A Good FeelingWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 21 May 2016
As I’m close to landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., I always try to locate as many national monuments as possible before landing. It is always a good feeling. In venturing to D.C., one hopes they can do their part to make a better life for themselves, their family and for whatever business they’re in. Hope and optimism were in our thoughts as we made our final decent, along with plans to see some new sights and restaurants.
A week ago I spent a full, four days in Washington, D.C. attending Public Lands Council (PLC) meetings and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) Legislative Conference. The staff of both organizations really does an outstanding job of developing an agenda filled with speakers and office visits of all the agencies that, as ranchers, we deal with or they deal with us. It is easy to sit at home and cuss these folks if we think they are wrong, but the chance to look them in the eye and visit with them is always more helpful.
We are coming to the end of our President’s term, as he has around eight months left, and for some, those eight months can’t go quickly enough. You soon realize that those in the regulatory agencies are completing their marching orders from the White House, and those in Congress, especially from the West, are frustrated as those agencies ignore their letters and messages. Some members of Congress seem tired, and the current political season and elections are, well, somewhat nasty with the name calling and pointing of fingers going on. Some say politics is not a spectator sport, and that is certainly true today.
The staffs of PLC and NCBA had a good lineup of Senators, Congressmen and agency heads to speak at the conference and had planned visits to heads and top staff of the Bureau of Land Management range management department, Forest Service grazing and sage grouse programs, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinarian Medicine. Some of us from Wyoming met with the Natural Resource Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller and top staff on Wyoming issues. While we may have not all been satisfied or agreed with some discussions, they were all respectful to us as ranchers. And a number of them had their boots on for us, as it was “Hats at the Capitol week.”
NCBA always holds a reception for members of Congress and their staffs during the week in the Rayburn Building. This year around 1,300 attended for some beef, lamb and refreshments along with some good conversations. The congressional staffers love it.
As we left Washington D.C., we all hoped we accomplished something to take home, aside from tired feet from walking and standing. The success of these conferences comes from the great planning of staffs and leadership.
My term as Wyoming Director of PLC has ended. Wyoming has had a good long relation with PLC over the years. Remember, Wyomingites Ty Moore and Jim Magagna helped start it, and Jim is still going strong with it as one of the most respected members involved. You soon appreciate all the hard work and leadership by many from our western states over the years. Some battles never seem to go away, but we still have to confront them. As some PLC members step down, there are always good ones to replace them.
Be Careful In CubaWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 14 May 2016
For a number of years, our government has tried to improve our relationship with Cuba, and agriculture issues have been one of the leading topics in discussions. I’m not sure that I understand all the political issues, but I do realize Cuba is still a communist country. There are a lot human rights issues going on down there, and the government has not liked America for many years. But, if we can help the people of Cuba improve their standard of living and establish some markets for our agriculture industries, maybe it’s a good thing. I don’t imagine one can find too many choice rib steaks down there.
I’ve read that leaders from across the U.S. agriculture and food sectors are expressing support and optimism in new opportunities for working with their Cuban counterparts, announced during our President’s recent visit to the island. Our two countries do share a common climate – if we don’t include our Wyoming weather, and agriculture-related concerns. Those measures announced during the visit in Havana will hopefully mutually benefit both the Cuban people and U.S. farmers and ranchers.
While in Cuba with the President, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will allow 22 industry-funded research and promotion programs and 18 marketing order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba. These groups, representing American beef, pork, corn, soybean products and other commodities, are responsible for creating bonds with consumers and businesses around the world in support of U.S. agriculture.
A number of food and agriculture groups are watching this agreement really closely, and most have expressed their support. We are glad for that support, as Americans and as Christians. We always do help people, and we should in this case, but the trick is how we can help the people and not the socialistic government – a government that has really oppressed its people and caused them to risk their lives trying to leave their country. I’m also sure Florida doesn’t want a large number of Cuban immigrants at this time. Cuba can’t even feed its own people now. How do we help them when they are so poor? I understand they do have good doctors and medical help, but in terms of agriculture, it is going to take a lot of education and some good loans. A strong dollar will not help that though.
They have to have some good mechanics down there. Have you seen all the old 1950s American cars that are still running around? Maybe we could trade the Cubans vintage cars, mechanics, rum and cigars for food. They could come to America like sheepherders or sheep shearers do. The Cuban people are really self-reliant. They can’t just run down and buy parts, especially for American cars.
Also how do we help them without some good trade agreements? We don’t want to show them our ag expertise and then have them undercut us by selling our products back to us. I can see this happening with sugar, in particular. Sugar cane is one of their major crops. If they modernize their production, we can’t let them hurt our sugarbeet farmers or our sugar industry. There have to be ways to help both countries. Long-term, that could be an issue.
We wish well for the Cuban people. They have been through hell for many years. They deserve a chance to live their lives for themselves, not for their government.
There’s a Trend HereWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 07 May 2016
One morning this past week while looking over the news, I read a story from the Associated Press where U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen from Missoula, Mont. ordered wildlife officials to act as quickly as possible to protect the wolverine as it becomes vulnerable to a warming planet.
As you remember, some time back in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) leadership rejected numerous views of some of its own scientists to list the wolverine. Basically, the scientists said in 2013 that future temperature increases – or climate change – could melt snowfields occupied by wolverines in some high elevation mountain ranges in the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming. Alaska and Canada have never been proposed for protection as they have large populations of wolverines. They called for increased protections to keep the species from going extinct.
The head of the FWS evidently didn’t agree with many of its scientists and ruled against protection. Now, Judge Christensen’s 85-page ruling in favor of a number of environmental organizations goes against the decision of the FWS top officials, and it also brings in the issue of climate change as one of the reasons. Most likely, because it worked in this case, they will certainly use climate change in other cases, and they have shopped for a judge who agrees with them. This case will carry potential ramifications for many other species caught in the debate over how climate change affects wildlife and plants.
The judge was especially critical of the states, which had questioned the biologists’ work showing population problems for the wolverine, noting Montana’s arguments were “particularly weak and unsavory,” saying they had accused the “Service biologists of cooking the science in favor of listing with the intent of receiving additional funding.”
Judge Christensen was also critical that FWS leaders hadn’t more thoroughly considered the questions of genetic diversity and smaller populations pointed out by the agencies’ own science. FWS said this didn’t pose any threat to the wolverine’s long-term viability, and the judge was also critical of that statement. The regional director of the FWS said that uncertain climate models that prevented accurate predictions of whether future den sites would be available to female wolverines was what part of his decision was based on in 2014.
I don’t know if the FWS had a weak case or not, but they lost big, and that will hurt the states affected. We saw the same buzzwords that have worked for extreme environmentalists in the past. Now climate change is added to the list.
So far it has worked for the wolf, grizzly bear, owl, Bighorn sheep to some degree, black-footed ferret, sage grouse and now the wolverine, and we realize once the populations are recovered, it is truly difficult to get them off the list. I’m not saying we have lost the war, but we have sure lost some battles.
People of the West are willing to protect and recover species that science says are really threatened, but wolves and grizzly bears are fully recovered. Let’s delist them and move on. Even the chief of the Forest Service has said since the spotted owl was listed, their numbers have declined, mostly due to forest management.
Judges managing our natural resources just doesn’t work.
Poor ConfidenceWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 30 April 2016
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to make the statement that grain and livestock markets are down, but you still need something to quantify the drop. I was happy to see DTN The Progressive Farmer come out with their “Ag Confidence Index,” which was just released. This index has come out three times each year since 2010 – before planting, before harvest and after harvest. A score of 100 on the Index is neutral.
As I see it, it did represent farming more than livestock interests, but for sure, livestock was involved.
Either way, the index continues to fall. Lower commodity prices, ongoing higher input costs and lower income projections have ag producers feeling more pessimistic about their industry than ever before, according to the latest Agriculture Confidence Index (ACI). Let’s face it – commodity prices are down from record prices we saw a few years ago, as are livestock prices, but it wasn’t too long ago that we had record prices for cattle producers. While I do believe grain prices didn’t tank as fast as cattle, their future may be more clouded.
If we look at almost all ag products, they have been jumping both up and down the last few years. What hurts are the extremes our prices have reached. These extremes make it hard to plan for the future and take information to the banker. Bankers call it “volatility.” We know we have to have a bad part to have a good part, and we had our good part. It just wasn’t long enough.
Back to the ACI, findings of the March 2016 survey were that 45 percent of farmers described their farm income as bad, and 40 percent said their income was good. But it was the second consecutive survey in which more producers considered their current farm income bad rather than normal. Eighty-six percent of the producers surveyed expect farm income to stay the same or get worse. I would guess the survey was taken before gas and diesel prices started rising.
Other survey stats included that 47 percent of crop and livestock producers rated input prices as bad. They must have bought tires, too. But 18 percent of producers surveyed say input prices will get better in the next year. Livestock producer confidence fell for the fifth time in the last six surveys to 95.9, with present situation at 109.5 and future expectations at 86.8.
Agribusinesses are also pessimistic about the current situation and expectations for the next year. The rating for agribusiness’ present situation fell to an all-time low of 88.3 from a near record high of 121.6 in March 2014 and 114.5 last March.
For farmers, virtually all markets are below cost of production, and some think the high dollar will be around for a couple of years, which also hurts the meat export markets. Aside from the high dollar, farmers are still paying high land rental prices, and that will have to change to please the bankers out there.
So, ag producers and agribusinesses, don’t look for good times for a couple of years. Remember this is a presidential election year, and getting someone in the White House with a positive outlook who doesn’t apologize for the U.S. every time they leave the country will sure help.
Having a positive attitude may not feed the family, but kicking the can down the road won’t either.