Wyoming Stock Growers choose Shepperson for presidency
Midwest — Early June when members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) gathered in Gillette for the 2009 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention, central Wyoming rancher Frank Shepperson was selected as the group’s new president.
Shepperson is the 50th Wyoming rancher to serve as president of the organization that began in 1872, 18 years prior to Wyoming statehood. Of the now 137-year-old organization, he says, “This is the best vehicle for individual ranchers to have input in their industry at the state level and nationally.”
As Shepperson’s children returned to the family ranch from college, he says it’s allowed him more time to devote to causes like the WSGA presidency. “It’s a time on our ranch when our children are grown and they can handle things better than I can,” he laughs. Four generations of the Shepperson family, beginning with Frank’s mother Billie Jean and stretching down to his grandsons, call the ranch home.
While some of agriculture’s challenges remain constant, there’s little doubt that some of the modern day hurdles facing agriculture would have been inconceivable to Shepperson’s early day predecessors.
“We have a lot of challenges, some unforeseeable,” says Shepperson. As the federal government leans further and further toward nationalize and names familiar from the Babbitt era reappear amidst the administration, he says the federal government may pose one of the largest challenges in the years ahead.
Recent hearings held across the nation regarding the federally proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) are yet another aspect of the federal challenge. “There are so many ways to achieve traceback without the federal government,” says Shepperson. “I think it would be clumsy and somewhat dangerous for our information to go into a federal bank.”
In other areas, Country of Origin Labeling for example, he sees the industry making progress. “This is something we’ve fought for for years and years,” he says. “It’s been watered down, but we’re going to keep fighting for COOL. I think it’s important that consumers know where their beef comes from.”
Addressing a meat packer’s ability to own cattle may be another area where progress is more likely than it’s been in recent years. “I personally support Senator Enzi and his legislation to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act,” says Shepperson.
He also supports efforts to stop imports of older cattle from Canada. Shepperson believes there’s a link between importing cattle from Canada, a country that is nearing 20 cases of BSE, many of which occurred in cattle born after the country’s ruminant to ruminant feed ban, and those export markets that have proven difficult to regain. “In that area I’m pretty conservative,” says Shepperson. “I think we need to toughen our standards and that USDA should be protecting the U.S. producer. I don’t think they’re doing their job.”
As discussions to address Wyoming Livestock Board authorities and statutes, which will undoubtedly include discussions of animal welfare, take form Shepperson says Wyoming’s ranching community has a very positive story to tell. “As livestock producers in Wyoming, we all do our very best,” he says. “We’re some of the only people who will stay up nights to help animals.”
One of the challenges 1800s-era predecessors might have understood best is unity in the agricultural community. Shepperson says unity among the agricultural community may be one of the biggest challenges he tackles as WSGA president. It may also be a cornerstone in striking at the heart of some of the livestock community’s most pressing issues.
WSGA members in recent years have spent countless hours addressing national affiliations with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is fairly new to the scene, but gaining ground in the state and nationally.
“I’ve joined every organization,” says Shepperson who has attended the national gatherings for both R-CALF and the NCBA. “I did it for knowledge of what everybody’s thinking.” Affiliation with both NCBA and R-CALF, he says, gives the WSGA additional leverage in meeting its members’ goals.
Regardless of the national affiliations Shepperson says, “I think WSGA is the best vehicle for people to ensure their voices are heard, be together and get things done the way they need them.”
Shepperson doesn’t take his goals as WSGA president lightly. Patriarchs of his family first arrived in Wyoming on the Chisholm Trail in the 1800s and formed the ranch he calls home in 1903. Since the days of the Chisholm Trail the Sheppersons have made their livings ranching and it’s tradition he wants to continue with his own grandchildren. “This is our living and we enjoy it. I’m glad all the kids are coming back and working at it.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.