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    Food seems to be one of the big issues across America these days, and I’ve written about it lately in a couple of columns as I realized that’s what we as farmers and ranchers are all about. Most of us in America must be doing pretty good economically, or we wouldn’t be so shook up over antibiotics, GMOs, hormones and all of the false scares we can think up to accuse them of poisoning our food. I think America is spoiled as they don’t realize what an abundance of food we have, the low cost we pay for it and the quality of our food.

Watching the news this past week as our President visited Cuba and seeing the conditions the Cuban people are living in, it would be a thrill to take some into one of our supermarkets for them to see all of the food available. Do you think GMOs would be on their mind?

Everyone wants safe, nutritious and flavorful food, and we have it in abundance in America at a reasonable cost. The American Farm Bureau Federation has just come out with their Spring Picnic Market Basket Survey where they showed the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals. This would be a banquet in Cuba. The cost for the 16 items was $53.28, down about 59 cents or about one percent compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, 10 decreased and six increased in average price from last year.

They said egg prices soared in the latter half of last year but are working their way back down as increasing production has started to catch up with demand. Avian influenza was the cause of that price increase.

They had two beef items, ground chuck and sirloin tip roast, and as you can guess, they were down. One reason was that beef prices were record high early in 2015, and now, with a combination of increasing beef production, weaker exports due to a stronger dollar and lower competing meat prices, we’ve seen some modest price declines.

Dairy product prices were also lower. Most cheeses are at their lowest prices since 2012. Whole milk, although prices rose almost three percent in the third quarter of last year, was the lowest in the survey since 2010. The whole milk price remains well below the 2015 first quarter price.

Apples are up 12 percent from last year, but they are still below 2011-12 prices. Last year, apples faced a really tough export environment with all the labor disruptions at the West Coast ports and the strong dollar.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture statistics, Americans spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world, and you can thank our American ranchers and farmers for that.

Through the mid-1970s, farms and ranchers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16 percent. Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across the board, the rancher’s and farmer’s share of this $53.28 market basket would be $8.52 today. Yet, they are still providing the best and safest food in the world.

For the last year or so, we’ve heard a lot about the dangers of using antibiotics in animals and the potential for resistance to antibiotics in human medicine. Instead of just shouting from the mountaintops about resistance in humans, we need to really think about the issue.

First off, I think we take antibiotics for granted these days. At some point in the past, they were overused, not only in animals but more so in humans. Antibiotics were the quick fix for almost everything, even though they didn’t cure everything. While antibiotics have their limits, they were a great discovery for treatment of bacteria in humans and later in livestock. We first need to realize what a great medicine they have turned out to be. Antibiotics have saved many, many lives over the years, and we’re proud of that fact. Then, we found out antibiotics were useful for treating livestock and animals, first as a cure and later as a feed additive to control sickness or potential threats, such as respiratory illness or foot rot, for example. And, like our doctors did, many of us thought an antibiotic could cure everything. If a little was good, a lot was better. We would even add a shot of a combiotic to make us feel even better. We knew it would work fast and save us from retreating the animal later. We’ve even seen or heard how a small glass of LA-200 with water cured the feedlot pen rider’s flu bug. All of this use, whether it was human or animal, finally caught up with us, but you know, we all thought we were doing the right thing. Then we started hearing about the resistance issue.

We need to take a deep breath and be sure we don’t do something wrong here. Remember all meats, except those which we slaughter for our own consumption at home, are inspected and tested. They all have a withdrawal period before they are slaughtered after antibiotics have been used. Using antibiotics to treat bacterial infection in both humans and animals is both the right thing and the proper ethical treatment, but not using antibiotics in the proper way or for the wrong reasons is totally wrong for both the treatment and prevention of diseases.

It is important to begin with a common understanding of the term antibiotic resistance. We have all heard the term antibiotic residue and wondered whether it is related to antibiotic resistance. The two are not related. Antibiotic resistance refers to bacteria that evolve to the point they are not easily killed by antibiotics. Antibiotic residue refers to molecules that remain in meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. Properly used antibiotics should not be a problem with animals. In fact, some animal rights people say animals would suffer greatly if all antibiotics were banned.

Studies conclude there is a one in 1 billion chance of treatment failure from antibiotic resistance related to the use of common animal antibiotics. You are thousands of times more likely to die from a dog bite than from treatment failure related to the use of antibiotics in animals.

Now, you have to realize that these words are coming from a bunkhouse vet and outhouse doctor whose only recognized medicine is horse liniment, aspirin and glass of whiskey. Most likely, they’ve all been a part of this problem.

The Wyoming Legislature came to a halt on this past March 5, and they had accomplished quite a bit in the few days they were in session. As we all know, it was a budget session. With Wyoming’s revenue falling drastically, our legislators had their work cut out for them, and work they did.

If you haven’t been to Cheyenne to see the legislature while in session, you need to – and take all the youth in the family with you. It will be an education in civics, and you all will witness our state government in action and how one voice can make a difference. That one voice, with assistance from others who have Wyoming’s future as a priority, is what makes Wyoming special. That one voice may change many times during the day or gain other diverse voices as one message, but what is best for Wyoming is always the goal. The hard part is the journey getting to the goal, and the choice of which road to take to learn the will of the majority. At the end of the day, the Governor is asked to sign off on the decisions they make. The legislative process is a lesson on communicating, which is really what it is all about. One has to communicate to the Senate or House leadership to get their bills sent to committee, and then to committee chairs to get the bill out of committee with approval. Last, it’s a lesson in how to talk to the Senate or House as a whole to get the bill passed.

One has to communicate much more if their bill is going to cost the state some dollars, and then they get to meet the hardest workers in the legislature, the Appropriations Committee. The legislators who are part of the Joint Appropriations Committee are the work horses of the legislature, as they have been meeting regularly for close to a month before the session starts reviewing the Governor’s budget, spending for education, community colleges and the university, health care and state government.

The biggest battles seem to come from spending money, private rights and social issues. Those ox is getting gored most always bring raised voices. We are lucky, here in Wyoming. We don’t see the “spin” on issues like in Washington, D.C., but from time to time, we do see some of it. The criminal and civil trespass to collect data bills were results of spin on the original bills. Remember, some said it was illegal to take a picture of Old Faithful Geyser under the legislation and such as that. But the two bills passed thanks to some great lobbying by some.

This whole trespass issue needs to be brought up soon as the state’s trespass law is really out of date. Right now, they say that it is only trespassing if someone is on lands that were posted or if the landowner told them to leave the private lands and they didn’t. With GPS technology today, trespass laws should follow the hunter trespass, and it should be up to the person to know where they are. You know, trespass is trespass. You can’t be kind of trespassing, and any trespassing is against the law. The law needs to have enough teeth so that a judge can or will fine someone who is caught trespassing. But that is a bill for future sessions.

The next time you see any of your legislators, tell them thanks for their hard work. They deserve it.

There are a couple of things we all know about land. They are not making any more of it, and once it is out of agriculture production, it usually stays out and is lost forever. That happens right here in Wyoming, though not as fast as other states, but we’ve had lots of small acreage growth around the energy booming towns and fast growing areas like north and east of Cheyenne. It is the American dream to own land, but many don’t understand the responsibilities of owning land whether it’s 40 acres or hundreds of thousands of acres. It is really not about the size of your “backyard,” it is the management of it.

Whatever the reason, farm and ranch lands are disappearing, and it is happening at an alarming rate. Reading through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Farms and Lands 2015 Summary that just came out at the end of February, it is alarming just how fast we are losing farms and lands in agriculture.

The summary just mentions farm lands, but their definition of a farm is “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.” Ranches, institutional farms, experimental and research farms and Indian Reservations are included as farms.

Land in farms consists of agricultural land used for crops, pasture or grazing. Also included is woodland and wasteland not actually under cultivation or used for pasture or grazing, provided it was part of the farm operator’s total operation. Land in farms also includes land owned and operated, as well as land rented from others, and land used rent-free is included as land rented from others. All grazing land, except land used under government permits on a per-head basis, is included as land in farms provided it was part of a farm or ranch. How they define land in a reservation really gets tricky.

The definition of a farm confused me being from Wyoming, but it most likely makes sense to someone sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C. The summery did say the definition of a farm was first established in 1850 and has changed nine times since. The current definition was first used for the 1974 Census.

Nationally, the number of farms in the United States for 2015 is estimated at 2.07 million, down 18,000 farms from 2014. The total land in farms, at 912 million acres, decreased around 1 million acres from 2014, and the average farm size for 2015 was 441 acres, up three acres from the previous year. For Wyoming, the number of farms between 2014 and 2015 dropped by nearly 100 farms and the average farm size rose around 25 acres. I would think it would be more acres.

Nationally, farms with the largest revenue grew, and smaller farms with smaller revenue grew less, which is normal. One wonders, with lower revenue for ag products, will the size stay the same or get bigger as is the national trend?

Either way, there are a lot of opportunities for youth in agriculture these days. Nationally, jobs in agriculture are up and jobs in agriculture have broadened. That’s the good news.