House Ag Committee hears Wyoming opinions on Farm Bill
Cheyenne – On May 4 representatives from Wyoming’s ranching and farming industries appeared in Cheyenne to share their perspectives with the eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.
According to the Committee, the hearing was to “review U.S. agriculture policy in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.” Comments also focused on the bark beetle epidemic in the West.
“As a rancher, and the first Wyoming Representative to serve on the House Agriculture Committee since 1941, I am pleased the committee chose Cheyenne for its hearing to address the devastation to our forests caused by the bark beetle, and help shape the upcoming Farm Bill,” said Wyoming’s Representative Cynthia Lummis of the hearing.
Ogden Driskill of Devil’s Tower, Dennis Sun of Casper and John Snyder of Worland testified on conservation easements, technical assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. sugar policy, respectively.
As a sixth-generation rancher from northeast Wyoming, Driskill said he’s spent his life watching ranches break up, divide and disappear.
“In the last Farm Bill you enhanced the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP), and that’s a phenomenal program for ranches. It’s working, and working well,” Driskill told the Committee.
Driskill emphasized that although federal funding for conservation easements can seem pricey, it’s a one-time expense. “I encourage you to continue to fund FRPP. You can see what’s happening through the West to our ranch lands, and if we don’t have the tools to work with, we won’t have anything for the other farm programs, because we won’t have farms left.”
Driskill said ag land trusts have done a fine job of administering the easements, but he encouraged the Congressmen to make the rules more flexible.
“The longer programs like this go, the more flexibility you need. It’s hard to write in-depth rules for the long term,” he explained.
“Private lands through the West encompass some of the prime land, which is at the highest risk and is the toughest to protect,” he continued, noting that for every dollar the federal government spends on conservation of private lands, six dollars of public benefit are returned.
Turning to U.S. sugarbeet production, Snyder, president of the Washakie Beet Growers Association, said his family has farmed in Wyoming for over 70 years, and he and his wife have farmed sugarbeets, malt barley, corn, alfalfa and alfalfa seed for over 20.
“For over a century the beet and sugar industry has played an important economic role in the mountain region of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Montana,” said Snyder. “Today there are two beet companies operating six beet sugar factories in our region.”
In 2002 the sugarbeet growers in Washakie County purchased the Worland factory, which is today’s Wyoming Sugar Company. At that same time 1,000 regional producers purchased their company, forming Western Sugar Cooperative, which is now based in Denver, Colo. and owns and operates five factories in the four-state area.
“Our two companies produce 13 percent of U.S. sugarbeets on 135,800 acres with 1,500 full-time factory and seasonal jobs,” said Snyder “we’re good at what we do, and we’re among lowest cost producers in the world, and we’ve achieved that by being fair to our workers and responsible stewards of the land.”
Snyder noted that the U.S. is one of the most open sugar markets in the world, with guaranteed access for 41 countries, as required under trade laws. “Trade agreements such as WTO and CAFTA force the U.S. to provide duty-free access for 1.4 million short tons of sugar per year, whether we need it or not,” he said. “In addition, under NAFTA Mexico now enjoys unlimited access to the U.S. market.”
Snyder said these concessions could reduce even farther U.S. sugar producers’ access to their own market. “They could reduce prices and make it impossible for many of us to survive,” he continued. “In the 2008 Farm Bill sugar policy worked to benefit consumers with zero cost to taxpayers while giving sugar farmers the chance to survive.”
Under the 2008 Farm Bill’s market balancing approach, Snyder said the USDA retained authority to limit domestic sales of sugar. “Producers who exceed the allotments must now store the excess at their own expense, and if imports exceed the difference between domestic sugar allotments and consumption, USDA will divert the surplus sugar to fuel ethanol production and restore balance to the sugar market for food.”
While that provision is in place, Snyder said it hasn’t yet been needed, and forecasters expect it won’t be over the course of the current Farm Bill.
“The current Farm Bill’s benefits to American sugar consumers and taxpayers are clear,” Snyder told the Committee. “American food manufacturers and consumers can count on reliable sugar supplies that have been produced responsibly and are reasonably priced, high in quality and safe to consume. U.S. wholesale and retail prices are below the average of the rest of the developed world, and have declined substantially over last three decades.”
“Sugar is the only major commodity program that operates at no cost to tax payers, and government projections through 2020 say it will remain at no cost,” said Snyder. “American sugar farmers are grateful to Congress for crafting sugar policy that balances supply and demand, ensuring consumers have dependable, high quality supplies and improving market prospects for producers.”
Of the assertion by Casper rancher Dennis Sun that technical assistance from the NRCS has diminished, Rep. Lummis asked what types of projects are affected. Sun answered he thinks all of them are.
“In a sense, a lot of the NRCS people are now relegated to salesmen sitting in the office. If you’re selling a car, you have got to get out and look at the car to sell it. In this case, they have to get out on the ground, because each project is different,” said Sun, whose complete testimony can be found beginning on Page 2 of this edition of the Roundup.