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Not far from the rocky peaks of Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, wildlife professionals with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services program unspooled miles of bright, red fladry.

Fladry is nylon flags attached to a poly wire and looks a bit like something you would see at a used-car lot, rather than a cattle ranch. However, it is one of the nonlethal tools that Wildlife Services uses to prevent wolves from preying on cattle.

Once unraveled, the fladry is clipped to fiberglass fence posts that are placed around the circumference of the more than 100-acre pasture. The fladry fence rises just above an adult human’s knees and about even with a curious wolf’s nose.

The highly visible flags flutter and flap in the wind, and solar-powered electric fence chargers are installed at various points around the fence to charge the wire with electricity. When the wire is electrified, it becomes turbo fladry.

  “Wolves are naturally nervous of new elements in their environment, and they will stay away until they realize the fluttering flags are not a threat,” said Mike Foster, Wildlife Services’ Wyoming state director. “However, if they get too close and touch the fence, they get a shock.”  

Since wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, their populations have increased substantially in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, sometimes resulting in livestock predation. In Wyoming, wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and their populations are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). When wolves prey on cattle and create conflicts for ranchers, FWS works with Wildlife Services to target and remove specific, problematic wolves.

Recently, Wildlife Services partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to install fladry on several pastures in Montana. Last fall, NRDC provided money and manpower to help with the installation of fladry on the ranch in Jackson Hole, which had been experiencing wolf depredation.

Zack Strong, the NRDC wildlife advocate who assisted with the project, added, “Fladry works well in the right situations. Working with ranchers and Wildlife Services to set up turbo fladry in Montana and Wyoming has been extremely rewarding, and we would welcome the opportunity to do so in other states, as well.”

The fladry was in place for about three weeks before it was taken down and the calves removed from the ranch. Radio collars from some of the wolves in the nearby pack indicated that the wolves may have left that area, and while the turbo fladry was in place, no calves were lost to depredation.

“There is no one thing we can do to prevent the loss of livestock in every situation,” said Foster. “I had high hopes for this project, and I am so glad we were able to prevent more losses on this ranch.”

A stone cistern and evidence of a potato cellar are all that remain of the Fales homestead near Deaver.

David Fales frequently walks the 87 acres his great-grandparents once called home. Heart Mountain dominates the landscape to the east. Sometimes, he comes across rusty, old tools his ancestors used to work the land a century ago.

The Fales family came from Missouri on the heels of the Buffalo Bill Dam project, which opened this part of northwest Wyoming to farming and ranching.

“They came out here with nothing. No roads, no telephones,” Fales said, “nothing but a patch of land, and they had to build it all from scratch.”

Fales sat in his office about an hour from the old homestead on a recent January day. Outside, a foot of snow blanketed the parking lot, reminding him of pre-dawn days spent cracking the ice in the cows’ water trough, so the animals could drink.

Family history is paramount to this son of a rancher. From a young age, he dreamed of working with Wyoming Angus beef. Today, he is on a mission to introduce the state’s high-quality meat to the world.

Fales has also built a livelihood from scratch. Cody-based Wyoming Authentic Products, the state’s only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved beef processing facility, produces many beef products, including the 1.3 million beef sticks made in 2016.

Since July 2015, many of those beef sticks have made their way to Canada. Hundreds of health food stores in Vancouver, Toronto, Nova Scotia, Halifax and Calgary are home to packaging bearing the iconic Wyoming bucking horse and rider symbol, with wording in both English and French.

The exports are a boon to Wyoming, pumping outside money into local circulation. State economic experts have worked hard to help more companies achieve the kind of success Wyoming Authentic Products is enjoying, and now those officials have a new tool in their belt.

The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, recently received a $158,000 State Trade and Expansion Program (STEP) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The federally funded initiative aims to introduce business owners to exporting, so they can expand into new markets and increase foreign direct investment in the state.

Trade shows have been lucrative for companies like Wyoming Authentic Products.

“In Taiwan, Japan, Belgium, Denmark and all over the world, there is interest in what we are doing,” Fales said. “It’s just a matter of time and capital, as any small business knows, to make that a reality.”

The Business Council understands the challenges small businesses face. That’s why the agency offers trade show incentive grants to help companies pay up to half their expenses to attend trade shows. Another program provides local public organizations with money to help build infrastructure like streets, sewer and buildings. The organization can then lease that property to businesses like Wyoming Authentic Products.

“The $1.2 million grant to the City of Cody was essential for us to get where we are today,” Fales said. “The key was building a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified plant.”

Thanks to the new facility, Wyoming Authentic Products can manufacture beef sticks, jerky and other products, which add value to meat trimmings otherwise destined to be sold as hamburger for far less money.

The process gives dozens of Wyoming ranchers a new market for their beef. It also turns raw natural resources into new products with better profits.

The business has an annual payroll of $547,000 and employs 20 people.

State officials hope to attract about 35 firms like Wyoming Authentic Products to a free webinar series on exporting. Companies interested in taking the next step after listening to those classes can receive mentorship in creating export plans during a three-month education session.

The STEP grant provides the Business Council with money to send businesses to targeted international trade shows in the mining, outdoor and firearms industries.

The Business Council’s goal is to double export sales for companies participating in these shows.

Another facet of the STEP grant will be the International Trade Show Incentive Grant. Participating businesses can receive up to $3,500 in reimbursements for travel to international expos designed to increase exposure and sales.

The STEP grant will also fund a trade mission to the Pacific Rim specifically to help agricultural producers increase export sales by holding personal meetings with international buyers.

Exports are a key driver of any economy because they bring outside money into local circulation. Wyoming’s export market is small, but growing fast. International trade in Wyoming grew 19.4 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the International Trade Administration. Wyoming businesses sold about $1.2 billion in exports in 2015.

Exports feature prominently in the Business Council’s strategy to grow Wyoming’s economy. The agency intends to double foreign direct investment and increase the state’s exports by 50 percent.

Business Council staff will accomplish those goals, in part, by coordinating and developing foreign trade efforts like those planned under the STEP grant.

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Some of you may not know that the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) wears many hats in the regulatory arena. 

One of our “hats” includes enforcing the Wyoming Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (LCB) Law and Regulations.   The WDA LCB lab, located in Powell, interacts with alfalfa seed growers using leaf cutter bees for pollination of their seed crop.

By law, these LCB larvae must be officially sampled, x-rayed and certified yearly and meet specific standards to be allowed to remain in Wyoming for the next year’s pollination season. Often, during the course of the analysis season, we receive questions from our growers as to interesting finds, while punching their bee boards for analysis. 

This season was no exception. 

Shortly before the holidays, we received an interesting question from one of our alfalfa seed growers. They had some rather large cocoons starting to show up when they were punching their bee larvae out of the polystyrene bee boards for testing and asked if we could identify them. After a quick look, it was obvious that we had never seen them before, so we snapped a quick picture and e-mailed the identification question to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Pollinating Insects Research Unit in Logan, Utah.   

After a flurry of e-mails, we had the panel stumped, so they asked us to send samples. Thinking that we may have discovered a new parasite or scavenger of the leaf cutter bee that had shown up in our state caused us grief.  Within a few days the cocoon was identified and, to our relief, will not harm the leaf cutter bee larvae. 

The Logan Bee Lab is confident that our little bee-board dweller is the grass wasp Isodontia. The grass wasp performs important services, pollinating the plants in our landscape and preying on foliage-eating insects like crickets and katydids, in particular. It is a solitary wasp that sometimes utilizes alfalfa leaf cutter bee nest holes. They stuff the entrance with wisps of dried grass and stock their provisions with tree crickets. 

Then the question was posed, why are we seeing so many cocoons all of the sudden?

The Logan lab had asked if there had been an infestation of crickets near these fields, so we asked the grower.  We then found out there had been a five-inch rain event in the area in September, which was followed shortly thereafter by a cricket outbreak.  The infestation was so bad that the grower called pest control for help in their extermination efforts.   The crickets had invaded their shop, office and were covering the sides of their house. The fields where these cocoons have shown up are all within one mile of the shop.

Evidently the grass wasp took advantage of the crickets and a warm place to nest, so its next generation could prosper. The rain event and the cricket outbreak may have had nothing to do with the grass wasp showing up this year, but thankfully the alfalfa leaf cutter bee will have nothing to worry about with this species, except the space it takes up in the living quarters normally used for rearing its own young.

Depending on where you live in the United States, the first thing that likely comes to mind for agriculture production systems are the large fields of corn, soybeans, wheat or cotton seen growing each summer.

But spend a few minutes looking at CropScape, a color-coded map that charts where almost a hundred different types of U.S. crops are grown currently, and you begin to appreciate the diversity and regionality of production systems. This map shows that, although there are U.S. regions where crop production is dominated by a few commodity crops, there are others where U.S. farmers are growing a wide array of fruit, vegetables and other “specialty” crops. 

Agricultural Atlas maps produced by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service show similar diversity in livestock production, including land in pasture and range production.

The diversity of agricultural production systems across the United States presents wide-ranging opportunities for exciting new research and innovation. New scientific findings and new technology, for example robotic automation, artificial intelligence, vertical farming and gene editing, could all play a role in not only improving existing systems but in developing new systems and new products altogether. New and emerging agricultural products can generate exciting new niches for farmers who want to meet consumer demands for crops and livestock with improved nutritional or environmental benefits.

USDA needs to know how research can help U.S. farmers produce the agricultural products consumers desire while being both economically and environmentally sustainable long into the future. 

On March 2, USDA’s Office of the Chief Scientist hosted a stakeholder listening session to identify opportunities, knowledge and gaps in agricultural research, which will help us evaluate research priorities for enhancing U.S. agricultural production systems over the next 50 years. 

We were particularly interested in discussing new technologies or knowledge that can improve agriculture in measurable ways.

The success of sustainable agriculture practices does not just affect farmers. It is also vital for consumers whose everyday lives are improved by agricultural innovations supporting the production of a safe, abundant and affordable food supply and protecting and enhance our natural resources – now and for the future.