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The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are finally getting a much-needed check on their runaway overreach. A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court in May means farmers and ranchers can take the federal government to court immediately after an agency determines it can regulate part of their property.

This ruling – United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes – is among the most important court opinions we have seen. Along with other groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) was proud to contribute a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Hawkes family and the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Before this ruling, the Army Corps would tell farmers they had no right to challenge its decision that it had legal authority over what it had determined to be “navigable waters” on their land. Landowners would have to apply for a permit to work their land, or they could farm without a permit and wait for the government to sue them.

Either of the government’s approaches could bankrupt many farmers. Just applying for a permit takes months or even years, piles of technical studies and many thousands of dollars in consultant and legal fees. Many permit applications die on the vine – neither rejected nor denied by the Corps but abandoned by frustrated landowners after years of delay and requests for more data. It wasn’t hard for the Justices to see the injustice and abuse in the government’s approach. Justices Kennedy, Thomas and Alito did not mince words about the Clean Water Act, either. They warned it “continues to raise troubling questions regarding the government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the nation.”

This isn’t news to Farm Bureau. For more than a decade, we have been battling overreach by both the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which share limited jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. We weighed in several years ago in the so-called SWANCC case when the Corps claimed jurisdiction over any water body – no matter how small and isolated – where migratory birds might land. The Supreme Court said "no" to that scheme.

EPA also tried to impose federal permitting on any livestock farm with the “potential” to discharge pollution, even if the farm never had a discharge and even though the law only regulates “discharges” to waters. Farm Bureau filed suit together with the pork industry. The court ruled against the EPA. Livestock farms don’t need a federal permit to operate. But both EPA and the Corps keep trying to push the boundaries – to regulate by any means possible, no matter how they have to stretch logic and the law.

Again, Hawkes isn’t the first time EPA has been caught overstepping its bounds. Take, for example, the case of Andy Johnson, a Wyoming farmer who recently won a long battle with EPA over an environmentally friendly stock pond for cattle on his property. Besides watering Johnson’s cattle, the pond fostered wetland grasses and provided habitat for herons and a stopping place for the local population of eagles.

Johnson had a state permit to construct the pond on his property. But the EPA later claimed that pond violated federal law. They threatened him with a daily fine of $37,500 for failure to follow their order to remove the pond. Johnson wasn’t having any of it. He and attorneys eventually wore down the EPA. The agency settled out of court and let the pond stay as it was, rather than face certain defeat.

Lois Alt, together with the Farm Bureau, also beat back the EPA. Regulators insisted she apply for a Clean Water Act permit for nothing more than the storm water that ran off her well-tended farmyard. And again, the Army Corps of Engineers threatened fines of $37,500 a day if she didn’t comply. It defied common sense. The courts agreed and sent the EPA packing.

Farmers shouldn’t be left in limbo wondering if regulators can shut down our farms over an everyday farming activity. It shouldn’t take a Ph.D. in hydrology to determine if there’s “navigable water” on our land. Opaque, confusing and shockingly expensive regulation by the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA has hamstrung farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to work with and care for the land.

Hawkes, SWANCC, Johnson and Alt – these legal battles have won real victories for private landowners across the country and for agriculture. We will continue to work through the courts and with Congress to control unlawful overreach by agencies that seem incapable of self-control.

Currency markets reacted violently to the surprising British vote to leave the European Union. Now that the dust has settled somewhat and lawyers have taken over – ain’t that the case with anything – it appears that things are not exactly black and white. If anything, it appears this issue could drag out for a while with plenty of room for maneuvering and negotiation on both sides. The British pound has yet to recover, but the U.S. dollar index is on its way down, and other emerging market currencies have recovered somewhat.

The reason this is an important issue for livestock markets is obvious to those that have been tracking this industry for a while – a big chunk of our customers are outside of U.S. borders. And when the dollar becomes stronger, suddenly the price of U.S. products goes up, making our beef, pork or chicken less competitive relative to other exporting nations. When the U.S. dollar goes up, the U.S. market also becomes more attractive to ship to. The result is a shift in the relative flow of products into the U.S., ultimately impacting returns of U.S. livestock and poultry producers.

Much has changed in the last 12 months on the currency front and generally for the better for the U.S. meat industry. The top chart to the right shows the performance of the U.S. dollar relative to the currency of nations with which we trade significant volumes of beef,
pork and chicken. We often hear about the dollar getting stronger or
weaker, but the reality is that there is no such thing. The value of the U.S.
dollar is always measured relative to specific currencies, or in currency pairs. Even the so-called U.S. dollar index only reflects the value of the U.S. dollar relative to a very small basked of currencies, dominated by the euro.

Currently is takes about 102.5 Japaneseyen to buy one dollar of U.S. beef. Last year, it took about 125 yen to purchase the same amount. In other words, the purchasing power of
the Japanese yen has increased, and a Japanese importer now can afford
to buy more U.S. product without having to spend more. Suddenly for
that Japanese buyer U.S. beef is on sale with an 18 percent off sticker, just due
to the currency shift alone. Add on top of this, the decline in cattle prices in the U.S. and higher product availability, one can understand why
the U.S. market has once again become very a reactive if you are a beef
buyer in Japan.

Last year, U.S. beef exports struggled in the third and
fourth quarter, which in turn contributed to the dramatic decline in fed
cattle values in the fall. Feedlot supplies got backed up, for a variety of reasons last fall, and the lack of a vibrant export market made a bad situation worse.

This year, however, it appears that exports should
benefit from the fact that the U.S. dollar is heading lower. The Brexit vote
had the potential to once again push the U.S. dollar up, hence all the attention from livestock futures participants in recent days.

USDA currently projects steady gains in U.S. beef, pork and chicken exports in 2016-17. The increase in exports reflects the fact that U.S. production for all proteins is expected to increase in the short to medium term. Lower feed grain prices and positive margins have fueled expansion and exports should help soak up some of the additional supply.

Trade appears to be a focus of the presidential campaigns this fall, and we have no interest in wading in politics in this report. However, the reality is that the U.S. is a large net exporter of agricultural products. It is also a large net exporter of meat products. In 2015, exports accounted for 21.3 percent of all pork production, 17.3 percent of all chicken production and 10 percent of beef production, fueling much of the growth in U.S. livestock industry in the last 20 years.

Plant breeders test their experiments by growing the seeds of their labor. They cross two different plants that have desirable traits. They sow the resulting seeds and evaluate the results, hoping to find a candidate variety that is better than anything currently available.

The “laboratory” is often an outdoor field with thousands of plants. Farmers have monitored their fields for millennia by simply walking among the rows of plants, observing changes over time and noting which plants do better.

But as plant breeding technology becomes more complicated, farmers and scientists want specific data. They want to know exactly how tall the plants are or exactly how green the leaves are. In a large test field, getting exact numbers means hours or even days of labor for a plant breeder.

Knowing what physical traits a plant has is called phenotyping. Because it is such a labor-intensive process, scientists are working to develop technology that makes phenotyping much easier.

The tool is called the Phenocart, and it captures essential plant health data. The Phenocart measures plant vital signs like growth rate and color, the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.

In a field experiment with thousands of plots, the Phenocart is a quick way to evaluate plant health. It can also help plant breeders design larger experiments.

“Larger sample size gives us more power,” said Jesse Poland, assistant professor in the Departments of Plant Pathology and Agronomy at Kansas State University. “Measuring phenotypes is very labor-intensive, and really limits how big of an experiment we can do.”

The new tool will allow for faster measurements and accelerate the breeding process.

The Phenocart is a collection of sensors. The sensors are attached to a repurposed bicycle wheel and handles that a plant breeder can easily push among plants in a field. The Phenocart rapidly collects data as it’s pushed among the plots.

Scientists can outfit the Phenocart with different sensors depending on what they want to measure. Poland and his colleagues used a sensor to measure how “green” their plants were.

“The measure of vegetation index or ‘green-ness’ is really the easiest and more straightforward way to measure the overall health status of the plant.” said Poland.

Temperature is also a good prediction for crop yield. A global position system (GPS) pinpoints exactly where the Phenocart measured, which helps the team organize their data. The data is processed by software included in the Phenocart package.

One of the best parts about the Phenocart is that it’s portable.

“We really wanted something that we could pack up and take anywhere in the world,” said Poland. “We’ve got lots of international partnerships, and we want it to make an impact across the global plant breeding community.” The research team also focused on making the technology affordable to a broad group.

As plant breeding becomes more sophisticated, so does measuring the results of large field experiments. The Phenocart is a low-cost, mobile way to gauge the health of thousands of plants quickly and accurately.

Read more about Poland’s work in “Crop Science.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – Plant Genome Research Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics and a fellowship to first author, J. Crain from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars program.

During their June 2016 Summer Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) adopted a handful of new policies for the coming year. New policies are listed below.

For a complete list of WSGA policies, visit wysga.org.

Brand

Wyoming Stock Growers Association urges the Governor to take every necessary step to avoid changes to the current structure of Brand Inspector compensation based on the recent U.S. Department of Labor Rule requiring overtime pay for workers earning less than $970 per week.

Federal Lands

Whereas there is a vital need for a more active federal role in forest management;

Whereas there is an increasing amount of beetle-killed timber that is available on private, state and federal lands;

Whereas there is an increasing amount of fuel build-ups and fire risk in forested areas;

Whereas there is an available source of product that is underutilized;

Be it resolved that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association support incentives promoting woody biomass utilization on private, state and federal lands; encourage forest managers to utilize the woody biomass available in forested areas; support efforts to incorporate woody biomass generated electricity as a part of the electric grid renewable energy source profile and encourage the development and funding of new technologies and wood based markets for non-traditional products

Marketing

Wyoming Stock Growers Association strongly opposes the 2016 Rule promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor requiring the payment of overtime for any salaried employee earning under $970 per week and urges the U.S. Congress to take immediate action to stop implementation of this rule, which will have significant negative impacts on ranchers and ranch employees.

Private Lands

1. WSGA supports strengthening Wyoming’s eminent domain laws to provide greater protection to private property owners including the following:

Prioritization of the use of public lands over private lands;

The ability to participate in planning activities affecting their lands;

A jury trial on issues of public benefit;

The right to payment for both initial damage and interruption of activities to include all incurred attorney’s fees and other incurred expenses;

The condemnee may elect to take payment as a single payment or multiple payments or in the form of rents and royalties;

That condemner be required to post bond for attorney’s fees, which are payable to the condemnee if project is abandoned prior to completion; and

In the event of an abandoned condemnation, the condemnee shall be entitled to all incurred attorney’s fees and other incurred expenses.

2. WSGA supports requiring common carriers and their assignees to post a performance bond or contribute to a fund adequate to fulfill all obligations of an easement agreement including reclamation.

Water

1. WSGA urges the Governor and the State Legislature to maintain and protect the current funding mechanism for Water Development Accounts I, II and III and to continue to provide adequate funding to address rehabilitation or replacement of the agriculture water delivery infrastructure and the development of new water storage facilities that contribute toward full use of Wyoming’s water allocations.

2. Whereas on March 1, 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a draft scientific investigation report arguing that stream flows can potentially affect aquatic life, therefore the EPA may assert federal permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act;

Government to assert federal jurisdiction over the use or management of water quantity;

Whereas the Wyoming Constitution declares that all natural water is the property of the state;

Whereas the Wyoming State Engineer has authority to permit and manage all surface water and ground water quantity and use pursuant to Wyoming State Statutes;

Therefore be it resolved that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association strongly opposes the EPA’s and USGS’ unauthorized attempt to expand federal management, permitting or review to water rights, water use or water quantity in violation of state primacy.