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Country of Origin Labeling Opposition Misinformed
Leo McDonnell, Owner of Midland Bull Test

    Opposition to country of origin labeling (COOL) has always amazed me, along with the tactics they have used.  They certainly haven’t let the truth get in their way.
    I can appreciate to a point why much of our packing, processing and retailing segments oppose COOL. After all, the top three packers are all international companies.  There is strong incentive to oppose COOL, as they can take a cheaper imported product and sell it to consumers with the USDA inspection or quality grade stamp on it, who often assumes it is a U.S. product.  This marketing deception was highlighted to me when I testified for the 2001 U.S. Senate Trade Deficit Review Commission in Kansas City at the Federal Reserve Building.  I mentioned that without COOL, U.S. ranchers were not able to differentiate their product to compete against imported product. The problem is compounded because when many consumers purchase beef they assume that a USDA quality grade means their beef is product of the U.S. During a break following my testimony, three commissioners came up to me very upset as they thought I had misrepresented the facts. They, too, thought USDA Choice implied U.S. product. Now mind you, three of the 15 or so commissioners went on to serve under President Bush heading various agencies, and if they were so easily fooled, then I imagine the vast majority of consumers are too. Opponents say, “Voluntary COOL is better. Let the market forces work.” Well folks, it was working in the past. Deceiving and allowing for false assumptions by the consumers had a lot more value to the packers and retailers.
    Without COOL, U.S. produced cattle and beef are kept in a more commodity type market, reducing competition elements that effect procurement costs for packers and downstream segments are associated with increased choices and demand from consumers.  Unfortunately practices that standardize products and stifle consumer choices have a long history of suppressing market growth.
    We have been told since the late 80s that as beef producers, we need to move away from commodity type markets and start differentiating ourselves to be profitable and grow, you can’t capitalize on a higher quality product if you don’t identify it, and the more choices consumers have, the more they consume. More recently we have been told consumers want to know where their product comes from, right down to the farm or ranch. COOL satisfied all these marketing opportunities.
    Also, when you look at the personal sacrifices made since this country was founded, from our fathers and grandfathers back through to our founders, a couple million tax dollars is a small price to pay for our country to be able to govern itself in something as simple as labeling where our food comes from.  It is called the price of freedom, and it’s a small price to pay compared to what the generations before us have given.
    The tactics of some groups and the media – who promote a more socialistic type industry structure – also continues to amaze me. They try to mislead the public with statements like, “COOL was a poorly written law” or the “WTO Appellate Panel ruled against COOL law.” This is simply not true. The fact is, the WTO reaffirmed the right of the U.S. to require labeling and only found fault in how USDA implemented it.  COOL was well written and, unlike other forms of COOL, plugs the loophole other industries had used to hide the origin of the product.  
    Historically, if you transformed a product in U.S., it became a product of U.S.  Sew a pocket on shirt, and it becomes a product of the U.S.; put a little paint on Chinese jewelry, and it becomes product of U.S.; cut up a loin or muscle, grind beef, slaughter any imported cattle in the U.S., and it becomes product of the U.S.  That’s why we wrote the law to say born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. – to plug the loopholes. Otherwise there would be very little beef labeled in the U.S.  After all people don’t eat cows, they eat beef – the end product.
    Some have also said COOL was designed to be protectionist and keep imports out. That’s not true. Last year Mexican cattle imports were the third highest in 10 years, and this year they are up again.
    When it comes to Canada, as you look at the strength of their currency, the decline in their cow herd and feeder calf numbers and the feeding advantage Canada has had due to the impact of the Canadian Wheat Board has on keeping feed costs low, the amount of cattle imported into the U.S is actually pretty amazing.  For example, prior to Canada’s BSE problem, the U.S. was taking about 50 percent of their cattle and beef production. Now, according to statistics, Canadian cattle numbers have dropped 20 percent since 2005-06. In fact, even with lower imports into the U.S., in 2011 Canfax reported 10 percent less domestic slaughter in Canada in 2011. That means they have considerable less cattle and beef to export, along with excess packing and feeding capacity to fill, creating demand for the cattle to stay in Canada.
    Again according to Canfax and what I believe are practices of the Canadian Wheat Board, starting in the fall of 2010 and continuing through 2011, the cheap barley in Canada equated to “a $24 to $34 per hundredweight cost of gain or $114 to $162 per head” cost of gain advantage over the U.S. It is no surprise then that their import numbers were down; in fact, what is surprising is that we imported as much cattle and beef as we did.
    At the end of the day, who will benefit if COOL is compromised to allow imported cattle and beef to be labeled as U.S. product, a move to a North American label is made, or a voluntary COOL program is implemented? The answer is obvious.

Drought, Fire and State Trust Lands
 Ryan Lance, Director, Office of State Lands and Investments

      Regardless of land ownership, nearly everyone in Wyoming is feeling the impact of the dry conditions in the state. Drought and severe weather have come together and are stretching private, local and state resources.
    Most Wyoming counties qualify for federal drought disaster relief. Fire restrictions are in effect across the state. Despite the significant, and in many instances heroic, efforts of county, state and federal firefighters, wildfires have burned large swaths of the state, including already limited rangelands.  This summer has truly been one for the record books.
     As of the end of July, fires had burned more than 350,000 acres and 30 homes in Wyoming.  Making matters worse, the National Interagency Fire Center reports that over 33,000 fires have occurred burning 3.7 million acres nationwide, which makes no mention of the acreage affected by drought.  As a result, producers seeking hay or other forage within and outside Wyoming are experiencing real difficulties.
    For its part, the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners is doing its best to help offset the impacts to its grazing lessees.  The Board has a policy in place for State Trust Lands, which dictates that its lessees may be eligible for a rental reduction for lands impacted by fires.  I strongly encourage any of our grazing lessees to contact my office if they could benefit from or have questions about this program.
    One avenue that is not likely to be available to grazing lessees, which some have inquired about, is a rental reduction to compensate for loss of forage due to drought.  When the Office was developing the AUM fee formula, the applicable state statutes were researched in comparison to existing grazing leases.  During that review, it was determined that adjustments for “changing resource condition” are not often necessary.  State grazing leases are issued for a ten-year term and, during that term, there will likely be mixtures of wet springs, tall grass, long, mild fall weather, grasshoppers, drought and blizzards.  Wyoming is a large state and climatic conditions frequently vary from one region to the next – and most certainly over the course of ten years.  The Office does change the carrying capacity of the land to reflect changes in use or classification of the land.  But since the AUM fee formula does take into consideration changing resource conditions, pertinent market factors and averages of private land lease rates for a five-year period, the Office does not currently believe that a credit is necessary to specially account for drought conditions.
    As many are aware, the most strained resource during the fire season and drought is our human resource.  Like everyone else, my staff is feeling the effects of these difficult conditions. I am proud of the significant efforts of the Forestry Division and my Field Services Division staff in their response to the fires. Their efforts have helped protect people and their homes, as well as safeguard other property.  When not fighting fire, our staff has been diligently trying to catch up on field related tasks, including inspections. I ask for your patience as we attempt to prioritize and reprioritize our work in the face of a record fire season.  We will do all that we can during what is inherently a very limited field season in Wyoming.
    To close, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the countless volunteer and other local, state and federal firefighters that have stepped forward to protect state trust lands.  I would also like to thank the Legislature and Governor for having the foresight and willingness to set aside millions of dollars to respond to these fires.  Without this significant investment, state and local officials would be left in the very untenable position of not being able to deploy needed resources for fear of breaking the bank.  Certainly, even these funds are not unlimited – and we must be conservative in our expenditures – but they go a long way to ensure as robust a fire defense as the state and counties can muster.
    After the snow starts to fly, we will have plenty of time to review and rethink the nuances of fire strategy.  In my office, my fire team looks forward to this second-guessing as an opportunity to get better going forward – to redouble our efforts to ensure firefighter and public safety and, where possible, enhance our ability to protect property.  But for now, I will settle on being thankful that people step forward to serve and put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of our great state and its people.   

As we continue to travel around the state and discuss drought management options with livestock producers, one of the questions I always ask is, “How severe is this drought?”  By a show of hands, most of the groups we gather have a majority of the participants reporting that this is the worst drought they have experienced in their lifetimes of ranching.  I know many of you reduced your herds this spring as it became evident that the year was going to be a dry one, but most of the ranchers I encounter are still wrestling with the decision to I buy feed for the livestock that are left or continue further depopulation of the herd.  I’ll try and lay out some concepts to help you make that decision.

As with all major decisions on the ranch, the answer for you will depend on several factors.  One major factor is the long-term goals for your operation.  Are you determined to continue to be a cow-calf producer?  Are you solely profit focused?  What is your resource base?  All these factors will affect your decision.  For the sake of this article I will assume profit is a major driver of your decision making and that most of you are cow-calf producers.

Here are some major factors I would challenge you to consider in this decision:

• What is the current market, and what is the long-term market outlook?

• How much will it cost you to get to next spring?

• How profitable is your cow-calf operation?

Market conditions

The easy answer is that if we are at a long-term market low, then it may make more sense to feed through a drought, and if we are at a long-term market high, then it makes more sense to sell.  But, in the moment it is much more difficult to make those decisions.  If we had a crystal ball and could return to early June the decision to depopulate a major portion of the herd might have been a bit easier than the markets we are facing today.  

However, when we look at where we are now compared to historic prices, the markets are still very strong.  It is almost a sure bet that we will be looking at shortages of beef supply in the coming few years that would support high prices, but beyond that who knows.  If you sell now it will likely be at least two years until you are able to buy back in at lower prices, but who really knows?

How much will it cost you to get to next spring?

If you decide to feed through the drought, how much will it cost you in additional dollars per cow?  How many years of profit per cow will it take you to recapture that investment?  If you fed an additional two tons of hay valued at $250 per ton, then that is $500 per cow you have invested in addition to your “normal” costs.  The second part of this answer comes from the next question.

How profitable is your cow/calf business?

After your cows pay market rate for the grass they eat, pay opportunity cost on the money invested in them and pay all other variable and fixed costs, how profitable are they?  Are your cows making $25 per cow, $50 per cow or $100 per cow?  From the ranches I’ve worked with, I would suggest the average is somewhere around $50 per cow.  Some are worth much less while others are much more.  

If your cows are highly profitable and your goal is to remain a cow/calf producer, then perhaps you can afford make a significant investment in keeping your cows.  It may only take your cows two years to pay back this investment.  If your cows are on the lower profit-end you may not be able to invest the profit for the next decade in feeding your cows this one year.  Chances are we will face another drought sometime in the next few years again. 

This is not an easy decision.  You will need to consider things beyond the balance sheet of the ranch in making this.  Perhaps the most important part is to include all the major stakeholders in the decision-making process and keep the effect of this decision on the people involved as the center of focus.

Dallas Mount is the Southeast Wyoming UW Extension Educator and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Grass-Legume Mixture Has Multiple Advantages in Forage Production Systems

 By Anowar Islam, UW Extension Forage Agroecologist

The cost of fertilizer nitrogen (N) has increased substantially during last few years. This situation is causing a re-evaluation of synthetic fertilizer N use on farms and ranches, and it is generating a renewed interest in lower cost alternatives to sustain productivity. 

Forage legumes offer the potential to lower fertilizer N costs on agricultural lands and may be a more sustainable option for pasture-based production, not only economically but also in terms of impact on water quality, fossil fuel consumption and climate variability. Other advantages include increased productivity, improved quality, increased hay-curing ability and increased stand persistence. However, sustaining forage productivity using legumes requires establishment of an optimal balance of legume to grass biomass in mixtures.

Researchers in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Wyoming are trying to find appropriate options through identifying an optimal grass-legume balance in mixture that sustains high yield stability over time and quantifying legume N contribution to grass growth and its variation across environments.

A study was initiated in fall of 2009 at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) near Lingle under irrigation with one grass (‘MaxQ’ tall fescue) and one legume (‘Ameristand 403T’ alfalfa) as test species. Ten treatments repeated three times included five grass-legume mixtures, which included grass-legume seed ratios 1:0, 0.75:0.25, 0.50:0.50, 0.25:0.75 and 0:1, with no supplemental N and five N application treatments of 45, 90, 135, 180, and 270 pounds N per acre to tall fescue monoculture plots. The seeding rate for both tall fescue and alfalfa was 22 pounds pure live seed per acre. The N was applied in two split applications. Three harvests were made in both 2010 and 2011, and two harvests have been made so far in 2012.

Data from this study are in the process of compilation, however, initial data showed promising results. The highest yield, 9,200 pounds per acre, was obtained from 0.50:0.50 tall fescue-alfalfa mixture treatment followed by 0.25:0.75 tall fescue-alfalfa mixture, which yielded 7,300 pounds per acre, and tall fescue with 180 pounds N, which saw 7,250 pounds per acre, treatments.

Interestingly, no difference was observed between 0.25:0.75 tall fescue-alfalfa mixture and tall fescue 180 pounds N treatments. The 0.50:0.50 tall fescue-alfalfa mixture treatment produced more than a 100-percent increase in yield compared to only tall fescue plots, which showed 4,430 pounds per acre. Forage yield decreased to 6,500 pounds per acre at the highest N application, which was 270 pounds N per acre. There were variations among treatments for forage quality especially for crude protein, which ranged from nine to 20 percent, with higher crude protein in higher proportion of legume mixtures and higher N treatments.

From this ongoing study, it is expected that selection of appropriate grass-legume mixture may sustain high yield stability over time and provide economic benefits to producers through high forage yield and quality and reduced input costs. We will continue to update results in the future.

Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  He can be reached at (307) 766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..