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Future of western agriculture detailed in new report by Family Farm Alliance

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Jan. 19, the Family Farm Alliance released a new report, aimed at providing information to key leaders and policy makers related to the agricultural economy in the western U.S. 

The report, “A Road Map Towards Securing the Future of Western Agriculture,” provides information and findings in four areas – water resources; the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws; public lands management; and immigration. 

“Our Road Map offers specific policy recommendations to ensure that Western agricultural operations continue to be vibrant and innovative for generations to come,” said Family Farm Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, a sheep and cattle rancher from Wyoming. “The report is intended to provide a road map that policy makers can use to develop solutions to the critical challenges facing Western farmers and ranchers.”

Inside water

“We need a new way of looking at water resources – one that includes a broader view of how water is used – along with consideration of food production and habitat needs,” reads the report. “The goal should be to integrate food production and conservation practices into water management.”

The report further notes that planning efforts must be implemented to look toward the future while maintaining the current options of water users. 

When dealing with water conflicts, the report also mentioned that the current litigation strategies are actually harmful to the overall health of landscapes. 

“Congress… should seek solutions that reflect a philosophy that the best decisions on water issues take place at the state and local level,” the report adds. “Successful incentives will ultimately reduce occasions for judges to be forced to substitute their own judgment for that of professionals and stewards of the land.”

Local control

At the same time, the report urged the federal government to commit to working within the current frameworks for water rights appropriations and administration systems. 

“Congress must take up legislation to ease restriction created by increased demands for water under other federal laws during time of water shortage, such as droughts,” the Family Farm Alliance continues. 

“The goal should be to integrate food production and conservation practices into water management decision making and water use priorities,” O’Toole continued. “We must begin to plan now to hold intact current options.”

Federal laws

The impact of federal laws on rural communities was also incorporated into the report. 

“The large federal presence in the West presents unique challenges that producers may not face in other parts of the United States, particularly with respect to the reach of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” says the report. “This law can have significant impacts on how producer manage land.”

It further notes that the Clean Water Act contributes similar challenges to management of lands. 

“The Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts (CWA) are not working in the West,” it continues. “It is very clear to those who work the land that the ESA and CWA need to be addressed using a more performance-based approach.”

By empowering landowners – those who can implement substantive benefits and management actions of the land, the Family Farm Alliance asserts that more work can be accomplished. 

“The goals of the ESA, CWA, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws are laudable,” the report continues. “However, the manner in which these laws are currently implemented created a lack of trust between stakeholders and the federal government.”

Land management

Federal lands also play an integral role for ranchers across the West. 

“The vast federal ownership of western lands and the synchronicity of public and private lands needs to be recognized as critical characteristics of western agriculture,” the report says.

The Family Farm Alliance asserts that regulatory certainty must be created for public land grazing permit holders, rather than the current situation where grazing is continually downsized. 

“Clearly, public land management policy should take into account biology and biodiversity,” the report notes. “However, that policy should also affirm the role that multiple use plays in supporting rural communities, economies, custom and culture, especially those activities which can be managed to enhance the landscape health and wildlife habitat.”

Active steps

“Solutions in all of these areas will be key to future enhanced agricultural production, conservation and community outcomes in the West,” said Dan Keppen, Alliance Executive Director.   

“We look forward to working with leaders in both parties to find bipartisan support for legislation on important topics like water, environmental regulations and energy,” said Mr. O’Toole. “Many of the ideas we will advance are summarized in our Road Map.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, and she compiled this article from the report released by the Family Farm Alliance. Send comments on this article to

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