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Challenges and Opportunities: Wyoming agencies provide updates, discuss partnerships during WSGA summer convention

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) hosted the 2024 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show June 5-7 at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds in Douglas. 

In addition to annual committee meetings and awards ceremonies, the program featured a multitude of speakers, including representatives from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Wyoming Beef Council (WBC), the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming State Fair (WSF), who provided updates while sticking to the convention’s theme of “Building Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities.” 

WSF has a bright future

Following a breakfast buffet and an opening ceremony on June 6, WSF General Manager Courtny Conkle addressed opportunities for and challenges faced by WSF. 

“I am so excited about your theme this year because I think it is so relevant,” Conkle began. “I appreciate the opportunities we have available and the direction we are heading, but I think we also need to be humble enough to admit there are some significant challenges we face.” 

When it comes to discussing partnerships, Conkle noted the most important place to start is the foundation – both literally and figuratively. She mentioned there is a group working with the WSF Board of directors to form a 501(c)3, which will launch this summer, pending Internal Revenue Service approval. 

“Getting this nonprofit formally launched will be the true foundation for the future of partnerships at the state fair,” she said. “It gives us so much opportunity in the sense we will be able to do grant writing on behalf of the state fairgrounds and we will be able to have a branch for charitable contributions, so it is something we are really looking forward to.” 

Conkle explained WSF recently received an additional 19.1 acres, increasing the grounds’ acreage to 137 acres, which houses 60 structures. WSF staff is responsible for all of the repair, retention, regular maintenance and replacement of these structures, as well as grass irrigation, landscaping, etc. 

From Ag Hall – the oldest standing structure on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds, finished in 1915 – to the new equine building, which was erected in 2009, WSF has over 100 years of diverse infrastructure, which Conkle notes presents a unique set of challenges. 

However under the guidance of the governing board and the use of a utilitarian master plan created in 2020, over 40 projects have been completed on the state fairgrounds, with another 13 projects currently underway and 50 more set to be tackled over the next few years. 

“The biggest challenge is the time it takes – it takes about two years to complete a project – but we are always turning and burning, and we are trying to complete 10 to 15 projects a year, depending on the scope,” Conkle said. 

She continued, “But, the future is bright for the state fair. It is a preservation of history and heritage, and it also has the ability to be an economic driver, which is not something we have ever tried before in over 119 years of existence.” 

With this, Conkle explained the interim event season on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds has skyrocketed. In 2023, the grounds hosted 479 event days. 

Another highlight is the success of the WSF Endowment, which far exceeded its goal of $500,000 by June 1. 

“Last year, we had the opportunity to raise a half a million dollars, but there were two catches – we had until June 2024 and it was all or nothing,” Conkle said. “Prior to this, the largest single initiative WSF ever had was a biennium fundraiser spearheaded by Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto to raise $100,000, and it was no small feat.” 

As of June 6, Conkle noted WSF raised over $671,000 for the endowment, $500,000 of which will be matched by the Wyoming Legislature. 

“There were hundreds of people who made this happen from across the state and beyond. It is a really good indicator that what we do matters and people want to be on the right side of history for this,” she concluded. 

WSGA looks at possibility of statewide checkoff

After Conkle’s presentation, the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, WBC, Wyoming CattleWomen, Young Producers Assembly and WSGA provided their annual reports, and Karen Budd-Falen, a senior partner at Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, discussed beneficial ownership reporting.

WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna and WBC Executive Director Ann Wittmann took to the stage to give an update on a directive passed at last year’s summer convention regarding a statewide beef checkoff. 

“Some of you may recall during our convention at this time last year, WSGA passed a directive which stated WSGA officers and staff were directed to begin discussion on a statewide beef checkoff of up to one dollar,” Magagna explained. 

He continued, “Wyoming had a state checkoff long before we had a federal beef checkoff. I believe it was 25 cents at the time. Then when the federal checkoff was passed, we used the authority in state statute to increase it to one dollar and collect it all through the federal checkoff.” 

Although discussions of a statewide checkoff have been brought up for some time, Magagna said after the directive was brought forward, he and Wittmann began seriously looking into what a state checkoff would entail, all while involving other industry stakeholders. 

Wittmann commented, “One of the most important things to note about having a state checkoff is the only thing it offers besides what is happening right now on the national level is the opportunity to market, develop, maintain and expand beef products processed, produced or manufactured in the state of Wyoming. But, we would still have all of the same opportunities as far as promotion, education and research go – all of those things are authorized in state statute.”

She further noted things are bleak when looking back at the history of trying to make changes to the existing checkoff. 

In June of 2010, a resolution was passed for the WBC to assess producer support for a state checkoff, according to Wittmann. However, the council was not able to gather a statistically significant amount of evidence through the Producer Attitude Survey because an inadequate amount of producers actually responded to the survey. 

What WBC was able to gather showed 35 percent of respondents were in favor of a state checkoff, and of the 35 percent, 56 percent were willing to pay 50 cents while the other 44 percent were willing to pay up to a dollar. 

“It wasn’t compelling information,” Wittmann stated. 

Wittmann and Magagna believe if they pushed for a state checkoff today, they would run into these same challenges, and they said it would be critical to gather more information before moving forward.

Governor discusses statewide challenges

The second day of the convention wrapped up with WSGA committee meetings, a Cattlemen’s Club Luncheon and a dinner banquet, attended by Gov. Mark Gordon and First Lady Jennie Gordon. 

During his address, Gordon touched on the challenges the state of Wyoming is facing as a whole. He mentioned a “blizzard of things,” including the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan (RMP), the Buffalo RMP, the administration’s attack on energy and natural resources and ongoing issues with the Endangered Species Act, just to name a few. 

He also noted at the beginning of the year Wyoming had 33 lawsuits filed, and this number has jumped to 50 plus.

“As I talk to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Western states are all dealing with a host of challenges, but we are going to step up and meet those challenges,” he stated. 

“We need to stand together because Wyoming has the answer to so many policy decisions. Our hope is by demonstrating the excellent management and husbandry practices we have here and the fact we can work together with our institutions to deliver excellent results will be recognized by others and we can all stand together.” 

In the midst of an election year, Gordon concluded his speech by encouraging WSGA members and the ag community as a whole to pay good attention, to stand together and to continue demonstrating excellent leadership.

Check out next week’s Wyoming Livestock Roundup for updates from the last day of the WSGA summer convention. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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