Opinion by Ken HamiltonWritten by Ken Hamilton
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President
Anyone who belongs to an organization knows that the time commitment to actively participate and build the organization and agriculture is significant. As always the folks who attend these meetings take the time to renew old acquaintances and update themselves on agricultural problems around the state. The first question that is usually asked deals with the weather and, this year, the drought.
Everyone in agriculture recognizes the importance that weather plays in our lives and perhaps secretly hopes that the weather was worse where they live than where the other ag producer lived, if for no other reason than to feel good that they had it rougher than anyone else but were still standing. Of course in Wyoming, everyone, at one time or another, has had worse weather than his neighbor. That’s just the nature of our climate. Last year’s flood will transform itself into this year’s drought.
The issues that concern folks can be just as variable. This year there were policies dealing with drought related impacts of wildlife on irrigated lands, the beef checkoff and of course the perennial over-reach of regulators into producers lives.
The national financial problems lead to a discussion and adoption of a policy asking Wyoming legislators to adopt a gold and silver alternative to the U.S. dollar in case of a default. The new school lunch requirements resulted in renewed calls for local control of our schools.
The Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation held a symposium on private property rights with comments from Alan Romero, with the UW School of Law, Olen Snider with Summit Title and Stacia Berry from Hageman and Brighton. One of the topics that was discussed was the property owners “right to exclude” as an important part of the bundle of sticks in the property rights bundle. This information supported a resolution asking for strengthened trespass laws for landowners.
Another almost perennial topic of discussion was strengthening Wyoming landowner protection from eminent domain, as well as some protection for adjacent landowners on damages from entities that have easements but no agreement with non-easement landowners.
Anyone who has made a recent trip to the Wyoming Department of Transportation will appreciate the Wyoming Farm Bureau members call to repeal the federal Real I.D. Law that requires multiple documents in order to obtain or renew a drivers license. Concern about possible bison relocation efforts in Wyoming lead to the Wyoming Farm Bureau members adopting a policy that bison be considered a “fence in” species and not be designated a wild free roaming species.
Farm Bureau members, in carrying forward their concern over too much regulation, adopted a policy that would support the ability for consumers to purchase food products under less regulations. There were also expressions of concern over the recommendations that came out of the United Nations Agenda 21 project. Like most members the concern over more regulations, even if on a local level, drew a lot of criticism from ag folks.
As always perhaps the most important business that gets done at these meetings is the conversations among fellow producers. In the age of social networks and email, people still like to have an opportunity to just sit and visit.
Opinion by Dean FinkenbinderWritten by Dean Finkenbinder
Local processing of poultry in Wyoming has become more popular in the recent past and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has procedures to accomplish this without having daily inspection by federal or state inspectors. While small local poultry processors are exempt from daily inspection, it’s important to point out that they are not exempt from other specific requirements that allow them to sell the slaughtered birds.
Here are some of the basic requirements to sell local processed poultry to restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, end consumers or at farmers’ markets under the 1,000 bird limit.
Restaurants, grocery stores and institutions are required to obtain food from approved sources. In order to be an approved source the local poultry producer must slaughter and process their poultry in a licensed and inspected facility but will not receive daily inspection.
The poultry producer/grower must have raised the birds from not more than one week of age, and they have to slaughter and process their own birds.
The slaughter and processing procedures must be conducted under sanitary standards, practices and procedures that produce products that are sound, clean, fit for human food and not adulterated.
The slaughter and processing facility, whether a mobile unit or a permanent building, must be completely enclosed and constructed of smooth, durable and easily cleanable surfaces. A list of construction requirements can be found in the Wyoming Food Safety Rule, which can be obtained by contacting the phone number or e-mail above.
Records must be maintained to include slaughter records, sales of poultry products to customers and age verification of the birds to show they are purchased/raised at less than one week of age.
The poultry products may only be sold within Wyoming and not across state lines.
While these establishments won’t be inspected on a daily basis, it’s important to know and follow these basic requirements to sell locally processed poultry. Food safety is a top priority of the WDA. If you have any questions about food safety or the requirements for processing poultry, please contact us at 307-777-7321.
Opinion by Cory ToyeWritten by Cory Toye
By Cory Toye, Director of Wyoming Water Project, Trout Unlimited
My dad was working on the Webster Ranch outside of Meeteetse when I was born. I grew up hearing stories about how he and the late, great Dan Webster would sometimes take a break from ranch chores to fish on the Greybull River or the Upper Sunshine Reservoir. As I got older, I idolized Uncle Dan and his buddies for the lifestyle they lead and the landscape they created and sustained. I also began to appreciate that meaningful and effective conservation work requires an active and healthy partnership with private landowners.
Across Wyoming, trout fisheries benefit from private land operations. Trout Unlimited (TU) has successfully worked with landowners on restoration projects that show the needs of agriculture and trout are not incompatible – and have more in common than typically perceived. TU has completed dozens of projects in Wyoming with our partners to replace or upgrade diversion structures, install fish screens to prevent fish loss in irrigation ditches, and construct irrigation systems to improve efficiency and streamflows. These projects improve conditions for ranch operations as well as the fishery.
However, in certain drainages streams suffer from dewatering or low flows. Trout struggle to survive in unnaturally low water conditions, characterized by blocked fish passage, warmer temperatures and excessive nutrients.
Since the territorial days, Wyoming’s laws provide a predictable framework to determine how much water landowners can use and how the system is regulated during times of shortage. At the same time, Wyoming’s water law adapts to changing conditions and opportunities.
In the 1950s, the Wyoming legislature enacted laws that allow water users to temporarily, or for two years, change the use of a water right if another “beneficial use” was identified – typically, construction, municipal, oil and gas development or another type of consumptive need. The temporary change mechanism allows landowners to maximize the value of a water right by responding to new demands or uses while keeping the specific water right tied to the land to which it was originally adjudicated.
But early Wyoming water laws did not contemplate streamflows for fish as a beneficial use for water. It was not until 1986, when the existing instream flow statute was passed, that water left in stream for fishery purposes was considered a beneficial use. This resulted in a fundamental change in water law – and another example of how the law adapts to the changing demands on the resource. Unfortunately, the 1986 law did not create an effective tool for private operations. Landowners interested in using a portion of their water right to improve flows can only do so if they permanently dedicate the water right to the state. Understandably, many landowners are skeptical, if not downright hostile, to the existing instream flow law.
While the existing water code provisions related to temporary change applications provide an answer for a water right holder to market water to an oil or gas producer, it does little for someone who’s marketable natural resource is trout. A tool is needed to maximize the value of a private landowner’s right to use water, keeping such rights attached to the land, while ensuring that non-participating water users and historical use patterns are not disrupted. A bill to be introduced in the next session of the Wyoming Legislature will give landowners a new tool to enhance both ranch stewardship and income opportunities. Bill proponents across the state see an opportunity for landowners to enhance the value of a water right by allowing the change of use to include stream flows to benefit fisheries.
Here’s how the bill would work. If a landowner determines that temporarily using a portion of a water right to improve a fishery benefits ranch operations he must show that the change of use can be accomplished without harming any other water user. The change of use is valid for two-year terms and only the consumed portion of a water right is available for change or use, presumably 50 percent of what was historically diverted to maintain local hydrology such as late season return flows. The change of use will only be allowed after July 1 of each year to encourage water right holders to use water in a traditional manner early in the year, and then focus the streamflow component later in the summer when the fish need the water most.
The legislation is pilot in nature – language is included to sunset the bill after ten years if not extended by the legislature and includes a cap on the amount of transactions that can occur both annually and during the pilot period. All of these provisions are designed so conservative projects are developed that avoid unintended consequences – learning as we go and ensuring that the process works for agriculture, individual ranch operations, and actually enhances a private property right.
The fisheries in Wyoming are some of the greatest the Rocky Mountain region has to offer. Working private lands keep large sections of free flowing habitat intact for our native and wild trout. Landowners who maintain important habitat for coldwater fish can benefit through effective partnerships and improve ranch operations as well as diversifying potential revenues. This bill will solicit more partnership opportunities across the state to improve flows for fisheries across the state. Because of the split season provisions in the bill, no agricultural lands will be taken out of production. The water stays attached to the land, land fallowing is limited to seasonal late-season instances and will occur only if such an approach works for a specific ranch operation.
I’m thankful everyday for the willingness of landowners across Wyoming to work with TU and our project partners to address ranch operation and fishery needs together. I look forward to the day I can take my now 16-month-old son fishing on the ranches across this state to teach him about the value of wild places and working landscapes. He never had the chance to meet Uncle Dan, but I guarantee he’ll think of him every time he catches a Yellowstone cutthroat trout somewhere near Meeteetse – just like I do.
Extension by Mae Smith, Rachel Mealor and John RittenWritten by Mae Smith, Rachel Mealor and John Ritten
Developing a drought strategy begins well before the lack of moisture and expected forage is evident. Spring can be a busy time period for livestock producers, with a majority of Wyoming producers calving from February through May. Along with calving, producers should be thinking about precipitation amounts. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has snow telemetry sites throughout Wyoming to measure the amount of snow pack. The monthly report provides information on snow water equivalent compared to the average and monthly precipitation levels reported for each site. Individuals can see if the snowpack is above or below average to help determine if runoff will be adequate to provide irrigation water for the season. Knowing precipitation amounts can aid in determining moisture levels for rangeland or non-irrigated locations. This information can be accessed at wrds.uwyo.edu/wrds/nrcs/snowpack/snowmap.html. As Mike Smith always says, precipitation received in April and May will determine if grass will be available on rangelands, suggesting that decisions regarding stocking levels and grazing strategies should be determined by the end of April.
Spring is also a time to be developing marketing strategies for livestock. On average and during normal years, slaughter cow prices peak in July. However, during periods of drought, prices tend to peak in April or May, due to the markets getting flooded in midsummer as many destock to account for a lack of feed. So, if snowpack and precipitation are low enough to cause concern and destocking is part of your drought plan, selling in late spring may provide you an edge in the market.
Summer is a great time to collect vegetation monitoring information. Conducting vegetation monitoring during this time ensures ease of identification, as plants have seedheads, and is an opportune time to document plants in their peak production period, or maximum growth. Vegetation monitoring can be broken into two separate categories, short term and long term monitoring. Long term monitoring provides an evaluation of the overall trend of the vegetation in an area. Short term monitoring, such as stubble height, annual production, etc., can be useful in providing annual information to assist in timely decisions regarding vegetation production. Such information will likely have greater implications during drought periods when rapid decisions have to made.
As seen throughout history, droughts may last more than one year, and each year after the first can prove even worse than the one before. Having the ability to look back on records and document the effects of various strategies will assist in future decisions for the operation.
Hopefully feed has held out into late summer and fall. However, during dry years this often becomes the limiting factor. So questions, like do we buy feed or should we sell calves, come to mind. Looking at the hay market in normal years, prices tend to peak in late spring and drop over the summer/fall and are expected to fall through the end of the year. While over the last few drought years, prices began to rise in May/June, and the price range is greater than normal years. However, before investing in expensive feed, it is beneficial to pencil out the price that will be received for the additional gain on animals versus the cost of purchasing that feed. Another important aspect to the decision of buying feed is cattle prices in the next few years.
For example, if cattle prices are high right now, it’s only economical to buy feed if the cost of carrying a cow will be recovered from the profit gained from selling calves in the next few years (high cattle prices). To maintain efficient gains, the animal’s nutritional needs must be met. Having your forage tested will determine if the needs will be met with that feed or if a supplement is required. The local UW Extension office has supplies and information to assist in forage testing.
If you are interested in managing risk through purchasing insurance, one option is Pasture Range and Forage (PRF) Insurance offered through USDA Risk Management Agency. This insurance must be purchased by Nov. 15 for the following year.
Winter can be an opportune time to evaluate last year’s decisions and strategies while making needed adjustments for the upcoming growing season. If you do not have a drought or grazing plan already in place, it is never too late to start! A few components of these documents may include property goals and objectives, each pasture and the forage available during a normal year (as determined by vegetation monitoring), current grazing/rotation strategy with moving dates, adjustments and potential management alternatives during drought, and planned improvements.
Hay prices are always on our minds, especially in a dry year. If hay prices become lower during the winter, this may be a good time to purchase extra to stockpile for next year and sell it if unneeded and prices are higher (July in dry years).
Drought can be very stressful and the number of decisions to make can be overwhelming. Drought plans help in managing the complexity of an operation by considering numerous ways changes can be made to survive such difficult times. So, one take home message regarding management during drought is to have a plan yet maintain flexibility and develop alternative ideas that will enable you to prevail in the face of adversity. Also, try to beat your neighbor to the punch on culling cows, selling your calves and buying hay. An applicable saying to remember is, “It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
For more information on this topic, visit rma.usda.gov/policies/pasturerangeforage, droughtmonitor.unl.edu or cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html.