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Groan: What Happens as We Age?

By Randy R. Weigel, Former Director of Wyoming AgrAbility

Older ranchers and farmers must deal with the effects of aging just like everyone else. What are “normal” changes that can increase risk for ranchers and farmers as they age? Deborah Reed, professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky, specializes in agricultural health and safety. She lists the following as normal changes as we age. 

In our 30s, we begin to see decreased respiratory capacity. Our 40s are marked by presbyopia. In our 50s we see compromised joints, followed by skin changes in our 60s, decreased distal sensation in our 70s and decreased temperature tolerance in our 80s.

'Bag of wind' syndrome

Here’s what happens. In your mid-20s, you reach a maximum respiratory capacity. You can go longer, talk faster, jump higher and everything else in your 20s because your lungs are at their peak.

After that it’s downhill. If you are a smoker, it goes downhill twice as fast.  

Starting at about the age of 30, your lung capacity begins to decrease. By the time you are 50 your lung capacity may be half of what it was in your youth. 

Decreased lung capacity means respiratory function is impaired and less oxygen is getting into your cells. This explains why shortness of breath, decreased endurance and susceptibility to respiratory illness commonly increases with age.

'Long arm' syndrome

Presbyopia, which is a nice word for what I call “long arm” syndrome happens in your 40s. 

The lens of the eye begins to yellow and flatten. If you see people trying to read things like restaurant menus and they are holding it at arm’s length, that is presbyopia. In your 40s that’s a natural occurrence. 

'Snap, crackle and pop' syndrome

By the time you’re in your 50s, you have the “snap, crackle and pop”  syndrome. 

Your joints begin to lose the lubricant they have between the bones, and the collagen begins to compress. It can lead to bone on bone contact. When you get out of bed you experience pain and you have to stretch. 

Noises that you are making can change from pleasant sounds in your youth to painful sounds as you try to get out of bed. 

'Connect the dots' syndrome

By the time you are in your 60s, you can have a game to play with your grandchildren – connect the dots, because your skin begins to develop dots on it that you didn’t have before because of long-term exposure to the sun. 

Ranchers’ s and farmers’ skin changes can be even worse. That is normal. 

You also begin to lose the fatty layer underneath the skin, so you can pinch up the skin at times.

'Lobster claw' syndrome

By the time you’re in your 70s, when you reach for things, you may not feel them. That’s because the nerve endings at the ends of your fingers and toes begin to decrease, resulting in decreased distal sensation. 

If you are diabetic it happens at a younger age. Diabetes takes a toll on fingers and toes. 

Think about what this might mean to you. If you try to pick up a wrench, nut or bolt to do repair work and you can’t feel them like you used to, it becomes more difficult to do the work. 

'Grandma' syndrome

By the time you are in your 80s, you develop the grandma syndrome. You need a shawl even when it’s 90 degrees. You don’t have good temperature tolerance. Your window of being comfortable is between 75 and 80 degrees. Anything different than that and you feel cold.  

Hyper- and hypothermia are very real problems in your 80s and above. 

Normal changes

These are normal changes as we age. There is no magic formula despite what you see on TV. This will happen to you. You can be prepared for what is coming, or if you are already there, now you can explain it. 

The other thing that happens as age advances is you have prolonged recovery times. What used to take you two weeks to get over may take a month to get over now. Respiratory infections will take longer. Broken bones take longer to heal. Your resistance goes down as you begin to age.

Older ranchers and farmers are also at risk because their reflexes begin to slow. You can’t move as fast because it hurts, and your joints are stiff. There is also physical degeneration of the muscles. Even if you are out all day working, your muscles atrophy as you age. 

In her study Safety Strategies for Older Adult Farmers, Reed was interested in how older ranchers and farmers changed their work as they aged to make it easier. What were some adaptations older ranchers and farmers made?

They increased the use of four-wheelers and ATVs. They began to think and plan the day so they could conserve energy.

They paced themselves and took more frequent rest breaks, saying, “When I get tired, I quit.” They hired younger people to help do the more physically demanding tasks.

They did more maintenance on their equipment so they wouldn’t have to do repair work when tired or under pressure to reduce the chance of an accident.

They began taking short vacations so they wouldn’t get fatigued. Fatigue is the leading cause of injury in older ranchers and farmers. And, get this – they even began to take naps. Who would think of a rancher taking a nap?

But as one rancher mentioned, “I found I had to take a nap because I literally could not go anymore. I just began to build naptime into my workday. And, now I go out to feed at 7. I used to go at 5.”

Randy R. Weigel is professor emeritus and Extension specialist in the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4186 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Farms and Ranchers are Tired of EPA Doubletalk

By Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau President

Business owners around the country have joined with farmers and ranchers in speaking out on the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. More than 30 states also oppose the rule. Yet, even in the face of mounting opposition, the EPA still isn’t listening.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has unveiled her latest, campaign-style WOTUS spin, calling the effort the “Clean Water Rule” – as though a bumper-sticker approach to a complex regulation would change anything for people so profoundly affected by her agency’s actions.

Slogans may matter more than facts at the EPA, but the details still matter to farmers and ranchers who know full-well the importance of clean water. We depend on it for our livelihoods, after all. Our biggest objection, in fact, is not about clean water. It’s about land.

McCarthy insists that the rule will allow business as usual for agriculture. She has said farmers and ranchers won’t need special permits “to go about their business.” But what she’s saying just doesn’t match up with the language of the rule. Anyone who’s been out on farmland knows that water collects in spots that aren’t regular water sources for anything else, let alone major streams and rivers.

Prairie potholes are a good example of the “waters” the EPA is targeting. These isolated wetlands are sprinkled across the upper Midwest and Northern Plains. By pooling these isolated features together, the WOTUS rule would let the agencies treat them as a “significant nexus” to streams and rivers – an idea that’s simply not supported by law or common sense. Together, the prairie potholes in a region could be treated just like a large body of water, even though the end result would be more control over land, not water – something that Congress never intended.

Rather than recognizing the careful stewardship that farmers and ranchers practice, EPA keeps forcing farmers and ranchers back on the defensive. McCarthy said farmers shouldn’t worry about the rule at all “unless you want to pollute or destroy jurisdictional water.” Statements like this hint that the agency is looking to broaden the rule by making it more ambiguous, not less.

Farmers and ranchers can’t afford the steep fines that regulators could impose for normal farming practices. And farmers aren’t looking to sidestep regulations. We have the most to lose if one of our most valuable resource is compromised.

EPA claims that it’s simplifying regulations and making them easier to follow, but the fine print tells another story. No matter what name the agency gives its rule, it can only lead to needless pain for agriculture and businesses across the country.

If EPA won’t listen, perhaps Congress will. Please let your senators and representative know that farmers, small business owners and state and local governments are looking to them to stop the WOTUS rule.

Learn more about the American Farm Bureau Federation at fb.org.

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International Year of Soils Celebrated

By Shari Meeks, JIO/PAPO Ag Program Coordinator, Wyoming Department of Agriculture

No one in agriculture needs reminding of the importance of high-quality topsoil. But this is not generally true for the entire population, who considers soil as no more than the dirt we sweep up in our homes and wash off our vehicles. A healthy soil is the foundation for food, fuel, fiber and medical products and is the most vital – and most overlooked – part of our ecosystem.

The 68th United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS) to increase awareness and understanding of the many important roles of soil. Together, with international partners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) will be showcasing the importance of soil with monthly themes created by the SSSA. These themes vary by topic from soil biology to water filtering capabilities to agricultural significance and urban life support. Activities and more information about the monthly themes can be found at soils.org/iys.

In light of the 2015 International Year of Soils, let’s take a look at our very own landscape in Wyoming.

Wyoming’s state soil

Soils throughout the world all possess characteristics making them unique – from soil color and texture to soil depth. According to the NRCS, a state soil is any soil with specific significance to a state. Twenty state soils have been legislatively established and have the same level of distinction as state birds and flowers. 

The Wyoming state soil is Forkwood. This soil is located predominantly in the north and east portions of the state as shown in the bottom figure on page 12. Wyoming’s semi-arid climate allows the Forkwood soils to support native plants such as bluebunch wheatgrass, Wyoming big sagebrush, needle and thread grass and various native forbs. Wyoming’s native rangelands are a very productive ecosystem and, with proper management techniques, will continue to be a sustainable resource for our state.

The Forkwood soil has unique characteristics. The soil profile doesn’t look too intriguing, but it holds a lot of information regarding why it can only sustain the plant community it does. 

Soil horizons

The “A” and “B” Horizons are the most important horizons for plant growth. The surface layer called the “A” Horizon is approximately three to five inches thick. Organic matter comes from decaying plant litter and is a source of soil fertility. Organic matter also influences soil structure at the surface. A nice granular structure is best to achieve good water infiltration.

The subsoil or “B” Horizon is approximately eight to 12 inches thick. Over thousands of years, clay particles and some organic matter leach through the profile during periods of rainfall or snowmelt and settle in this portion of the soil profile. Clays can bind water and nutrients, making the plants work harder for those items vital for growth.

Due to the nature of plant structure, most plant roots do not extend down to the third and fourth horizons. Lime has accumulated in these parts and can be limiting to plant growth. Should the topsoil, in this case the upper 12 inches of the soil profile, be stripped away, these bottom horizons would unlikely be able to support the same plant community as we see on the landscape now. 

Unique characteristics

Forkwood’s soil characteristics, partnered with climate, pose limitations on what the soil can be used for. These soils are typically used for rangeland and wildlife habitat and are considered unsuitable for row crops. 

The Forkwood soil is dominant on our landscape, but there are many other unique soil types in Wyoming. These include soils with high salt content, forest soils and soils with bedrock near the surface. Each soil comes with its own limitations and characteristics.

Importance to producers

Whether you are grazing cattle or farming, knowledge of soil can help make decisions important to your operation. Clayey soils support different vegetation than sandy soils. This can affect everything from carrying capacity of cattle for beef producers to choice of crop for farmers. 

The NRCS has tools available to the public, including the Web Soil Survey, available at  websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm, where you can look up a parcel of land and find soil information particular to that property. 

If you are not able to utilize their website, you can always go to your local NRCS office and talk with the Range Conservationist. The University of Wyoming Extension offices also have folks to steer you in the right direction. 

Another resource is the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. They have a great website at forces.si.edu/SOILS/interactive/statesoils/index.html displaying each state’s soil. What a great way to compare and contrast soils from around the nation!

Soils are dynamic. They support agriculture, filter and capture water, support buildings and infrastructure, support health and recreation, and ultimately sustain life. In honor of the International Year of Soils, don’t treat your soil like dirt!

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Investing in the Future of Wyoming’s Dry Bean Industry

By Mike Moore, Wyoming Seed Certification Service Manager

The Dry Bean Research Act, which went through the 2015 Legislative Session as Senate File (SF) 4 and is now Enrolled Act 52, is fairly straightforward. First, it creates a dry bean checkoff, which will generate approximately $150,000 per year. Second, it creates a Bean Commission, which will determine the best use of those funds within the parameters dictated by the Act.

Dry bean checkoffs have been doing good things in neighboring states for many years. Between 1989 and 2009, the Colorado dry bean checkoff provided more than $800,000 for research, and Nebraska’s checkoff resulted in $158,008.67 spent on research projects in the 2014-15 fiscal year alone. 

The Wyoming checkoff, via a total assessment of 0.51 percent of the final settlement amount, of which 0.34 percent is paid by the grower and 0.17 percent paid by the handler, will generate about $150,000 a year based on an average of the last five year's acres, yields and prices. That means that a modest $3.40 per $1,000 from the growers and $1.70 per $1,000 from the handlers will provide support for research.

The use of checkoff funds will be determined by the second creation of the Act, which is a Bean Commission. The Governor will appoint the initial Commission members, which will consist of four producers and two handlers, with the caveat that at least one producer must come from Platte, Goshen or Laramie County. The makeup of the Commission mirrors the amount contributed to the checkoff, with two-thirds of the money coming from producers who make up two-thirds of the Commission members. As the terms of those initial and subsequent members end, regular elections will be held, with those who contributed funds to the checkoff having voting privileges.

The impetus behind the bill was the lack of funding for research on important agronomic issues, and the Bean Commission will soon have funds to put to work. Issues such as nightshade control, exploring new practices for beans grown under center pivot irrigation and new planting and harvesting techniques are logical places to start. Funding could go toward an exciting opportunity that revolves around recent discussions between Wyoming and the Idaho and Colorado bean breeding programs, resulting in a tentative agreement to cooperate to develop bean varieties for the state. After last fall’s frost, a high yielding, shorter growing season bean sounds like a very good idea. 

Checkoff dollars will also provide leverage for even more research dollars, as matching dollars are available from the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Both of those entities are sources of producer-driven research funds, meaning producers bring an issue to a UW researcher, and they work together to conduct research that addresses a current production problem or explores a new production technique. As you can see, there are some exciting, and definitely worthwhile, opportunities for the Bean Commission to consider.

Even with so much potential for good things to come from checkoff funds, the idea of a checkoff will generate a negative reaction from some people, as they or someone they know has experience with a non-refundable checkoff. The dry bean checkoff is refundable upon request, with the window of the refund opportunity beginning 30 days after settlement and lasting for 90 days. This provides an opportunity for producers to receive a refund should they wish to do so. Handlers can request a refund on settlements for which a grower has received a refund. It should be noted that voting privileges for Bean Commission members are tied to contributions to the checkoff, so those who received a refund will forfeit voting privileges.

There are also some less-obvious benefits to the Act, one being that the Bean Commission can also act on behalf of Wyoming bean producers, something that could very well have helped speed insurance payments after this past fall’s devastating September freeze. 

Several times during the fall, and even during the legislative process to establish the checkoff, the question arose as to why the Wyoming dry bean grower group was not speaking up. The answer was that there was no organized grower group in the state. Thanks to the Act, there is one now. Commodity grower groups, such as the Wyoming Wheat Commission or the Wyoming Crop Improvement Association, speaking as one voice can and do make a difference, whether supporting friendly actions or addressing unfriendly ones. They can meet with regional Risk Management Association (RMA) directors to work through issues to speed insurance payments or at the very least gain an understanding of why payments are slow in forthcoming and help producers understand options.

There were quite a few people who took the rollercoaster ride that ended with Governor Matt Mead signing the Dry Bean Research bill this March. Those people saw a need for many things a dry bean checkoff could fund, including work to discover varieties that are developed for Wyoming’s short growing season. The Act will be effective July 1.  All beans sold after that date will be assessed the checkoff amount and start investing in a bright future for the Wyoming dry bean industry.

People who are interested in serving on the Bean Commission, or anyone with questions, are encouraged to contact Mike Moore, Wyoming Seed Certification Service manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-754-9815.

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