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Guest Opinions

Solutions Possible for Ag and America’s Biggest Challenges

Written by Cynthia Lummis
    This morning I assessed the hail damage to the barns at our south unit before heading to the office. Though I would not describe myself as a morning person, I love summer mornings. Several antelope were bedded down with our yearling steers in beautiful green grass on our high plains short grass prairie. It is fabulous grassland – clearly, to my way of thinking, grazing is the highest and best use of this land. Any appraiser would disagree with my assessment of highest and best use; this ranch is a stone’s throw from the city limits of Cheyenne, and is surrounded by development. Its days are numbered, and though all members of my family have braced themselves against sentimentality in preparation for our inevitable relocation, the one person who clings relentlessly to sentiment is the one who has spent the most time away from it – me.
    Nationally and in Wyoming ranch families are at a crossroads. The number of cattle ranchers has declined from 1,290,000 to 990,000 since 1990 (USDA Statistical Service, 2007). Between 1982 and 2001, 9.8 million acres of rangelands (an area the size of Maryland and Delaware combined) were converted to development. The average age of the Wyoming rancher is increasing, and those ranchers who have no family members to take over the family ranch are facing tough decisions at a time when our liberal U.S. Congress is considering capital gains tax increases and allowing the death tax to return.
    Taxes are how government controls your life. When Congress takes taxes from you, they have more and you have less. When you have less, you cut back – you make tough choices. When Congress has less, they print more money, raise the national debt, and sell U.S. Treasuries around the world. China holds reserves of over one trillion U.S. dollars while America has become the largest debtor nation in the world: that is unconscionable and unacceptable.
    As your Congressman, I will fight to make the tax cuts permanent, fight porkbarrel spending and oppose earmarks. I commit myself to fiscal discipline achieved through cutting wasteful spending, saving a portion of federal mineral royalties and maintaining tax treatments that encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses.
    High fuel prices affect Wyoming drivers and Wyoming agriculture more than is typical in the rest of the country; fuel prices represent a disproportionate percentage of Wyoming worker’s income. Current gas prices cut deeply into the slim profits or break-even status of agricultural producers and the small businesses that sustain Wyoming agriculture. To produce more fuel for America, I support increasing Arctic and deep sea drilling for oil and gas. An increase in production in the United States will increase supply, reduce price volatility and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is critical to our national security. Alternative energy sources such as wind and biofuels must also play a role in achieving energy independence, and agricultural producers will play a vital role in many types alternative energy production.
    Like three-fourths of Wyoming agricultural producers, I co-own a family cow-calf and yearling operation. Consequently, I support having the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a Sherman Act analysis of the proposed acquisition by JBS of Swift’s Greeley operation and the Five Rivers Feedlot. I am concerned about the business concentrations affecting our industry. I am pleased that Country of Origin Labeling is in the Farm Bill, although I understand why the President vetoed the exorbitant spending contained in the bill. The Farm Bill is an example of why the President should have line item veto authority, which would assist our nation in gaining some control over runaway spending.
    Regarding public lands grazing, Congress should extend the footnote which prevents the use of full-blown NEPA processes for renewal of unchanged grazing leases. Wyoming’s member of Congress must constantly educate fellow members about the importance of public and private lands grazing to maintaining healthy open space and wildlife migration corridors, reducing fire load and noxious weeds, and preventing irreversible land fragmentation. Public and private land, managed appropriately, can effectively preserve habitat for threatened species, game animals and livestock grazing.
    Health care has recently been identified as top concern of middle class Americans, small business owners and agricultural operators. I support health care legislation that allows individuals to aquire health insurance through organizations or associations that cross state lines and that health insurance policies should be transferable across all jobs; such legislation is an important tool for reining in the costs of health insurance. I look forward to working with Wyoming’s U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso on health care legislation; Wyoming is blessed with the strongest Senate delegation in the Nation on the issue of health care.
    Food policy will be a growing part of the health care debate. Fresh, safe, healthy meat and produce are identified with wealth in America, while overly processed foods and obesity are increasingly associated with lower socio-economic status. The family farm and ranch will play an enormous role in a vibrant and vigorous ‘nutrition revival’ – Americans want to know where their food comes from – if family ranchers and farmers differentiate their products in the marketplace. I am confident that family operations will not only survive but thrive in the new market environment, as long as we are willing to shed late 20th century fast food for a more savvy, health conscious society that is ready to learn how to use the most underulitized room in the house – the kitchen! Trade policy that prioritizes fairness and food safety is also essential to a healthy future for both the American producer and the American consumer.
     The people of Wyoming agriculture have never been more important to Wyoming than now. They are the stewards of Wyoming’s pivotal private lands. Agriculture has a dramatic and growing impact on the Wyoming economy – not because agriculture’s share of gross state product is growing - but for its critical role in sustaining open lands and wildlife habitat for Wyoming’s second largest private industry, tourism, and its largest industry, energy. Fifty percent of the winter habitat for Wyoming’s major wildlife species is on private land and 70 percent of all wildlife in Wyoming spend all or part of their time on private land, almost all of which is devoted to agriculture.
    Further, the people of Wyoming agriculture are also school board members, county commissioners, conservation district and water district board members. They support Wyoming churches, small businesses and youth and civic activities. The people of rural Wyoming are the nurturers of Wyoming. They cultivate and conserve Wyoming’s land and culture.
    This campaign has confirmed my belief that our citizens want Wyoming’s next member of Congress to take their values – conservative Wyoming values – to Washington and to exert strong leadership and an intense personal commitment to supporting these principles and working tirelessly every day to be Wyoming’s voice of reason in the Congress. I want to be that voice.
    Cynthia Lummis is a Republican candidate for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her campaign can be found on-line at www.lummis2008.com.