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Under our current administration, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is the longest serving agriculture secretary since Orville Freeman, who also served eight years as secretary in the 1960s. He was also our President’s longest serving cabinet member.

Before being appointed Secretary of Agriculture, he was the Governor of Iowa. Just that by itself gave him the knowledge of rural ag issues to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary. 

A while back, Secretary Vilsack gave an interview with DTN, in which he spoke on his accomplishments during his eight-year tenure. During the eight years, he was there for the implementation of two very popular Farm Bills, so politics played a big role in his duties.

He wasn’t that poplar when he was first appointed, but Vilsack worked hard, and later had the respect of some in the ag sector. As Secretary of Agriculture, one still has a bullseye on their back, and that bullseye is Farm Bill, the whole $1 trillion worth. A little over 80 percent of the Farm Bill funds goes to food stamps. That means one child in twenty lives in a house where someone receives food stamps. That’s horrific. How can anyone in Washington, D.C. say America is doing well with that many people on food stamps? In some cities, food stamps are a cottage industry where people are proud of receiving food stamps. What started as a good program is lately an out to not get a job for some.  Some do deserve food stamps, and as a nation we need to have a program to help those, but it has gotten out of control.

Secretary Vilsack was in office when the Country of Origin Labeling was stopped by Congress, but that was brought on by Canada and the World Trade Organization. He tried to change the beef checkoff and that also was stopped by Congress.

The interesting part of the interview was when Vilsack talked about the Democrats and rural voters. Despite the Democrats helping to create a Rural Council to help champion federal efforts in rural America, election hopes for Hillary Clinton were partly undone by rural voters. Secretary Vilsack tried throughout the last year to encourage the Democratic Party to do a better job of talking to rural America. 

“Democrats need to talk to rural voters. That’s the first thing that has to happen. They can’t write them off,” Vilsack told his former advisor David Axelrod during the Democratic National Convention in July. 

The Secretary warned there was a price to pay for not talking to rural Americans. 

He said, “They can’t ignore them. They actually have to spend a little time talking to them. They have to basically start the conversation with thanks, thank you for what you do for us.”

He went on and said that “the food we eat, the water we drink, the energy we use and a significant percentage of the military we rely on comes from rural America.”

Well, the Democrats didn’t do that, and the rest is history. Rural America is proud to work over accepting a handout they were not entitled to, and so when they voted, they voted with pride. 

 

As ranchers and farmers, we all realize the importance of ag land values. It’s basically what our businesses are all about. Ask any county commissioner about land values, and their eyes will get bigger than sewer lids. Counties depend on land values, as do ag bankers.

Here in Wyoming, it seems that our land values have stabilized, but our taxes keep going up. I guess we’re all paying for buildings on community colleges or other bond issues, but it does seem that our taxes are going up faster than ag land values.

Nationally, the ag land real estate value, a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms and ranches, averaged $3,010 per acre for 2016, down $10 per acre, or 0.3 percent, from 2015 values. Regional changes in the average value of farm and ranch real estate ranged from a 3.3 percent increase in the Pacific Region to 4.3 percent decrease in the Northern Plains Region. The highest farm real estate values were in the Corn Belt Region at $6,290 per acre, and the Mountain Region – that’s us – had the lowest ag lands value at $1,110 per acre. That includes both farm and ranch lands combined.

When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does these surveys, they breakout the types of lands into either cropland – irrigated or non-irrigated, and grazing lands. So, when we see them combined, the dollar amount really doesn’t make much sense to us. I guess it does to a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., but I’ll tell you, our bankers wouldn’t understand.

But it is interesting to look over the average ag land’s real estate values across the nation compared to our states in the Mountain Region. It is not a surprise to anyone that California is high at $7,900 per acre, with Iowa close behind at $7,850, but Rhode Island is the nation’s highest at $13,800, followed by New Jersey at $12,800 and Connecticut at $11,200 per acre. You can see in those small states with a large population, there isn’t much room for ag land. But in Wyoming, with its abundance of ag lands, the value comes out at $660 per acre, and that is why a large number of farm and ranch buyers are from out of state. New Mexico is lower than Wyoming at $520 per acre.

The average cropland value in Wyoming is $1,370, Montana is $1,010, Colorado is $1,910 and New Mexico is $1,450 versus California at $10,910, Iowa at $8,000 and New Jersey at $13,000 per acre. In Wyoming, irrigated cropland averaged $2,200, which is about the same for the last five years. Non-irrigated cropland value in Wyoming averaged $770, down a little bit from 2014.

For the average of pasture land, Wyoming was $510 an acre in 2016, where Idaho, the highest in the Rocky Mountain Region, was $13,000. I don’t understand that. We both have about the same percentage of public lands. I guess they have more creeks and trees.

The value of ag lands and buildings, which is derived by multiplying average value per acre of ag real estate by the land in farms and ranches, in Wyoming was $20,064 in 2016, compared to Montana with $53,133. So, you can see Montana has more celebrities and movie stars with big houses on ranches than Wyoming does. We’ll let them keep that honor.

Well, this is probably more than you wanted to know, but it is interesting.

 

 

      “The election is over, and now we deal with change. That’s good for one political party and not so good for the other.”

That is the first reaction after any election, but we need to get past that kind of reaction and move on.  Those who have walked the streets in protest of the national election have given America a black eye.

Whether those who protested or those who claimed to be moving to Canada after the national election thought it would make any difference, they were proven wrong. America, for the most part, has always had an orderly transfer of power following elections.  Some may think the country may never make it through four or eight years of the newly elected president, but somehow we do, and before you know it, there is another election right around the corner for us all to yell at one another. 

I think most of the elections cycles, both national and state, are just too long. It seems that the only ones in America with job security are those who manage elections. I’m all for getting to know the candidates, and their views, values and opinions, but two years running for election of president is just too long. 

Our state lawmakers have some hard decisions to make as they did during the last legislature. This year may be harder. The issues haven’t changed that much as we’re still in the hole money-wise, but we have so many new legislatures.  There are 20 new House members and six new Senators.  Not only do they have to learn the rules of lawmaking, but catching up on all the issues to be able to vote right is the hard part. We are all behind them and will offer any assistance they ask for and we thank them all for seeking office, as we all know their lives have to change as they will be busy during session and in between sessions. Being a state legislator is a large commitment for both the individuals and their families. Someone has to take their place while they are in Cheyenne or on the road at committee meetings, and the same goes for all who are involved in lawmaking.

To help all of us as producers make decisions in the future, the place to be this next week is in Casper at the 2016 Winter Roundup Convention and Trade show at the Parkway Plaza, Dec. 5-7. There will be speakers to help us make it through the depressed and how to manage the ranch better.  There will be a mix of politicians and federal lands issues to catch up on.  We get to recognize the new group of Future Cattle Producers and the Young Producers Assembly events and meetings. If you are young of age or young at heart, you need to attend.

The new winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award finalists will be introduced, as will the ranchers who are honored by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and Wyoming Board of Agriculture Access Recognition program. We’ll hear the Governor speak on lots of issues, and best of all, we’ll get to visit with old friends and make new ones.  There are also side meetings with the Wyoming Cattlewomen, Wyoming Ag in the Classroom, Wyoming Wool Growers, Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and those involved with public lands.

Lots of people, lots of learning and lots of fun are in store. See you there.

We have all heard in the past number of years how America needed to go “green.” That is, we need to convert to solar, wind and other renewable types of energy to power America. In fact, those who were against coal and in favor of “green energy” even passed laws against the energy source, which really hurt Wyoming.

I, like a number of others, have no problem with renewable energy. In fact, I had a number of acres leased for wind power before the sage grouse became so popular. Now, on the map, those acres are colored green and labeled sage grouse core areas.

In some areas of the state, there are numerous wind farms. There is also a company advertising in Wyoming, hoping to lease deeded land for solar panels. The two things Wyoming is known for are sunshine and wind, but we also like our coal, uranium, natural gas and oil, along with water, for generating electricity. We just don’t like one energy source forced on us over another. And that’s happened to Wyoming in past years.

You know, since the turn of the century, a number of countries, especially in Europe, have switched to “green energy,” and now, according to a column written by Stephen Moore from the Heritage Foundation, those countries are having a green meltdown. Renewable energy just costs these homeowners and countries too much.

In Sweden, they just announced that wind power is so expensive and inefficient the country is phasing out subsidies they have given the wind industry.

In Britain, to comply with renewable energy requirements, power stations are burning hundreds of millions of pounds of wood pellets, most of them imported from America. That could happen in a number of states, especially California, if they keep raising the renewable energy requirements.

In Germany, electricity prices are now three times higher than what America pays for electricity. They have been the world leader in green energy.

Australia’s electricity prices went through the roof this past winter. According to an analysis by the Institute for Energy Research, power costs rose dramatically, from $100 per megawatt hour to $10,000 per megawatt hour. The analysis said this was because of heavy dependence on an unreliable renewable energy source. Stephen Moore wrote that the government had to reopen a shuttered natural gas plant to keep prices from further exploding. This increase caused many energy-intensive businesses to relocate to Asian countries that provide a stable regulation and cost climate with cheaper wages and less red tape.

Moore said that, very quietly, Europe and other nations aren’t going so green any more. The European Union spent an estimated $750 billion on green energy handouts over the past decade, and all it bought them was a doubling of power costs. The good part is that it has given American steel, auto manufacturers, light manufacturers, agriculture businesses and technology firms a big competitive edge in the world markets.

President Trump has said he doesn’t want to go the route that Europe did – good thinking. Wyoming and other states can’t save the world and lose the farm. We do need renewable energy just as we need natural gas, oil, clean coal and other sources. It is time to keep a level head here.