Back to our roots, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visits Wyoming in nationwide tour
Cheyenne – “Good fences make good neighbors, but I don’t want to have to have a good fence to be a good neighbor,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a May 16 visit to Wyoming. “USDA wants to be the best neighbor for agriculture in Washington, D.C., and we want to be the best agency in D.C. that is the most available and accountable to its customers.”
Perdue met with a wide swath of Wyoming’s agriculture industry, opening with positive remarks from USDA before hearing about their concerns and challenges on the ground.
In opening, Perdue brought optimism from his interaction with President Donald Trump.
“He comes from a real estate background in New York,” Perdue said, noting President Trump comes to the table with a firm boisterous approach to deal-making, which is not effective in agriculture. “We know that’s not the way we work. We have to work every day to serve our customers.”
Perdue added, however, Trump has kept ag in the forefront, particularly as he negotiates trade deals with China.
“I heard him tell his negotiators he wants to double consumption of America’s ag goods within two years in China,” he continued. “He said he wants $25 to $50 billion reduction of the trade deficit to be from agriculture. When we get there, we don’t know, but that’s what he’s told me.”
Perdue said, “President Trump doesn’t expect farmers to be the only soldiers in the battle. We’re going to be in there, too. Farmers are not going to be by themselves. I have commitments from this administration that we’re going to take care of our agricultural producers.”
Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said, “Between grains, cattle and other things, China is a tremendous market to get into.
Frank Eathorne, northeast Wyoming rancher, explained his family’s ranch operates on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, where they see challenges with prairie dog.
“We have seen a lot of the grasslands that looks more like a dirt-land,” he said. “That comes from an emphasis on the prairie dog and its survival.”
Eathorne noted prairie dogs thrive in the area, and he reported recent leadership from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), who administers the lands, have indicated change is coming to alleviate concerns.
“We need faster action than the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process takes to work,” he said. “Prairie dog numbers have been knocked down right now, and we need to be able to get in and keep numbers down. NEPA works too slow.”
USFS has indicated they are agreeable to land use plan amendments but work needs to happen make quickly, said Eathorne.
“USFS management affects private lands, too,” he emphasized.
“We have a lot more tools now to do Forest projects and grasslands projects, as well as opportunities to do NEPA concurrently,” Perdue commented. “We want to be as respectful as the private or public landowner next door. We want to be good neighbors.”
Shaun Sims, WACD president and southwest Wyoming sheep rancher, noted wildlife management continues to threaten operations, as well.
“We have spent generations building our ranches to run on USFS permits, which coincide with our private property,” Sims explains. “Bighorn sheep are a state-managed species, but the USFS has overstepped their bounds and are managing over the state’s authority.”
Sims noted their operation has received notice that USFS may close their allotment because of Bighorn sheep populations.
“We’re very concerned about whether or not we can turnout in July or not,” he said. “It would be devastating because we have nowhere else to go with our sheep. We need some help with this to get Bighorn sheep off the list of species of conservation concern, turning them back to the state, where their management belongs.”
Perdue commented, “We do have to collaborate to minimize some of the litigation and injunctions. We need to work together to understand how to realize the end goal.”
“Water rights and native wildlife species are not the role of the Forest Service,” Perdue added. “We want to exit from that.”
“I may be old school, but I’ve made the comment that we have more -ologists in the USFS than we have foresters out there,” Perdue said. “Some of our graduates who are just out of college go out with a manual and spreadsheet and think they know more about grazing than the people on the ground.”
“That’s part of the culture we have to change to get the right people on the ground,” he continued.
With the farm bill imminent, Ken Macy of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union voiced concern about several pieces of the bill.
“The Sugar Program often comes under attack when there’s a farm bill,” he said. “We’d like to see that preserved because sugar producers are an important part of our farm community.”
Macy also highlighted the importance of the disaster sections of the farm bill to provide protections for grazing in the event of fire or drought, as are crop insurance provisions.
Gregor Goertz, Wheatland dryland wheat and cattle farmer, noted, “Crop insurance is very important, and we need it to survive.”
“We don’t use it all the time, but when we need it, it’s important,” he added, noting that reallocation of base acres, among other provisions could be devastating.
“It’s important for the ag industry to make their views known, particularly as it relates to the sugar program and crop insurance,” Perdue said.
Perdue emphasized, “Producers have been effective with their advocacy in the past, but it’s important to speak up and make viewpoints loud and clear.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.