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Guest Opinions

Cowboys and Cowgirls on the Range

An enduring image of Wyoming is one of cowboys and cowgirls on the range. They are on horseback, taking care of the livestock and the land. A historic ranch building may be sitting nearby. In the distance, there are mountains, forests or splendid open spaces as far as the eye can see. The cowboys and cowgirls are dressed for the job, with cowboy hats, boots and rugged outdoor wear. 

On the range, the cowboy hat protects against the elements. In other settings, for example, at stock shows or around town, it shows what the wearer does for a living. Beyond that, though, ag producers feel at home in their hats and use them for nearly every occasion. Cowboy hats are a symbol of the West, to be sure, but they are much more than symbolic headgear. They are comfortable and practical for our work, which is often outdoors in all kinds of weather. They are like another appendage. Wearing a cowboy hat says louder than words, “I’m an ag producer and proud of it.”  

I have learned not to underestimate the value of a cowboy hat. This past summer I had the honor to travel to Asia looking for new trade opportunities for Wyoming companies and for the people of Wyoming. In Taiwan, I attended the Taipei International Travel Fair. This was an enormous event with well over 200,000 people passing through it. It was an event filled with potential for our state, and folks from the Wyoming Office of Tourism made the trip with me. The United States had recently signed a new policy allowing the 23 million Taiwanese citizens to visit our country without a visa. We would love to host lots of visitors from Taiwan in Wyoming, and we said so.   

While I was at the Taipei Fair, I donned one of my cowboy hats for the occasion and walked through the dense crowd. I stood out. Let me say up front, the cowboy hat made a big difference. It was a warm reception as people heard I was from Wyoming, a state most know. Reporters approached to ask about the Cowboy State, and I posed for many pictures and heard only glowing reviews of our state, people and reputation. 

Half a world away, our way of life, culture and heritage are recognized and revered. The cowboy and the cowgirl are icons. The chance to meet one in the flesh is unique, and a cowboy hat is an invaluable asset – it says something important about what we stand for, and people are drawn to it.  

Of course, the men and women who work in agriculture every day over many years have built the great reputation Wyoming agriculture enjoys. Wyoming has 11,000 farms and ranches, each with a special story and each preserving a way of life esteemed in the United States and across the globe. Wyoming ag producers supply food for the nation, add to the state’s economy as Wyoming’s third largest industry and preserve centuries-old history and traditions. 

And there’s more. They provide habitat for wildlife, places for hunting and fishing and vast open areas that improve the quality of life. The incomparable views, as well as the sight of working farms and ranches, are sought out by travelers from other states and from around the world. 

I couldn’t help but notice the interest in American ag products during the Asia trip. One stop was a supermarket. In the meat department, an entire section was devoted to American beef. In the most populated continent, I saw that there is intense demand for U.S. beef, which is sold at a premium. This bodes well for our future, and I am committed to highlighting Wyoming’s agricultural products whenever and wherever I travel. 

Success does not come by accident, nor does it come easy. Those of us in agriculture have had to overcome adversity and many challenges. We have a proven record of adaptation and of using our resources in a conservative manner. We are good stewards, and centennial farms and ranches are a testament to the staying power of Wyoming ag. We build on our successes, educate the next generation and run operations keeping the past, present and future in mind.   

In particular, I believe now is the time to focus on water. Water is the most vital resource in our state. Those of us in agriculture live with this reality every day, every season. So, I am asking that you help me create a Wyoming water strategy. Already hundreds of people from across the state have given us input about how to approach water development, management, conservation, protection and restoration. A water strategy is needed to safeguard our water for present and future generations. Thanks to all those who are engaged, and I have heard the call to push for more water storage projects of every size. Water storage projects can protect Wyoming water, and they will be a great legacy. 

Forests are another significant resource for those in agriculture. We have seen forests ravaged by beetles, and overall forest health has deteriorated. In response, I have asked a diverse group of individuals representing many backgrounds and interests to develop strategies to make sure our forests are sustainable and safe. This is another way to plan for the future. 

Exporting more products, healthier forests, new water storage projects – these are major undertakings, not easy endeavors. Encouraging and rewarding private land ownership is also critical for the future. But Wyoming ag is worth every effort. We always want to see that iconic image of cowboys and cowgirls, not just in our memories or the history books, but on the open range. 

A tip of my cowboy hat to Wyoming ag producers and all you do!