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As the summer grilling season winds down and demand for beef tightens up, it will be interesting to see what happens to the price of calves or, in some cases, yearlings that haven’t been sold. Since early in the year, it seems that we have heard about how cattle prices should be going down as the feeder futures were lower. Well, up to now, they have bucked that trend as beef demand stayed up, some say due to increased exports. And that is most likely true, but as we have learned in the last few years, the reasons for cattle prices rising and falling are the result of “all of the above.”

Those of us who admit that we don’t understand the beef markets are always looking for one reason to blame or thank for the ups and downs in the markets. It is just easier that way, but we soon realize that the factor we thought is just not the only cause. It is really a complex discussion, and one I suspect we try to avoid.

Take last week for instance. Reports showed that in the U.S., there were around 627,000 head of cattle slaughtered that produced over 505 million pounds of beef. That is mostly beef that has to be chilled or frozen, sold, shipped and made ready for a meat counter or restaurant. And don’t forget the most important part. We in the beef business want to make a profit from our beef.

Consumer demand comes at the end, but it governs the whole process. Take this summer’s beef demand as an example. It caused the numbers in the feedlots to stay current, made packers want to slaughter more and was the reason for lower weights of slaughter cattle, mainly steers.

Let’s take slaughter numbers from last April, too. They say commercial beef production for April was fractionally below a year ago in April, but even with one less slaughter day in the month, packers slaughtered two percent, or 54,000 head, more cattle than April 2016.

From progressivecattle.com, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Livestock Slaughter report released in May 2017, dressed weights for steers and heifers slaughtered under federal inspection declined 25 to 22 pounds, respectively, year over year. The decrease in the average carcass weight more than offset the increase in the number of cattle slaughtered and kept production from increasing, and that is good news to ranchers across the nation. We like lots of lighter cattle being slaughtered daily and buyers around the world looking for more beef.

So, that means we have to help market our beef, either by promoting it ourselves or supporting our state beef checkoffs. And we need trade agreements with countries that the U.S. exports to, like Japan.

We see this past week that Japan announced an automatic tariff rate increase on imports of frozen beef from the U.S. Some say it may be one of the first consequences to the U.S. for backing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The tariff increase from 38.5 percent to 50 percent began on Aug. 1 and ends on March 31, 2018. The tariff will only affect exporters from countries that do not have free trade agreements with Japan, such as the U.S.

So, come on, guys, get to the negotiating table. It is our livelihood.

For part of last week, I was in Denver, Colo. attending the summer convention of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). As usual, there was a good turn out, and a wealth of topics were discussed.

Despite the Trump administration’s slowness on critical appointees to critical agencies, there is still a lot coming out of Washington D.C., both from the administration and Congress. Private property rights, sage grouse, federal lands issues, meat exports and livestock trucking issues are just some of the issues that came up and were discussed in policy meetings. On the other side of the building, in the Federation of State Beef Council meetings, the various beef checkoff committees met.

What really stood out to me was the force and the respect in Washington, D.C. of the NCBA lobbyists, both from NBCA and the Public Lands Council (PLC). Time and time again, we heard from many speakers in the political arena as to how NBCA and PLC lobbyists are a great help and a place to get the right information to those who make decisions.

One thing that helps is the NCBA Political Action Committee (PAC). As one of the largest in Washington, D.C., it is a major force in our nation’s capitol. It all adds up as a force for America’s beef producers. Remember, over 25,000 members can’t be all wrong.

Switching gears to the Wyoming sheep industry, if you have an interest or are in the sheep business, head to Casper’s Ramkota Hotel on July 24-25 for the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Summer Membership Meeting. It will be two days packed with information, discussion and some fun. 

The morning of July 24 starts with a Small Flock and Fiber Symposium and later a Young/Beginning Producers Seminar. Also, in the afternoon, there will be a labor update and a federal lands agencies update from Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, followed by industry updates from the Natural Resource Coalition and Wyoming Farm Bureau. The afternoon continues with a talk from USDA Wildlife Services Administrator Bill Clay and a discussion on grizzly bear and wolf delisting and management. Steve True and Ken Richardson of the Wyoming Livestock Board will also provide updates. Then, the fun starts with a reception and dinner along with a sheep shearing fundraising contest.

The next day starts with a talk by Steve Harshman, Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives followed by an introduction to Whit Stewart, the new sheep specialist at the University of Wyoming. Rhonda Brandt of Wyoming’s Field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service will speak on the latest ag census, followed by an update from Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry. 

Next will be a talk by the new president of the Wyoming Business Alliance and Wyoming Heritage Foundation, Cindy Delancey, followed by a Washington update, live from Washington, D.C. with the Wyoming Congressional Delegation. 

There will be a talk by George Kerr on Sheep Shearer Development Program, followed by a wool panel with Larry Prager, who runs the Center of the Nation Wool Warehouse, and Ben Hostetler from the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo. Then, Warrie Means, meat specialist from the University of Wyoming, will speak on modern lamb cuts.

After lunch, there will be a membership meeting for all the members.

If you have any interest in sheep, you need to be there.    

As I have said before, those in the business of raising and feeding beef are true optimists. But, if you own or lease a ranch or feedlot, do you have a lot of choice? I would guess most beef producers or feeders would tell you, “Some days are better than others.”

The latest issue of BEEF Magazine has this year’s Producer Optimism Index out, and if it is any indication, the outlook is good.

Scott Grau, Penton director of research, said, “I see that producers are showing increased optimism, both in the short-term and long-term, due to their perception of the supply and demand fundamentals, domestically and internationally. This is supported with producers’ view that the international beef trade influences the prices they receive in the U.S., so they are competing in a worldwide market-place.”

He goes on to say, “To better compete in this market, a vast majority of respondents are making market management decisions to decrease their input costs. The most common method is to get more gain per acre of pasture.”

Also, other issues that helped influence the optimism were the drought fading away in the West and a new U.S. president.

Producers maintain similar attitudes relative to short-term and long-term optimism. In the short-term category, seedstock producers led the way as most optimistic, followed by feeders, then stocker-backgrounders. Last was the cow/calf producer, and the top category was international demand. I suppose that China accepting American beef created much of the optimism for global demand.

On the negative side, input costs were the top reason for being less optimistic, while consumer demand was high for either being optimistic or less optimistic.

Over the longer term, international demand was the top reason for being optimistic and input costs again were the reason for less optimism. The top reasons for management and procurement strategies were more intensive pasture management to increase stocking rate and grazing more and feeding less. That looks like those reasons came from smaller cattle herds, not on Wyoming ranges.

International beef trade was selected as essential to good U.S. cattle prices. We hope our president hears that as he gets into new trade agreements.

I was surprised to see that around 55 percent of those surveyed used no risk management tools, such as forward contracting of calves, futures, livestock risk protection or forward contracting of inputs. If those people surveyed were mainly smaller producers from east of the Mississippi River, I can understand it.

Forty-three percent said they were going to keep their herd size the same, while 29 percent of producers noted that they were planning to expand by between one and 10 percent.

The news of international demand for beef and, lately, the rising price of slaughter cows and bulls have kept the market stronger that we thought it was going to be. We say a prayer for those in North and South Dakota who are forced to sell pairs due to the drought conditions. It is surprising here in Wyoming to still see some dry spots around, even with all the moisture we had earlier.

As we have always done, we will continue taking advantage of the good days and toughing it out during the days that are not so good. 

The Fourth of July is now behind us, and we at the Roundup hope everyone had a safe and happy weekend while you honored our nation.

As I’ve said before, news has been coming out of Washington, D.C. at a fast pace so far this summer, both good and not so good. But there has been some good news also from right here in our region, as both the grizzly bear and the wolf have been delisted. Both have been a long time coming, as animal populations and assurances from the affected states both warranted delisting. Now that they are both delisted, we are all waiting for lawsuits to be filed.

A number of advocates for the grizzly bear have already filed notice that they are prepared to sue to reverse the bears’ recent removal from the endangered species list. I’ve read where the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, among other Tribes, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and The Humane Society of the U.S. are among the groups that have filed a 60-day notice of intent to block the move to delist by suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What in the world is The Humane Society jumping in for?

Well, of course, we all know that suing the government is a great way to generate dollars for these groups. A number of Native American Tribes have joined together to try to get the grizzly bear listed again, a move some say would gain them some dollars in the long run.

I imagine, first, these groups would gain by receiving donations and, second, by getting money from the government under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Who can blame them? This strategy has worked before.

The debate over the fate of both the wolf and the grizzly bear is a long one, despite the increasing numbers in the Northern Rocky Mountains. With hunting seasons planned for both species outside of national parks, the debate is sure to go on. But, as with everything out there, the numbers have to be managed. The advocates cannot just say, “We want all we can get.”

These debates and lawsuits only prove that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t work. Through lawsuits and opinions, the current law is nowhere near the intent of the first written law. It is now a broken law, and it needs to be fixed.

Leadership was displayed in 2015 by Wyoming’s Gov. Matt Mead as the chairman of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the other western governors as they launched the Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative. Gov. Mead, through his leadership made it a top priority for WGA while he was chairman, and it was recently supported at the latest conference under the current chairman, the governor of Montana. A policy resolution was adopted at the meeting in Montana. The discussion and action by WGA has stirred discussion and action nationwide.

The issue is in WGA’s backyard and ours. We applaud their actions and hope Congress catches on as Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation has. It’s called leadership.