrats and all.

One thing we all can do as citizens is to get to know our legislators. Whether you are in agriculture or not, we all belong to some organization or group, and most of them have receptions for the legislators and our elected officials. It is our responsibility to get to Cheyenne, pony up, attend those receptions and get to know the legislators and state officials. And don’t just tell your representatives and senators how you disagree with them. Give them a “‘Atta boy” or pat on the back, and do the same for your lobbyists. They all do a very hard service to the state.