Senate Agriculture Committee addresses issues to bolster agriculture industry into future
Since March 2020, despite disruptions in their typical meeting format and structure, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee has continued to focus on addressing issues impacting the Wyoming agriculture community.
Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) continues to serve as chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, where he notes they handled several bills over the interim session on some big topics, including invasive species, agriculture advocacy, meat processing and property rights.
Invasive species efforts
“One of the bigger bills we talked about in the interim dealt with the Governor’s Invasive Species Initiative,” Boner explains. “There were several recommendations to streamline efforts and provide flexibility.”
The bill, HB 53, indicates Weed and Pest Councils in the state are to address “coordinated and comprehensive invasive plant species control programs” by implementing data systems, coordinating with institutions of higher education, working with federal partners and incentivizing cooperation.
Additionally, the bill implements recommendations from the Governor’s Invasive Species Initiative and provides rulemaking authority for the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council.
The bill was scheduled for a third reading in the Wyoming Senate on Feb. 4, but action had not been taken by the time of printing.
As what Boner describes as one of the largest efforts undertaken by the committee, he explains the necessity for an entity within the State of Wyoming to serve an advocacy function.
“With the pandemic, we’ve been very sensitive to how fragile our meatpacking industry is,” he says. “We’re looking to distribute the remaining Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to contribute to this capacity, in addition to the work being done by the Department of Ag.”
Boner continues, “One option for using this funding may be the Wyoming Agriculture Authority, which would be able to advocate for agriculture and is spread out across several different agencies right now.”
He indicates currently, there is no statewide, consolidated effort to advocate for agriculture producers in the state. Instead, Weed and Pest, the Wyoming Office of State Lands, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Business Council’s Agri-Business Division and others act relatively independently.
“There’s no consolidated effort to advocate for ag,” Boner says. “In addition, such an authority would also be able to provide low-interest loans to extend capacity to market to increase our ability to market Wyoming ag products to consumers.”
Similar to the Wyoming Energy Authority or Wyoming Community Development Authority, the Wyoming Agriculture Authority would be able to leverage a municipal bond rate to provide lower interest loans. The loans could be used for construction, workforce development, offal disposal or any number of things.
“Discussion is moving forward on the bill,” Boner explains. “As the language is set up, we would set up the board this year and have another year before it goes into effect.”
While there have been concerns voiced about what functions would be moved from their current location to the Agriculture Authority, Boner says this conversation also continues.
“We will continue to discuss what functions would be best moved underneath the new ag authority. This is going to be a robust discussion for everyone,” Boner says.
As Boner looks forward to the conclusion of the virtual session of the Wyoming Legislature on Feb. 5, he explains the body is preparing to meet in person beginning March 1 to handle the state budget, along with other issues.
“Virtual is far from ideal, but at this point, we’re getting the job done the best we can,” Boner comments. “The bills we selected for the shorter virtual session are more straightforward, so we can take action but do it in a good job in a remote setting. Certainly, a virtual session is not appropriate for every piece of legislation or for the budget bill, which will be heard the second week of March.”
Additionally, though it can be challenging, Boner adds the virtual session has its perks, including the opportunity to be surrounded by his family and constituents.
“I like being surrounded by my constituents instead of lobbyists while I’m considering these issues,” he says. “I’m still going to the grocery store, the hardware store and around town, running into people I wouldn’t see if I was in Cheyenne. It’s provided a nice opportunity for conversations.”
Boner adds, however, he’s looking forward to heading back to Cheyenne in March to handle the rest of the business of the Wyoming Legislature for the year.
The Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee will meet on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. in both remote and physical locations. The purpose of the meeting is to receive the annual forest health briefing from State Forester Bill Crapser, as well as Region Two and Region Four representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
No legislation will be presented at this meeting.
The public will have an opportunity to comment either online or in person.
Physical locations for the meeting will include the Powell Weed and Pest Office in Powell and the Capitol Building Meeting Room Five in Cheyenne. A livestream will also be available at wyoleg.gov.
The House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee held a meeting on Feb. 4 to discuss HB 51 Meat processing programs and HB 54 Wyoming meat packing initiative. Look for more information on these bills in next week’s Roundup.
Saige Zespy is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.