Renowned scientist sees opportunity for Wyoming beef brand
Torrington – “Wyoming is admired around the world, more than many people ever know. The cowboy on the bronco on the Wyoming license plate is easily the most popular logo in America,” commented Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, during the second Wyoming Agriculture Diversification Summit. “I don’t think Wyoming takes advantage of it.”
The summit, hosted Dec. 6-7 in Torrington at Eastern Wyoming College, focused on “identifying strategic action and tactics with national caliber industry leaders and innovators for emerging and developing value-added and specialty agriculture initiatives.”
Lehr said, “I recommend that Wyoming begins to take advantage and brands its beef.”
Further, he drafted several slogans for the state, including “Wyoming, where tender beef is produced by tough cowboys,” “Wyoming, where real cowboys care for their cattle,” “Wyoming beef, appreciated the world over,” “Wyoming beef, the U.S. answer to Japan’s Kobe beef” and “Cowboys tend Wyoming cattle with the safe affection they have for the land they roam.”
“When you live in Wyoming, you can’t possibly appreciate it,” Lehr emphasized. “We can’t possibly see the forest through the trees.”
Around the world, Lehr noted cowboys are associated with Wyoming, saying, “Wyoming is what people think about when they think about cowboys and the West.”
Wyoming’s small population is both a challenge and an advantage, and Lehr said, “Collectively, the people in the state don’t get together enough to figure out what the state’s assets are and how to promote them, which is why we are meeting here.”
“Agriculture in general is a big business,” Lehr said. “Wyoming has almost 12,000 farms and ranches, and the average size of those farms and ranches is bigger than any other state.”
Citing other statistics from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, 86 percent of the ag revenues come from livestock, 78 percent of which is cattle. Sheep and hogs also contribute to the industry, as do hay, sugarbeets, barley and dry beans.
With mining as the number one industry as the state, Lehr said Wyoming should be proud to be a mining state, with agriculture as its third largest industry.
Globally, Lehr sees Argentina and Japan as competitors for the state of Wyoming, noting that without a USDA packing plant, it will be challenging to be successful and competitive.
“It’s awesome that Gov. Mead has opened a trade office in Taiwan,” he commented. “Val Murray at Murraymere Farms in Powell has been a great advocate for Wyoming beef. Her farm is near Yellowstone, and that makes me realize a huge part of the agriculture industry that Wyoming is missing – ranch tourism.”
In recent travels to Yellowstone National Park, Lehr noticed a huge percentage of the visitors are from Asian countries, each carrying a camera.
“If we could figure out how to bring those visitors to ranches, they would help promote Wyoming beef and Wyoming lamb,” Lehr commented.
“In agriculture in general, the biggest problem is we don’t talk to people who aren’t in agriculture about agriculture,” he continued. “The public doesn’t know diddly about what we do, whether we’re running a farm or a ranch, because we never tell them.”
One big way to tell Wyoming’s story, he suggested, is to take advantage of international visitors to the state, particularly those visitors to Yellowstone and other surrounding areas.
With many important innovations moving the agriculture industry forward, Lehr commented, “The most important innovation in agriculture is something called CRISPR.”
He continued, “CRISPR is the way of re-arranging the DNA of any life form. It stands for Clustered Regularly Insertable Short Palindromic Repeats.”
The technology was developed in 1986 by Japanese, Danish and Spanish researchers, and the technology began to be more heavily used just under a decade ago.
Lehr explained that 40 percent of DNA has sections that read the same frontwards and backwards, making it possible to cut DNA and extract or insert genes, turn genes on or off, improve the health of food, improve its resistance to disease and more.
“CRISPR has been a dramatic breakthrough,” he commented. “This is not unlike genetic modification, except it doesn’t use any foreign genes inserted from one animal to another.”
In the beef industry, fake meat is an additional hot topic, but Lehr assured that fake meat won’t catch on.
“However, there will be some kinds of meat products – things like chicken nuggets – made in 3D printers,” he said. “These will likely emerge in the next few years.”
In additional technology advancements, Lehr foresees edible food packaging, edible barcodes and more.
Three other technologies that will continue to be important to agriculture include drones, robotics and soil monitoring
“Agriculture can use drones more than any other industry in America,” he said. “Amazon will never use a drone to drop a package on our front porches, but in agriculture, we can scout crops and cattle because we can stay within line of sight, work within 400 feet and follow Federal Aviation Administration rules.”
“We will see drones more and more as the years come,” Lehr continued. “We will also see robot pickers.”
With labor challenges, he said robotic picking machines for fruits and vegetables will be essential to the future of the agriculture industry.
Finally, he listed sub-surface soil monitoring as an important technology to help crop producers understand their soil better.
Lehr said, “A lot is happening in the agriculture industry, and we have to get out there and tell our story.”
Lehr suggested ranchers spend two hours a month telling their story to people who aren’t involved in agriculture.
“Tell them what the real story is about farming,” he commented. “There are 2 million people in America in production agriculture. Imagine what we could accomplish is everyone spent two hours a month telling our story.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.