2017 brought promises of change for agriculture in Wyo
The state of Wyoming was encouraged moving into 2017, and looking forward to next year, many in the agriculture community remain optimistic for the future.
“This year has been most encouraging,” says Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank. “There was positive change and direction on key policy issues.”
Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union’s Scott Zimmerman says, “The continued strong livestock prices received by producers helped to shore up other sectors of the agriculture economy. Coupled with the beginning of a rollback of regulatory burden on federally managed lands, we saw some positive action in 2017.”
In 2017, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments, “The general change in attitude from many of the federal agencies toward a willingness to meet challenges by working at the local level and valuing the input of local governments and local stakeholders is welcome.”
Frank adds that action on many policy issues – including efforts to revise the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), congressional action to repeal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Planning 2.0 and collaborative work to modernize the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – has positively impacted the state’s ag industry.
For Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB), delisting of wolves and grizzly bears was a major win, says Ken Hamilton, WyFB Executive Vice President.
For water users, Frank explains changes to the Wyoming Water Development Commission’s Small Water Program will hopefully open the door for additional small water development to improve rangeland conditions and enhance water distribution and watershed function across the state.
“The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality also announced in late November at the Natrona County Conservation District Legislative Meeting that over 30 miles of the North Platte River will be proposed for delisting as impaired,” says Frank. “This is a huge accomplishment for the district, irrigation district, landowners, the city and the county.”
Frank adds, “I think one of the most positive efforts over the past year has been the support we have seen for the Wyoming Ag in the Classroom Wyoming Stewardship Projects and the promise it holds in ensuring our students know and understand Wyoming’s natural resources and what they provide for agriculture, energy and recreation.”
Additionally, producers in Wyoming saw optimism from increased trade, as well.
“The opportunity to begin to build a program for export marketing of Wyoming’s beef is encouraging,” Magagna explains.
While much of the year was positive, 2017 wasn’t without its challenges in the state, notably as it relates to Wyoming’s state budget.
“Legislative budget cuts to the Wyoming State Fair and Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) brand program came without meaningful opportunity for discussion and demonstrated a real lack of understanding of the role of these programs,” Magagna says.
Franks adds, “The state budget has impacted all efforts, and we’re very concerned about the future of the Wyoming State Fair for our youth.”
Zimmerman also notes that, statewide, citizens hoped for an education funding solution to further alleviate budget woes.
On the federal level, the Trump administration’s failure to appoint officials to critical agency positions, as well as confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, has been troublesome.
“We would have liked to have seen key USDA officials be nominated and confirmed at a faster rate to ensure USDA continues to be the leading voice for agriculture on key policy and trade issues,” Zimmerman says.
Hamilton notes the remand of a lawsuit against the case related to the trespass to collect data litigation was also disappointing.
“2017 was a mixed bag for Wyoming ag,” Hamilton says. “On a national level, there were some positive steps taken in the regulatory arena. How well these get translated down to the level where citizens interact with the bureaucracy is something we have to wait and see about.”
Cattle prices have trended upward this year, Hamilton continues, which leads to some optimism for those in ag.
Zimmerman adds, “In 2017, the weather was conducive for crop and hay production across the majority of the state. Commodity prices remained well below the cost of production, though, and the near-term price outlook isn’t positive.”
He summarized, “I would place the 2017 year in the neutral area overall.”
“2017 has, for the most part, placed the Wyoming ranching industry on a positive path,” Magagna says, “but we’ll need more time to fully judge the results.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.