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There are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Millions of species and billions of organisms – bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, fungi and more – represent the greatest concentration of biomass anywhere on the planet. Microbes, which make up only one-half of one percent of the total soil mass, are the yeasts, algae, protozoa, bacteria, nematodes and fungi that process organic matter into rich, dark, stable humus in the soil.

The best soil on most farms is found in the fencerow.

These undisturbed remnants of what soil properties were once like is no surprise to farmers who have dug into that soil. It’s crumbly, dark and loose, and it’s a model of soil structure and organic matter for farmers who are trying to make their soil healthier.

Tillage – or plowing – destroys the soil’s structure.

Tillage destroys “aggregation” or the soil’s structure, which is the habitat soil microorganisms depend upon to ensure critical soil functions like nutrient cycling. Tillage also reduces organic matter content and increases erosion, which reduces the sustainability of our food production system.

Tilling the soil up does not allow more water to soak into it.

Don’t believe it? Fill two containers with untilled and tilled soil and simulate rainfall on them. Watch the water stand on top of the tilled sample but soak down through the untilled sample.

Or, give them the slake test by placing clods of untilled and tilled soils on wire mesh at the top of water-filled jars. You’ll find if you submerge tilled soil just below the surface, it will soon collapse in a heap at the bottom of the jar, but untilled soil will still be intact, for the most part, even 24 hours later.

Tilling soils causes pores to collapse and seal over, causing more rain to runoff than soak in.

The Morrow Plots on the campus of the University of Illinois indicate soil organic matter content in prairie grass borders was 5.5 to 6.5 percent in 1876. Less than half of that is left. That’s the case with most prairie soils – oxidation of organic matter from tillage for row crops has reduced organic matter levels to between two to three percent today.

A farmer’s favorite cocktail mix might not be what you think.

Innovative farmers are breathing new life into their soil by seeding a “cocktail mix” of six to 12 plants to get diversity above-ground, which creates much-needed diversity below the ground. Through that diversity, farmers are mimicking the soil-building and microbial-friendly conditions of the diverse native prairies.

If you want your soil to be healthy, you shouldn’t see it very often.

That’s because you want that soil to be covered all the time, preferably with living plants. Keeping the soil covered all the time makes perfect sense when you realize that healthy soils are full of life. The microorganisms living in the soil need food and cover to survive – just like other living creatures.

Roots of some plants can grow three feet deep in 60 days.

That’s right, roots of daikon-type radishes are a biological alternative to deep ripping to alleviate soil compaction. After radishes winterkill, the channels created by the roots tend to remain open at the surface, improving infiltration, surface drainage and soil warming. The popular cover crop also is an excellent nitrogen scavenger.

What did President Thomas Jefferson know that we don’t? More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson, a farmer and conservationist, used vetch, turnips, peas and clover as cover crops and in rotation. He used these crops on his Virginia plantation to build soil that he knew was being depleted with his tobacco cash crop.

Multiple benefits come from multiple species. The below-ground synergy created by crop rotations and multi-species cover crops can actually accelerate biological time by increasing organic matter, allowing crops to flourish in dry times while monocultures struggle. And as an added bonus, diverse cover crop mixtures work together to crowd out weeds, improve nutrient cycling and reduce plant diseases.

For more information about soil health, go to nrcs.usda.gov.

The Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) held a teleconference meeting on April 7 at 2 p.m. where they continued their discussions of legislative action from the recent session.

  As a quick review of legislative action that affected WLSB, Senate File (SF) 147 amends the language in Wyoming Statute (WS) 11-20-408(b). This statute refers in part to WLSB's ability to raise fees. Current statute allows the board to adjust fees, “… not more than one (1) time per fiscal year and by not more than 20 percent in any one fiscal year…”

This has changed from 20 to 25 percent and becomes law on Oct. 1, 2017.

The next impact was inside the supplemental budget bill in reference to our agency budget. In June 2016, WLSB responded to the Governor’s recommendation for all agencies to find an eight percent cut to our General Fund appropriation. Included in these was a cut to our Brand Inspection General Fund appropriation of $558,936. The Joint Appropriation Committee (JAC) accepted all these cuts and added an additional cut of $500,000 to the Brand General Fund for fiscal 2018. These cuts of $1,558,936 will carry forward into the next biennium, as well.

Inside our budget in the supplemental bill, JAC, removed funding for three of our four criminal investigators, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. In short, that means next year we have one criminal investigator for the entire state. 

As a result of these actions, the board discussed and voted to approve several actions.

The board has prepared a rulemaking for the Chapter 9 rules, “Brand Inspection/Recording Fees.”

WLSB is offering an amendment to the rule to make a 10 percent, with rounding of odd amounts, increase to all inspection and recording fees, to sunset on Aug. 15, 2018. This increase with a sunset date allows for two results. 

First, in an effort to be fiscally prudent, this increase will capture some offset of the cuts of this year by allowing the agency to have the moderate increase, in effect, for this fall shipping period. 

  Second, the sunset date has allowed the board to form a committee of board members and producers to review possible adjustments to the program going forward. After review of the speed of burn of the revenue fund, as it has taken on many of the costs of the previous cuts, and the defunding of three of the investigators, we realize that lowered expenditures and new efficiencies are required to perform our mandates. We believe that this committee, with producer input, will provide the board the information it needs to make the proper decisions for the future. 

The amended rules are authorized by WS 11-18-103(v), WS 11-20-201 through WS 11-20-229 and WS 11-20-401 through WS 11-20-409.

These rules establish the fees charged for brand inspection and brand recording in compliance with WS 11-20-103, WS 11-20-115, WS 11-20-116, WS 11-20-217, WS 11-20-401 and WS 11-20-402. The Chapter 9 rules currently in effect were revised in 2013. 

In the 2017 legislative session, there were significant cuts to the program. The intent of the Legislature was that these cuts in General Funding were to be offset, at least partially, by increases in user fees, as evidenced by the passing of Enrolled Act 34, which increases the board’s ability to raise user fees in a fiscal year. Failure to increase fees will necessitate curtailing of services to livestock producers, which could hinder their ability to market livestock at the optimum time.

Fees have not been adjusted since 2013, when there was actually was a slight decrease in the in state accustomed range permits. Fees have not seen a significant increase since 2008. 

These amended rules are in the application process and should shortly be out for public comment.

A stone cistern and evidence of a potato cellar are all that remain of the Fales homestead near Deaver.

David Fales frequently walks the 87 acres his great-grandparents once called home. Heart Mountain dominates the landscape to the east. Sometimes, he comes across rusty, old tools his ancestors used to work the land a century ago.

The Fales family came from Missouri on the heels of the Buffalo Bill Dam project, which opened this part of northwest Wyoming to farming and ranching.

“They came out here with nothing. No roads, no telephones,” Fales said, “nothing but a patch of land, and they had to build it all from scratch.”

Fales sat in his office about an hour from the old homestead on a recent January day. Outside, a foot of snow blanketed the parking lot, reminding him of pre-dawn days spent cracking the ice in the cows’ water trough, so the animals could drink.

Family history is paramount to this son of a rancher. From a young age, he dreamed of working with Wyoming Angus beef. Today, he is on a mission to introduce the state’s high-quality meat to the world.

Fales has also built a livelihood from scratch. Cody-based Wyoming Authentic Products, the state’s only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved beef processing facility, produces many beef products, including the 1.3 million beef sticks made in 2016.

Since July 2015, many of those beef sticks have made their way to Canada. Hundreds of health food stores in Vancouver, Toronto, Nova Scotia, Halifax and Calgary are home to packaging bearing the iconic Wyoming bucking horse and rider symbol, with wording in both English and French.

The exports are a boon to Wyoming, pumping outside money into local circulation. State economic experts have worked hard to help more companies achieve the kind of success Wyoming Authentic Products is enjoying, and now those officials have a new tool in their belt.

The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, recently received a $158,000 State Trade and Expansion Program (STEP) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The federally funded initiative aims to introduce business owners to exporting, so they can expand into new markets and increase foreign direct investment in the state.

Trade shows have been lucrative for companies like Wyoming Authentic Products.

“In Taiwan, Japan, Belgium, Denmark and all over the world, there is interest in what we are doing,” Fales said. “It’s just a matter of time and capital, as any small business knows, to make that a reality.”

The Business Council understands the challenges small businesses face. That’s why the agency offers trade show incentive grants to help companies pay up to half their expenses to attend trade shows. Another program provides local public organizations with money to help build infrastructure like streets, sewer and buildings. The organization can then lease that property to businesses like Wyoming Authentic Products.

“The $1.2 million grant to the City of Cody was essential for us to get where we are today,” Fales said. “The key was building a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified plant.”

Thanks to the new facility, Wyoming Authentic Products can manufacture beef sticks, jerky and other products, which add value to meat trimmings otherwise destined to be sold as hamburger for far less money.

The process gives dozens of Wyoming ranchers a new market for their beef. It also turns raw natural resources into new products with better profits.

The business has an annual payroll of $547,000 and employs 20 people.

State officials hope to attract about 35 firms like Wyoming Authentic Products to a free webinar series on exporting. Companies interested in taking the next step after listening to those classes can receive mentorship in creating export plans during a three-month education session.

The STEP grant provides the Business Council with money to send businesses to targeted international trade shows in the mining, outdoor and firearms industries.

The Business Council’s goal is to double export sales for companies participating in these shows.

Another facet of the STEP grant will be the International Trade Show Incentive Grant. Participating businesses can receive up to $3,500 in reimbursements for travel to international expos designed to increase exposure and sales.

The STEP grant will also fund a trade mission to the Pacific Rim specifically to help agricultural producers increase export sales by holding personal meetings with international buyers.

Exports are a key driver of any economy because they bring outside money into local circulation. Wyoming’s export market is small, but growing fast. International trade in Wyoming grew 19.4 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the International Trade Administration. Wyoming businesses sold about $1.2 billion in exports in 2015.

Exports feature prominently in the Business Council’s strategy to grow Wyoming’s economy. The agency intends to double foreign direct investment and increase the state’s exports by 50 percent.

Business Council staff will accomplish those goals, in part, by coordinating and developing foreign trade efforts like those planned under the STEP grant.

For more information, visit wyomingbusiness.org/step.

Not far from the rocky peaks of Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, wildlife professionals with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services program unspooled miles of bright, red fladry.

Fladry is nylon flags attached to a poly wire and looks a bit like something you would see at a used-car lot, rather than a cattle ranch. However, it is one of the nonlethal tools that Wildlife Services uses to prevent wolves from preying on cattle.

Once unraveled, the fladry is clipped to fiberglass fence posts that are placed around the circumference of the more than 100-acre pasture. The fladry fence rises just above an adult human’s knees and about even with a curious wolf’s nose.

The highly visible flags flutter and flap in the wind, and solar-powered electric fence chargers are installed at various points around the fence to charge the wire with electricity. When the wire is electrified, it becomes turbo fladry.

  “Wolves are naturally nervous of new elements in their environment, and they will stay away until they realize the fluttering flags are not a threat,” said Mike Foster, Wildlife Services’ Wyoming state director. “However, if they get too close and touch the fence, they get a shock.”  

Since wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, their populations have increased substantially in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, sometimes resulting in livestock predation. In Wyoming, wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and their populations are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). When wolves prey on cattle and create conflicts for ranchers, FWS works with Wildlife Services to target and remove specific, problematic wolves.

Recently, Wildlife Services partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to install fladry on several pastures in Montana. Last fall, NRDC provided money and manpower to help with the installation of fladry on the ranch in Jackson Hole, which had been experiencing wolf depredation.

Zack Strong, the NRDC wildlife advocate who assisted with the project, added, “Fladry works well in the right situations. Working with ranchers and Wildlife Services to set up turbo fladry in Montana and Wyoming has been extremely rewarding, and we would welcome the opportunity to do so in other states, as well.”

The fladry was in place for about three weeks before it was taken down and the calves removed from the ranch. Radio collars from some of the wolves in the nearby pack indicated that the wolves may have left that area, and while the turbo fladry was in place, no calves were lost to depredation.

“There is no one thing we can do to prevent the loss of livestock in every situation,” said Foster. “I had high hopes for this project, and I am so glad we were able to prevent more losses on this ranch.”

Some of you may not know that the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) wears many hats in the regulatory arena. 

One of our “hats” includes enforcing the Wyoming Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (LCB) Law and Regulations.   The WDA LCB lab, located in Powell, interacts with alfalfa seed growers using leaf cutter bees for pollination of their seed crop.

By law, these LCB larvae must be officially sampled, x-rayed and certified yearly and meet specific standards to be allowed to remain in Wyoming for the next year’s pollination season. Often, during the course of the analysis season, we receive questions from our growers as to interesting finds, while punching their bee boards for analysis. 

This season was no exception. 

Shortly before the holidays, we received an interesting question from one of our alfalfa seed growers. They had some rather large cocoons starting to show up when they were punching their bee larvae out of the polystyrene bee boards for testing and asked if we could identify them. After a quick look, it was obvious that we had never seen them before, so we snapped a quick picture and e-mailed the identification question to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Pollinating Insects Research Unit in Logan, Utah.   

After a flurry of e-mails, we had the panel stumped, so they asked us to send samples. Thinking that we may have discovered a new parasite or scavenger of the leaf cutter bee that had shown up in our state caused us grief.  Within a few days the cocoon was identified and, to our relief, will not harm the leaf cutter bee larvae. 

The Logan Bee Lab is confident that our little bee-board dweller is the grass wasp Isodontia. The grass wasp performs important services, pollinating the plants in our landscape and preying on foliage-eating insects like crickets and katydids, in particular. It is a solitary wasp that sometimes utilizes alfalfa leaf cutter bee nest holes. They stuff the entrance with wisps of dried grass and stock their provisions with tree crickets. 

Then the question was posed, why are we seeing so many cocoons all of the sudden?

The Logan lab had asked if there had been an infestation of crickets near these fields, so we asked the grower.  We then found out there had been a five-inch rain event in the area in September, which was followed shortly thereafter by a cricket outbreak.  The infestation was so bad that the grower called pest control for help in their extermination efforts.   The crickets had invaded their shop, office and were covering the sides of their house. The fields where these cocoons have shown up are all within one mile of the shop.

Evidently the grass wasp took advantage of the crickets and a warm place to nest, so its next generation could prosper. The rain event and the cricket outbreak may have had nothing to do with the grass wasp showing up this year, but thankfully the alfalfa leaf cutter bee will have nothing to worry about with this species, except the space it takes up in the living quarters normally used for rearing its own young.