Seasonal scale rule changes raise concern
In a final rule published Jan. 20, 2011, USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Program, under the oversight of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), released details regarding seasonal scales.
In the rule, it’s said that regulated entities must complete the first of two scale tests between Jan. 1 and June 30 of the calendar year, with the second test completed between July 1 and Dec. 31.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Manager of the Technical Services Division Hank Uhden says the rules and dates regarding regulated scales tested twice a year aren’t a problem.
“Sale barns, brokers and buyers, who may contract cattle and put together an order from a couple different ranches, those scales fall under GIPSA and we’ve already been operating like that for over 30 years,” says Uhden.
However, he says it’s the changes to testing requirements on seasonal scales that concern him.
“A seasonal scale is defined as one that’s generally used once a year, and a scale inspection, either by the state or by an inspection service, was required approximately six months prior to the sale,” he explains. “The new rules that came out Jan. 20 changed that. They now set a hard date for when scales need to be tested.”
The rule now says that a seasonal scale is one used from either Jan. 1 through June 30, or July 31 through Dec. 31, but not during both periods. GIPSA will require that the scales be tested during the same half of the calendar year, within six months prior to use.
Uhden says this removes from scale owners the ability to check a scale in May and use it until September.
“We have a number of ranches that sell livestock in June – some culled ewes, or lambs are sold over the scale – and then they’ll sell yearlings in September and October. Now we can no longer do one inspection in May or June. Now they say we have to do two inspections of that scale because it’s used in the two halves of the calendar year,” he states. “Our argument is that the scale is still used in less than a six-month period, and why is one inspection no longer sufficient?”
Uhden says that USDA’s reasoning behind more inspections is that a scale that’s used more often needs to be checked more often because the chance of error increases.
“We do find some scales that are off, but kudos to the producers in Wyoming, because they take care of their scales. They’re an expensive piece of equipment, and they don’t let them get run down,” he comments. “Most of the scales we check are within tolerance.”
Uhden says the USDA’s reasoning for putting the dates on seasonal scale inspections was that previously they could never confirm if a scale was in violation of inspection criteria, because the rule said “approximately six months” before a sale.
“Is eight months approximately? They couldn’t say yes or no, or if a scale was in violation or if it was a valid sale,” he explains. “Now they’ve set these dates, and I tried to explain to them that this is contrary to the time when people calve and lamb to the time they sell the stock. Picking those dates was arbitrary in that it was not realistic to livestock practices and our scale inspections.”
Uhden says WDA is asking for an allowance to set the inspection schedule and still do one inspection as long as the sales fall within a six-month period, and he says he’s concerned about how the WDA will be able to get twice the amount of inspections done.
“Right now I need to know what the industry wants, and how big of a role they want us to play,” says Uhden, adding that Governor Mead’s office has become involved, and he sent a letter to USDA following Uhden’s letter from the WDA.
A letter was sent out to producers, notifying them of the rule changes and asking them to let the WDA know how many times a year they ship, and when, so the department can set a schedule and determine the impact of increased scale inspections. Currently the WDA inspects 950 scales, 750 of which are livestock scales while the remainder are vehicle scales. Six months ago, when diesel was $2.50 to $2.90 per gallon, Uhden says the program was running on $350,000.
“We’re looking at five-dollar diesel now, so that will impact our budget,” he says. “If we go back to more scales more often, I will also need another truck and another person to help get this done.”
Uhden adds that GIPSA hasn’t offered any funding to help out with the additional inspections they’ve required.
“We’re asking them to talk about the issue with us, and to back off for a little bit and work with us to see what we can come up with,” says Uhden. “We’ve asked them to consider changing the definition of ‘seasonal scale’ to fit the season of lambing and calving and the scale inspection tour.”
“We ask the producers and industries to be patient – we’ll continue to work on the issue and will hopefully come to a resolution soon,” he says. “If not, we may call upon the industry to work cooperatively with us and their industry leaders to get the issue resolved.”