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By Jason Fearneyhough, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture

Agriculture is essential. There is really no other way to cut it. It provides us the food we eat, the clothing we wear and maintains the open spaces that we all love to enjoy. It helps conserve water we drink and habitat for wildlife while developing energy sources for the country. Agriculture is the driving force behind the future of the United States and the world.

With that being said, the opportunity for agriculture in this country is immense. As the population grows around the world, the need for food and fiber grows with it. The demand for agricultural products on the local, national and international level provides a previously unmatched potential for producers to make a living in the agriculture industry.

While the outlook of agriculture is bright and full of possibilities, we still face many of the same challenges in the short term, like environmental issues, consistent profitability now, high cost of entry into agriculture, media pressure and the intergenerational transfer of land. These challenges have been around for a long time. While there are no easy answers, producers around the country continue to work and innovate to solve these challenges.
Last year we took a great step toward addressing these issues during a three-day conference geared toward charting the future of agriculture called AgriFuture. Producers, industry representatives, governmental entities and young people all came together to learn, brainstorm, innovate and discuss the issues facing agriculture right now and worked together to move toward possible solutions.

This year, to continue the good work from last year’s conference, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Rural Development Council and other cooperating agencies will bring producers, leaders, students and others together for AgriFuture 2011. This three-day conference, with the help of generous sponsors like the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Wyoming Community Network, will pick up where last year left off and continue to discuss, educate, brainstorm and innovate to help agriculture reach its potential.

The conference will showcase innovative speakers who are moving the agriculture industry toward the opportunity we all see in the future. On Oct. 14 Lowell Catlett will be the keynote speaker for the conference and will address how we can ensure a bright future for American ag. Other speakers include: Robert Tse of USDA Rural Development will cover how U.S. agriculture will meet the future needs of local and global production; Don Collins of the Western Research Institute will speak about energy in agriculture; Kevin Edberg, Executive Director of Cooperative Development Services in St. Paul, Minn. will discuss cooperatives; and there will also be discussions surrounding what students can do in the workforce with an agriculture degree and a brief media training with an agriculture focus.

These speakers are just the tip of the iceberg for what this conference will hold for participants. We have invited folks from all over the western United States to come and participate in the conference and share their ideas. The wide variety of experiences, locations and backgrounds will make the breakout sessions on Oct. 13 and 14 an incredible chance for networking, interactivity, discussions and innovations that will help propel agriculture to the heights we all know it can reach in the United States.

Join us in Laramie on Oct. 12-14 as we come together to chart our course into the future of agriculture. This is an exciting time for agriculture in the state, region, nation and world and we look forward to seeing you all there.

More information, including the registration brochure and online registration, is available at agriculture.wy.gov/directors-office/agrifuture or facebook.com/AgriFuture.

By Jason Fearneyhough, Director, Wyoming Department of Agriculture

Each year around this time, I start to get excited. Not only is that due to the fact that the weather is warm and the growing season is in full swing, but because I know the Wyoming State Fair is just around the corner.

While growing up, I always looked forward to the fair. The opportunity to compete with other kids from around the state with something I had worked on all year, make new friends and learn about agriculture from producers was something I cherished. My time spent in the dorms, showing livestock, hanging out with friends next to the North Platte River and watching the free entertainment are a few of my fair experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

With that said, I still get excited about fair time for many of the same reasons. This year is the 99th annual Wyoming State Fair. The level of competition and the opportunity to see friends from around the state and learn about agriculture continues to grow and is unlike any event in the state. Along with the competition and educational opportunities, there is a world of entertainment, food, commercial exhibitors, carnival rides and much more to experience at the fair. If you’re looking for a family friendly, inexpensive and fulfilling event, this is the place to be.  

I invite you all to come see the enhancements made to the grounds and take in the ranch rodeo, the carnival, the 20th annual Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum Invitational Art Show, free entertainment and more from Aug. 13-20 at the Wyoming State Fair.

There is also great entertainment in the grandstands, where you can come see metal twisted during the demolition derby on Aug. 13 and the monster truck show on Aug. 15, a great concert with Darryl Worley on Aug. 17 and three different nights of high caliber professional competition with PRCA rodeo action Aug. 18-20. All of these grandstand events are available for nearly the cost of a movie ticket.

This year is also unique in the fact that it is the last fair before we reach the 100th annual Wyoming State Fair. The momentum for the 100th anniversary is already building through the planning committee and numerous subcommittees, and will undoubtedly be the biggest and best fair we’ve ever put on. Details for the 100th are taking shape, and I can guarantee this landmark event will bring more entertainment to the citizens of Wyoming while maintaining the traditions and core values that we have built for the last 100 years.

We are, and will continue to be, an educational fair focused on the youth of the state and Wyoming heritage, because, like the state of Wyoming, times change but traditions remain. If learning about the traditions of Wyoming and seeing the way a fair was meant to be interests you, the Wyoming State Fair is the place for you. Keep an eye on the Wyoming State Fair and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture websites and Facebook pages for developments as we move forward.

By Chris Carlsen, Natural Resources Conservation Service Engineering Geologist

What do you see when you look around Wyoming? The mountain ranges collect snow during the winter months and, in late spring, the snow begins to melt. This melting snow is carried to basins by drainage systems carved out of the mountains and foothills by the melting snow and heavy rain events. This charges the stream systems in the basins and is diverted for irrigation by man. The vast majority of irrigated crops in Wyoming are located in the basins and foothills of Wyoming, such as the Powder River Basin and the Green River Basin.

Many ranchers in western Wyoming start to hay in late July and early August because of their dependence on the snow melts. They get only one cutting, while folks in Sheridan get two and those in Wheatland get about three, and that’s due to the water cycle they have learned to work with as a result of Wyoming’s landscape.  

The landscape today is shaped by what happened between 570 million to 266 million years ago.

Wyoming is situated in the western United States, within the Rocky Mountains. Until 66 million years ago Wyoming was mainly at or below sea level. During this period several thousand feet of thick layers of sediment were deposited on a flat surface – the Precambrian granites and granite gneisses rock dated at approximately 2.8 billion years old today.

When the sediments were deposited in the sea and along the coast they formed a nearly flat feature. As tectonics occurred along the western coast of the U.S., compression forced caused the sediments to compress and uplift to form mountains. These sediments were folded and compressed and then eroded into the features we see today. This erosion exposed much of the sediments that were deposited prior to 66 million years ago.

Today Wyoming is broken down into physiologic providences. These providences are based on their structure and orientation on the landscape. The basins are filling with the sediments eroded from the mountains that border the basins and the sediments that were deposited during the transgressive and regressive series of sea levels from 570 to 66 million years ago. As the mountains are eroded away, the core complex of the mountain ranges becomes exposed. These exposed cores are Precambrian granites and granite gneisses rock dated at approximately 2.8 billion years of age. Though we know very little about the formation of the basement rocks, they are identified and dated with little history.

The majority of the mountains in Wyoming were elevated about 60 million years ago, since the oldest rocks in the cores of these mountains are about 2.8 billion years old and have been eroded down to their current elevations. The Teton Range is a medium-sized but distinct mountain range, and the eastern slopes, which extend above the glacial lakes at the base, resulted from intermittent but major movement of more than 20,000 feet on a steeply inclined fracture plane that slopes to the east. The rugged mountain peaks have been carved from the elevated segment of the crust. Glacial processes have produced the Matterhorns and U-shaped valleys that are the characteristic landforms.

The Tetons are young by geologic standards, having reached their current height less than 10 million years ago, and this places them among the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains. Numerous minor earthquakes within historic time in Jackson Hole attest to the fact that these mountains may still be growing.

Although the high Yellowstone Plateau and Absaroka Range of northwest Wyoming present a mountainous terrain, these areas are remnants of a plateau that coincided with the top of a vast pile of nearly horizontal sheets of rock materials derived from nearby volcanic vents in the Yellowstone area. Once the pile of volcanic debris had accumulated, the region was subjected to the ever-present forces of erosion, which cut deep valleys. The mountains are those of erosion – the deep dissection of relatively flat lying rock layers – and are a classic example of this type of development.

The Yellowstone Plateau is a seismically active area with intruding molten rock several thousand feet below the surface in some places. Another indication of the thermal activity are the geysers found in the park beneath the plateau, and researchers have documented recent uplift of portions of the Yellowstone Caldera (remnants of the older volcano), rising at rates up to approximately a half inch per year. The most recent volcanic activity on the plateau, however, has been dated around 600,000 years before the present time.

How fortunate we are to benefit from the hard work and dedication of America’s farmers, ranchers and farm workers. Sept. 18-24 is National Farm Safety and Health Week.  As we reflect on the agricultural abundance we enjoy in Wyoming and this nation, let’s acknowledge the risk inherent in this occupation. As these hard working men and women are creating this agricultural abundance, they must be ever-vigilant for their own safety.

From their toil on farms and ranches we have a cornucopia of healthy food and plants to sustain us and make our lives enjoyable and a wealth of materials for clothing and manufactured products.   Every day our lives are touched and enriched by the fruits of their labors.  

Wyoming’s farm-ranch workers and agriculture families are among the most productive in the world.  An amazing bounty is produced on the idyllic family farms we picture in our minds.  But while living and working on a farm or ranch might seem like an entirely wholesome and stress free existence, there are few jobs in America that are more dangerous.  
We often think of dangerous jobs as being firefighters, police officers and miners.  But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, agriculture faces an extremely high fatality rate of nearly four for every 10,000 farmers and ranchers.  Only fishermen, loggers and aircraft pilots have occupational fatality rates higher.    

Dangers built into agricultural work include harsh weather, difficult environmental conditions, operation of heavy machinery and equipment and working with dangerous materials and chemicals.  Tractor roll-overs and ATV accidents continue to be responsible for a great number of adult and adolescent farm fatalities on our nation’s farms and ranches.  Accidents happen in any field but in agriculture, accidents frequently can be fatal.

I recall several cases of near misses and two cases of accidental deaths in my neighborhood.  My father stood on a bucket trying to open a window in the barn during a hot summer day, when the bucket slipped and his arm went through the window.  He severely cut his wrist and was rushed to the emergency room.  After several stitches he was back at work.   In another incident one of our neighbors caught his loose baggy shorts in an auger PTO shaft while unloading grain.  Luckily his clothing was old and ragged so it tore loose only leaving him with only a few bruises.  

Other members of the community were less fortunate and did not survive their accidents. It is so easy to become complacent in daily farm work that safety basics can be overlooked.  Farm safety has to be constantly reinforced.  We ask for producers to be safe and observant of hazards during this busy harvest season.
Please join with me during this Farm Safety and Health Week to express our appreciation and gratitude to our farmers, ranchers and agriculture workers for their phenomenal contribution to our very well being.  At the USDA Farm Service Agency, we are taking this opportunity to raise the awareness of farm safety to help them stay safe, healthy, and on the job.  After all, it is the very practice of farm safety that sustains the health of our nation’s farm and ranch families.  

By Gregor Goertz, USDA Farm Service Agency Wyoming State Executive Director