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Wyo. Business Council

Business Council expands 'Wyoming Verified' program 

Cheyenne – Verifying calves as “BVD-PI Free” is the newest opportunity in a Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division (WBC) program that allows ranchers to set their calves apart from the herd, so to speak.
    Cattle that are persistently infected (PI) with Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) cost American feedlots billions of dollars annually. Feedlots, according to WBC Livestock and Meat Marketing Program Manager John Henn, say they’re more interested in those cattle that they know are free of BVD-PI cattle. Ranchers, according to Henn, would carry out the testing through their local veterinarian or a lab that offers such services. Testing costs average between $3.50 and $4.50 a head.
    The BVD-PI Free claim builds on a larger program called Wyoming Verified that Henn started a few years back. In addition to source and age verification, the program offers a natural claim.
    “There really hasn’t been a market test,” says Henn of what might be the added value for ensuring one’s cattle are BVD-PI free. Others, like Superior Livestock, have announced similar programs but calves haven’t yet been marketed under the new claims.
    “It really goes good with the natural verification,” says Henn of BVD-PI negative testing, “because natural meat companies and the feedlots that feed natural cattle are showing a high level of interest in BVD-PI free calves because it decreases the number of fall-outs they have.” Any cattle that require treatment become ineligible for marketing as natural.
    Participants in WBC’s Wyoming Verified program have been receiving added value. “Of the 16,000 plus calves enrolled in 2007,” he says, “the average added value of verified cattle was $13.65 per head.”
    Henn works with producers to audit records to ensure the cattle’s source, age and natural claims. Those producers who participate in the BVD-PI Free claim program would take part in a similar audit process where the test results on their cattle were reviewed.
    “I think source and age verified, for marketing purposes domestically and abroad, is going to become and more in demand by buyers,” says Henn.
    John Henn can be reached at 307-777-2847 or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Jennifer Womack is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – As a part of the Wyoming Board of Agriculture’s agenda in their mid-April meeting, an item first introduced last November was once again discussed.
    Last November the Board discussed the move of the Wyoming Business Council’s (WBC) Agribusiness Division from the WBC back under the authority of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). In that meeting it was decided that WDA Director John Etchepare and WBC CEO Bob Jensen would meet to work out details of the proposal, after which a decision would be made at a future meeting.
    In the Board’s recent meeting, involved parties were once again present to discuss the move, but a decision is not expected until the end of May.
    “We’ve come a long way, and made a lot of headway and I think we’ve opened some good communication,” said Etchepare at the meeting. “I think in the not-too-distant future we can come to a good resolution of where we need to be.”
    Jensen agreed, saying, “We’ve had some good meetings and real progress in identifying the ways that we can work more closely together to meet additional needs of the agribusiness community.”
    He said one of those additional needs is the lack of an advocate for agribusinesses in navigating the maze of federal and state regulation. “Our shop and the ag shop don’t have anyone to guide folks through that, so we’ve agreed to look at our existing staff and find some ways to redirect resources toward that kind of a position.”
    “The benefit of having these conversations is the better understanding of what each of us does,” noted Jensen. “The worst thing that could happen is we would harm existing programs. Instead of compromise I think we need to synergize, and we’re on a good path to do that.”
    Present at the meeting was WBC board member and farmer/rancher Matt Mead of Cheyenne. “One of the reasons I was attracted to the Business Council was the agribusiness aspect,” he said.
    “My great-grandfather would say that if you hang onto a cow’s tail long enough it’ll eventually pull you out of a hole, meaning the cow business will take care of you,” he said. “That’s a great way to look at grit and determination, but in today’s world it’s not a business model or a business plan.”
Mead cited the Endangered Species Act and meatpacker consolidation as reasons that pure grit is no longer enough. “We have to function as a business,” he said.
    “Although I can’t represent the consensus of the entire ag community, I’ll be an advocate for agriculture because it’s in my interest,” explained Mead. “I want my kids to know where food comes from, and to not forget the value of agriculture.”
    “A country that cannot fuel itself is one thing. A country that cannot feed itself is another thing entirely,” he stated. “I will do my best to advocate for ag issues, and whatever we do with the Division, I think it’s right to do what’s best for the citizens of the ag community.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Buffalo–More than 70 people gathered from around the state on June 15 for the Ninth Annual Diversified Ag Tour, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming Women in Ag.
The tour boasted its largest group of participants this year in a daylong excursion in and around Buffalo. Six different enterprises operating in the area were featured, including Prairie House Pottery, TA Guest Ranch, IX Ranch, Last Loop Rope Art, Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and Carder Enterprises LLC/Wahoo Toppings.     
Verna Lawrence, owner of Prairie House Pottery kicked off the tour. She learned how to throw pots in a class at Sheridan College and the experience prompted Lawrence to purchase a pottery wheel and kiln.
After 16 years, Prairie House Pottery is now a full-fledged business, according to Lawrence. She attends numerous craft shows every year where she sells her pieces.
“I love to sell it,” said Lawrence. “I love to give it away. I love to make it.”
The most popular items Lawrence offers are her “thumb bowls” that feature no handle, but a convenient and comfortable thumb grip.
A short trip just outside Buffalo to the TA Guest Ranch took the tour to the site of the Johnson County War. TA Guest Ranch’s deep history is visible in the original buildings, complete with bullet holes in the walls.
Barbara and Earl Madsen have owned TA Ranch and raised cattle for about 20 years. Tours and guests also frequent the ranch between May and October.
The TA Ranch was started in 1883, when a doctor from Laramie built the first bunkhouse. The ranch was homesteaded originally before being expanded by land purchase through the years, explains Madsen.
“Every fourth grade in Buffalo, Sheridan and Gillette visits here to learn about the war,” said Barbara.
The next stop on the tour, IX Ranch, features a satellite herd of Potter Ranch horses from Marana, Ariz. Sired by champion performance horses Dinero, MP Thriftwood and MP Rock the Creek, the high-end horses are raised and trained just outside Buffalo.
Owners Bryan and Rita Long run IX Ranch, breeding mares and selling their foals, and their daughter Bryna helps on the marketing end of the operation.
The studs boast a number of winnings in their rodeo careers. Dinero, a PRCA Rodeo champion, has over $600,000 in earnings, while Thriftwood has in excess of $150,000.
Two Shires are part of the herd, as well, and are intended to be a team by the end of the summer. Bryna explained that selective breeding of the horses to produce offspring with a silver gene will hopefully result in silver manes and tails in the foals.
IX Ranch also has a small herd of Corriente steers they sell for roping.
Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo is the first wool mill in Wyoming, and one of only a handful in the nation. Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos started the mill in 2004, and gathered used equipment from across the nation.
“We thought it was crazy that Wyoming didn’t have a way to manufacture wool at least into yarn, because at that time Wyoming was the number two wool producer in the nation,” said Spanos.    
The mill takes wool from growers in Wyoming and washes, roves and spins it into useable yarn for sale. The finished products are marketed and sold largely in the handcrafting industry.  
Producers are able to gain a higher profit by selling to Mountain Meadow Wool Mill because they reap the benefits of selling a finished product, and Spanos said producers made about twice as much last year by selling to the mill.
The mill also offers benefits to consumers, including labeling the origin of the fine wool.
“People are very interested in where their wool is coming from,” said Spanos.
Hostetler continued, “We were the first U.S. mill to provide that information to consumers, and we’re the only ones who offer that.”
Hostetler and Spanos continually work to expand and develop the operation.
“Today we just found out that we received a Phase 2 grant for treating our wastewater,” said Hostetler. “That is huge. They only fund a small portion of Phase 2 grants.”
The grant will enable the mill to create a wastewater system to extract the byproducts of washing the wool, and those byproducts can be sold, explained Hostetler. The work is being conducted with help from several universities.
Chele Needens, employee at Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and owner of Last Loop Rope Art, makes decorative pieces and furniture from used ropes.  
Needens takes used ropes, acquired through bargaining or purchase, power washes them, and burns the rope together to make baskets, clocks, lamps and footstools, among other items.
“Anything that is circular and can be covered in rope, I can do,” said Needens. “I’ll try anything.”
After being featured in the April/May 2011 issue of Country Woman magazine, Needens’s business took off, she said. She continues to expand her business and make as much rope art as she can.
“This past December I started dying wildrags,” said Needens. “That has turned into a pretty good business, too.”
Needens buys the silk scarves for Wyo-Skies Wildrags and dyes them in a variety of colors and patterns.
The final stop on the tour was Carder Enterprise LLC/Wahoo Toppings, where Carolyn and Jim Carder make a number of toppings and food items ranging from steak sauce to ice cream toppings. Their wide variety of items are sold online and in stores around Wyoming.
Carolyn and Jim handpick all the chokecherries used in their products in the foothills of the Bighorns and transform it into delicious food products, including jalapeño–chokecherry jam and chokecherry drink mixes.
The Wyoming Business Council tour showed that Wyoming agriculture is more than cattle production and traditional farming, and each of the operations highlighted featured a different and thriving aspect of the diverse industry.
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – Anne Alexander, director of international programs at the University of Wyoming, shared her economic forecast at the Wyoming Business Council’s board meeting in Cheyenne on Dec. 10, explaining that there are a number of conflicting signals on the horizon right now.

“We are talking about human behavior and the future. It can feel like the easiest way to do an economic forecast is to shake the Magic 8 Ball,” she joked.

Alexander noted that some positive signs for the national economy include a lower unemployment rate and more participation in the job market over recent months. Construction spending has also been up, and income growth appears to be increasing, both positive signs for the economy in the U.S.

Economic challenges

“There are also other signals coming at us that indicate the national economy isn’t improving,” Alexander continued. “The manufacturing employment index has been compressed because our dollar hasn’t been very strong. When our currency is strong, that doesn’t bode well for our exports because our exports are more expensive.”

People’s sense of security is also weak. Recent survey results showed that 38 percent of people fear losing their jobs in the next 12 months, 33 percent say they may not be able to make a loan payment and 25 percent say they may not be able to pay rent.

“When people don’t feel secure, they don’t spend, they don’t hire and they stall out what they are going to do,” she explained.

Other headwinds

Alexander also pointed out that China’s growth has been slowing down, which could have a negative impact on manufacturing, exports and Wyoming industry.

“China is a really big headwind, as is pretty much any kind of global growth slowdown,” she stated.

Alexander opined that nationally, the economy is improving moderately, but there are also some obstacles, such as a low rate of inflation in the U.S., instability in the European Union and a recent corruption scandal involving a renewable energy firm backed by national banks in Spain.

“Dollar strength is still a very major headwind for us all,” she added.

Wyoming employment

In Wyoming, the unemployment rate remains low at around four percent, although unemployment claims from the mining industry have increased.

“To balance that, tourism is booming right now,” Alexander remarked. “There are some other sectors booming as well.”

According to an index built by the Economic Analysis Division, Wyoming has not yet reached a state of recession. The model incorporates a variety of factors, including unemployment rate, private sector jobs, average hourly wage, hours worked, mining sector sales, use tax collections and national park visits.

“If we look at non-farm employment in Cheyenne, Casper and Wyoming, broken out by each of those regions, it has been recovering since the recession. Casper has been up, Cheyenne has been up and Wyoming has been up, but they are all starting to flatten,” mentioned Alexander.

Gas and oil production is one factor influencing those statistics.

“We can see that employment is still positive here for oil production, but it’s starting to fall. It’s still growing but at a slower rate,” she noted. “Non-farm employment is expected to be at about 0.2 percent growth this year and then flatten over the next several years.”

Brighter statistics

More positively in relation to the state’s economy, trona production is expected to increase, and bentonite production is steady.

“Bentonite is a value-added industry as well, so we should play to that,” Alexander commented.

She also noted that agriculture products make a positive impact on Wyoming’s economy.

“Quality of life here is tremendous. People want to live here,” she continued. “Our work ethic and the adaptability of our workforce is fairly strong. Those are great assets as well.”

“We have a lot of strengths to play to. Tourism has been a solid driver. Our year-over-year park visits from October to October were up 30 percent. Parks are not the only place that have awesome things to see here in Wyoming,” she remarked.

Collaboration

Moving forward, Alexander is also optimistic about the way that people across the state are working together.

She explained, “There is a lot of innovative thinking around regional collaboration on economic development efforts.”

Efforts are being carried out to work together between different counties, different segments of towns and between towns that have never sat down together.

“This helps strengthen our numbers, and I think it’s something people are interested in doing to try to strengthen their cases for getting firms to locate where they are, for getting people to come and visit their towns and for employing their workforce.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Wyoming Agriculture Ownership Network (WAGON) is a new program launched this year and is now accepting applications for candidates who are interested in starting their own ranching operation.

“It’s a program to help young people get involved in agriculture,” said Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Jason Fearneyhough at the Wyoming Stock Growers Convention in early June 2011.

The concept behind WAGON is to pair existing ranches, or mentor ranches, with beginning producers looking to start an operation. Through an application and interview process, the two sides will be matched, based on their interests and needs.

“I think it’s got a lot of merit,” says Program Coordinator Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council (WBC). “There has been a long time push from the standpoint of Stock Growers and other organizations to keep young people involved in agriculture.”

One of the initial committee members for WAGON and Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Jim Magagna says, “It’s one really good tool to address the biggest problem facing Wyoming agriculture and that is ranch succession.”

“I feel like there is a need for this type of program in Wyoming,” says Rick Griffith, WAGON committee member and Wyoming Farm Credit Services Vice President  “We need an option for producers who are looking to retire and need someone to take over their place. We also have a need to help the young producers get a start and stay involved in agriculture. It really is a very good two-way street.”

“There are a lot of older ranchers in Wyoming who want to stay in business, but don’t have the years to put into it and don’t have family to pass the operation on to,” adds Keith.

“On the other side of the equation, there are a lot of young people who want to go into ranching, but don’t have the capital to get into it or buy a ranch and livestock. Both deserve the opportunity, and the two sides need to find each other.”

Keith points out that 10 years ago, the age of the average rancher was 45 years old, but today, the average rancher is about 55 years old. The industry isn’t seeing enough young people pursuing careers in production agriculture, he says.    

“The concept behind WAGON is to provide the network between established ranches and new producers, but also to provide some other support that goes along with it,” says Keith.

Keith adds that the program is set up to provide educational opportunities for young farmers and ranchers as well, including financial guidance and support, production education and farm management education.

“Different beginning producers are going to have certain needs,” says Keith. “The mentor ranches that we are looking to utilize will also have certain needs.”

“The idea started about two years ago with a meeting with Dr. Weldon Sleight of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture,” says Griffith. “We wanted to explore some ideas to see if we could implement a program in Wyoming similar to the 100 Cow program Nebraska has.”

According to Keith, the 100 Cow program was significantly adapted to account for diversity in Wyoming’s agriculture.

“We looked at the diversity across the state and decided that to require an education portfolio like in the 100 Cow program really just didn’t work,” says Keith, who notes the program’s education needs will be tailored to meet the needs of the new producers.

“After the initial meeting, we had Dr. Sleight speak at the Winter Stock Growers convention and saw some more interest in his program. We formed a committee from there,” adds Griffith. “We have met several times in between that first meeting, and there has been a lot of excitement behind the program.”

The WAGON committee includes seven industry partners. Farm Credit Services of America, University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, USDA Farm Service Agency, Wyoming Bankers Association, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust have all played a strong role in the development of the program.

From that group, an advisory committee will be selected to conduct interviews with beginning producer applicants and match them with mentor ranches.

Keith notes, “My job as coordinator will be to assist in mentor interviews with the partner who brought them into the program. I also will sort and screen applications from the candidates.”

Currently, the program is accepting applications for beginning producers and is looking for potential mentor ranches. This year, the program will be selecting three or four beginning candidate ranchers to match with mentors.

“It’s gotten its start,” says Keith. “We are accepting applications right now for beginning ranchers.”

Mentor ranches aren’t required to submit an application, but rather go through an interview process.

Keith mentions that he foresees three main categories of applicants for the program.

“One of those is going to be young producers that are just coming out of college and have a farm or ranch background and are looking to get involved in production agriculture in Wyoming,” says Keith. “The second place I see them coming from is people that are already working as a manager or foreman on an existing investor owned ranch.”

The third group Keith anticipates applying for the program is people who have been working on ranches, but are looking for the opportunity to start their own operation. However, applicants aren’t limited to any of those groups and will be selected based on merit and the potential to match with mentor ranches.

“We’ll start the process of selecting candidates and doing interview as soon as applications begin coming in,” says Keith. “Each scenario is going to have different needs and different things that each partner is looking for.”

Keith emphasizes that committee will suggest mentor ranches to candidates, but will not be making the final selections.

“We are going to let the mentor and candidate make the final selection. It won’t be our choice whether or not they will work together,” says Keith. “They need to see if their ideas match and the length of time they want to go through the program matches.”

Keith says the program will also require a business plan drawn up between the two parties to facilitate evaluation of the program and to make sure WAGON works as it was intended to.

“We’re going to see where it goes right now and not start out in a big way,” says Keith. “As it grows and develops, we’ll see where it goes.”

“In the future, I would like to see several mentor producers and young, beginning producers be involved in the program,” says Griffith. “I would like to see two or three a year come together at some point in the future.”

“I think it’s going to be great,” says Keith.

Be on the lookout for WAGON’s new website, to be released soon. Applications for the first year of WAGON are due on Dec. 31.

For more information or to apply, contact Scott Keith at 307-259-3274 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..