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It is the last of October; we’re seeing a lot of cattle pots around the county, and country roads are full of calves headed down those roads. It’s not the best of times to be selling calves, but in the livestock business, one takes the good along with the bad.

The calves in those trucks are certainly undervalued, and that is what hurts. But, don’t take it out on the truck drivers or especially not the brand inspectors. The truckers are always under more regulation as far as hours worked, and now, there is talk of them being responsible for the health and wellbeing of their loads. And the local brand inspectors are there to make sure that everything is legal and calves that are leaving the state get to leave. Especially don’t complain when you pay for the beef checkoff. That is most likely one of the reasons beef prices are not lower than they are.

As we have all heard, the talk around the scales is always in the form of a question – where is the bottom on these calf prices? After the last couple of weeks, no one is sure. There is some talk of calves going under one dollar a pound. After all, the average price that finished cattle brought last week was under $100, and that was the first time we saw prices that low since December 2010. Slaughter levels are high – or as they say elevated – so that would mean they should go down some more. As wholesale meat prices are pressured to drop, that should help at the grocery stores.

Packers are doing well these days, and they are killing lots of cattle, keeping the feedlots current and fed cattle weights lower. Drovers CattleNetwork says, if a feeder buys calves today to feed, and they bought those calves aggressively as they should, because of the economics of the situation, the cattle feeder has a greater potential for profit than their cattle currently on feed in their lots. Drovers also says that the situation today is almost the exact opposite of the situation a year ago when cattle feeders were delaying markets and fed cattle got so heavy. Fed cattle were down $3.32 from last week and off $25.61 from a year ago.

Drovers says, the biggest drag in the meat sector may be the 50 percent lean trimmings, which are those trimmings left over after the cutting and fabrication process. They say lean beef demand seems somewhat slow, as both 50s and 90s are experiencing depressed prices. The boatloads of Brazilian lean meat making their way into our meat markets can’t help either. Unlike Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), maybe we should just label beef from other countries, rather than marking American beef. That should be cheaper.

It is payback time. We say that cattle are undervalued today, giving the market fundamentals of supply and demand, but others said cattle were grossly overvalued in the market in 2014, 2015 and much of 2016. For the rancher in the hills trailing the pairs to the shipping corrals to trucks waiting to weigh and load calves, that doesn’t diminish the pain.

Who should control or own Wyoming’s federal lands? That question has been asked more in the last few years, and now it has dropped in Wyoming as a major issue between our candidates running for the lone seat of U.S. Representative and those running for our State Legislature.

      One of the issues with the question is that it isn't a question that can be answered by a plain "yes" or "no", and those who want just a "yes" or "no" don’t understand the issue.

First, it’s easy to understand and sympathize with those who want to see the federal lands turned over to the states, as the federal government has really made it difficult to do business on these federal lands in recent years. From management of feral horses to cumbersome restrictions for public land users trying to make a living from these public lands, it’s almost unreasonable to deal with the regulations that the federal government is coming up with. It’s the frustration of trying to do business – or see a lack of business – with the agencies from Washington, D.C. that makes public land users support western states taking over management or ownership.

Then, there is the misinformation that is running amok out there why we should or shouldn’t. We’ve heard, “The state will just sell the lands to the rich,” or “We need the federal lands to stay as they are in order to have more wilderness, protected areas and national parks.”

To say what will happen if the state does or doesn’t take over the federal lands is pure speculation on anyone’s part. We really don’t even know if it is legal to do so at this point.

Our State Legislature funded a feasibility study to research whether or not it is feasible for the state to own or manage the federal lands within its boundaries. It could come back as illegal or not feasible, who knows. The report is supposed to be out next month.

You know, for western states to take over federal lands, there will have to be a lot of negotiations before anything happens, and there are tons of questions to be answered. Some of those questions include what happens to the mineral rights. Are they on the table or not? We also need to see if the state just managing these lands will be enough to stop the overreach of the federal government. I’m sure the state won’t want the responsibility of managing the feral horses under the current restrictions. The government will have to clean up that mess. Really, there are as many questions to be answered as there are no answers for at this point.

So, instead of voting for the candidate on their stance of this question, vote for the best candidate the state needs in Congress and our State Legislature. The issue of who should own or manage the federal lands is just too premature at this point. And it may not even be an issue down the road. The question shouldn’t cloud up our election in November.

 

     A Gallup Poll that had come out around the first of September said that Americans spend around $151 a week on food. That amount is smaller than when Gallup last asked the question in 1987.

Gallup first asked the question on food costs in 1943, when the average was around $15, and then again in 1987, when the money spent on food jumped to around $106. Gallup said that adjusting the historical data to 2012 dollars also reveals that Americans’ weekly spending on food began to decline in the 1970s, after rising to a high of $234 in 1966-67. Generally, the downward trend was interrupted by a spike in 1987.

Gallup also said the increases in weekly food spending over time largely reflect the impact of inflation. So, on a relative basis, after adjusting prior years’ data for inflation to 2012 dollars, Americans are spending less on food now than in the the mid- to late-1980s when the poll was last taken.

Americans lead the world on cheap food. I’ve heard that we only spend 11 to 12 percent of our earned income on food, where in other countries it is much larger.

The poll also showed that young adults' average weekly food spending is $173, and young adults ate out more often than other age groups. But, the number of all Americans who ate at home has increased to 80 percent, compared to the 10 percent who said they ate at a restaurant. I think that is a positive sign because we hear all the time how young adults don’t cook at home or don’t know how to cook. Now it is up the nation’s beef and lamb producers and the managers of their checkoffs to get the word out.

I see where those attending the World Health Summit in Berlin this week endorsed the “Meatless Monday” concept. That is an uphill battle we in the meat business all have to fight with one voice. Some may think that is an unattainable goal, but it needs to happen.

In the beef business, we’re also currently dealing with much lower cattle prices. The negative part is that we’re not going to be bringing in the amount of dollars we need. As long as we are stuck with it, we may just as well dream up some positive aspects of the lower beef prices.

Most shoppers don’t believe it, but grocery prices are going down, and beef products are leading the way. In a sense, that may be good in that it will get people back to buying steaks or roasts. Due to high prices, a lot of grocery shoppers have skipped over these products and just bought hamburger over the last few years. This past week, petite sirloin steaks were priced at $2.99 a pound and a boneless rump or chuck roast at $3.99 a pound. That is a good price for the consumer.

Those prices are an opportunity for the consumer, state beef councils and checkoff dollars to get back to the beef section of the meat counters. The competition for grocery shoppers, either online or in person, is huge today – so much so that those companies that sell groceries are seeing their bottom line drop. One can order groceries or even meals online, and they are delivered right to your doorstep and at a decent price. To most young adults, convenience is well worth the dollars. We just need to be sure there is lamb or beef in these boxes.

Lately there has been some movement, slow at best, with the Wyoming wolf issues. On Sept. 23, there was a hearing before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

As you remember, it was around two years ago that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, whose court is in Washington, D.C., ruled against and rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan. Judge Berman Jackson did agree with Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that wolves in the northern Rockies had recovered and that they were not threatened or endangered in a large part of their habitat. However, she sided with a group of environmental organizations and said Wyoming didn’t have enough binding language in the plan. Wyoming has since corrected that and appealed. That appeal most likely will not be settled or ruled on for some months to come. So we sit and wait while wolves destroy livestock on many ranches that are out of the trophy management area without compensation, as you read in the Roundup last week about a Thermopolis area rancher.

The plight of this rancher and others in Wyoming is most likely not on the judge’s concern list as we sit and wait for the decision. But, it is on the concern list of some in Congress – especially Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation – as legislation has been developed to recognize Wyoming’s plan and take the wolf off the list.

Also lately, there was a hearing in the U.S. House of Representative’s Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Man, that takes a long time to even say the committee’s name, but this committee held a hearing on the federal government’s management of wolves. As you can imagine, there were differing opinions on managing wolves from those in favor of the wolves who were not being affected everyday by them and those like the rancher northwest of Thermopolis who is. The sad part is, most of those who are in the wolf camp could care less about those whose livelihood is being destroyed by the wolf.

A study in late July came out from researchers at Princeton University that studied the genomes from various grey and red wolves and coyotes. They found out that there may not be a “pure” red or grey wolf in the country. They said the red wolf is really 25 percent grey wolf and 75 percent coyote, and the eastern grey wolf is 25 to 50 percent coyote. For years, many wolf experts have claimed that wolves have coyote and dog genes in their makeup. So instead of real wolves, we may just have a bunch of bad, killing coyotes out there.

What makes this study so important is that in 1973, the grey wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but this Act does not authorize that status for hybrids. You can imagine the discussions going on from Congress to the northern Rockies.

Most likely there will be more legal action and hopefully more research using genomes studies as this research has really gained ground in the last few years.

Maybe biologically, we just have a coyote or mongrel instead of a wolf. I would like to be DNA tested, but I’m not sure I could live with it, just like the wolf.