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Policy

Cheyenne – “Offices will be closed and the farm programs as we have known them in recent history will be much different than they are now,” said Wyoming Farm Bureau Vice President Jim Hefenieder at the organization’s legislative meeting Feb. 27 – 28, speaking of the 2012 Farm Bill.
    Hefenieder relayed remarks from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s presentation at the American Farm Bureau (AFB) annual meeting, held this year in Hawaii.
    “As the Farm Bill moves ahead, we will find out what these programs will look like,” continued Hefenieder. “Secretary Vilsack also talked about deep cuts that will be occurring in the Department of Ag. I think most of us hope there will be a lot of spending cuts as a whole.”
Policy emphasizes insurance over direct payments
    Hefenieder also mentioned that three Wyoming members served among the 350 delegates charged with setting Farm Bureau’s policy for the next year, and one of AFB’s Farm Bill policies emphasizes insurance, rather than the direct counter-cyclical payments the crop industry has seen over the past few years.
    “Those payments were not sustainable if we’re to make any headway in the federal government’s problems,” he added. “Risk management will be more important in the future for producers.”
Wyoming resolutions
    On behalf of Wyoming’s members, Hefenieder also mentioned that the state submitted several resolutions dealing with eminent domain, sugar policy and wild horse issues, noting that one resolution related to sugar was particularly complicated.
    “I think we were able to see our way through that and hopefully we’ve got policies put together in the way that we need them to be as we move forward,” Hefenieder noted.
Behind the scenes
    Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton added, “We try to address the issues while you are free to take part in the other aspects of the business. We do rely on your time and energy to get things done.”
    “It’s all about talking to people,” Hamilton commented. “We, as Farm Bureau members, can try to mitigate potential threats by being active in our country and at the state level.”
Looking into the economic future
    Other national issues of importance to Farm Bureau included the economy.
    “We are at an exceptional period of time with net farm income, and that is fun,” said Hefenieder. “We also have indications that the U.S. economy is improving a little bit.”
    He explained that two groups of economists have focused on different parts of the world for indications of the economic future. While one group cautions that activity in China is critical, the other argues that what happens in the European Union will be more important.
    “Another warning the economists have given us is that the Bush tax cuts were extended, but by only another year or so,” added Hefenieder. “We will see those revert back, and that will be a huge tax increase. That is something we need to be aware of.”
Speaking with the
Governor
    President Perry Livingston, Southeast District Director Kevin Baars and Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline also represented Wyoming Farm Bureau at a formal dinner at the Governor’s mansion.
    “We were pleased to find that the Governor and First Lady were warm and gracious, and it was a good opportunity to interact with Governor Mead,” Hefenieder reported. “He has emphasized the importance of agriculture in the state of Wyoming, and that is unique from recent administrations.”
     Mead also emphasized that, to govern Wyoming, he needs to have contact and a strong interaction with citizens of the state.
    “We have an opportunity to make the Governor aware of our concerns,” said Hefenieder. “I find that encouraging.”
    Saige Albert is 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..s

With the passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014 several weeks ago, Wyoming’s ag interest groups say the bill does have some impacts on Wyoming’s agriculture industry.

After President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas commented, “The amazing reality about farm bills is that they reflect the times in which we live. They are reviewed, written, debated and reauthorized nearly every five years. Today our concerns are rightly placed on reducing the size and cost of the federal government.”

Bill reforms

The Agriculture Act of 2014 imposes a number of cuts and reforms.

“The Agriculture Act of 2014 includes the most significant reduction to farm policy spending in history by improving agricultural programs,” says the House Ag Committee. 

Reforms include repeals to direct payments and limiting producers to those risk management tools offering protection for significant losses. Payments are also limited and reduced, with tightened eligibility.

The bill strengthens crop insurance and reinforces the successful public-private partnership ensuring farmers invest in their own risk management. 

Historic reforms to dairy policy are also implemented in the bill, as is support for small businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers. 

In Wyoming

“The passage of the Farm Bill will have several impacts on Wyoming products,” Wyoming Farm Bill Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says. “Probably the most significant impact will be that now agriculture producers have some certainty about what is necessary to comply with some of USDA’s requirements.”

Hamilton also notes that the sugar program emerged from conference committee intact. 

Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments, “A lot of the Farm Bill has to do with crop programs, but generally, there are also good things in it for the livestock industry.”

Livestock importance

As an example, Magagna comments that the disaster relief portions of the bill are not only helpful but also necessary for the industry. 

“We needed disaster relief two years ago, but this bill gives us a more permanent disaster relief program,” he says. “The program is good for the five-year life of the Farm Bill, where in the past, it had to be renewed. It gives us a little more security than we had.”

Magagna also notes that funding for brucellosis research is particularly helpful for Wyoming’s ag industry. 

“Frank Galey and I worked very hard with Senator Mike Enzi to make sure that funding was available,” he comments. “That is good for Wyoming.

Changes in the conservation title also occurred, with a number of programs being consolidated. 

In particular, Magagna notes that the programs commonly used by Wyoming producers, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) will remain available. 

“There are some other good things in the bill for Wyoming agriculture, like market access dollars for global trade promotion, and they will help all of agriculture,” Magagna adds. “Those are all good things.”

Opposition

On the opposite side, Magagna and Hamilton both see drawbacks in the bill. 

“The overall bill just spends too much money, particularly on the nutrition side,” Magagna emphasizes. 

He further notes that the bill failed to change or eliminate mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) – an issue that WSGA took no stance on.

“Our position on COOL was that we conveyed that we should stay out of the battle as to whether something should be done in the Farm Bill,” Magagna explains. “We asked for a commitment that if the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico on their appeal, that Congress takes steps to make sure changes are made.”

However, Magagna also anticipates that a final ruling on COOL is a year or more down the road. 

Concern

Hamilton notes that Wyoming Farm Bureau members also express some concern with the bill. 

“Certainly one of the issues that the Wyoming Farm Bureau has always had concerns about is the funding for conservation easements in perpetuity,” he comments.

Additionally, improvements could be made in the bill, says Hamilton.

“There were a couple of sections in the House version that didn’t make into the conference committee report that would have made things better,” he mentions. “For example, the House’s provision that would have prevented the need for a  National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for pesticide applications was favorable.”

Ag policy

Overall, other impacts to commodities left Wyoming producers largely unscathed.

“The bill will impact each producer differently, and those producers who use Farm Bill programs will measure the impacts based on their individual needs,” Hamilton comments.

“With the president signing the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law, we mark a new era of farm and food policy that values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs,” Lucas noted, “and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling.”

“I am pleased we have a new farm bill in place to provide certainty for the next five years to America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped make it possible,” said Lucas.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.

Casper – “Mountain Plains Agricultural Service (MPAS) is an agent association that helps producers bring in foreign labor through the H-2A program,” stated Kelli Griffith, executive director of MPAS.

H-2A, she explained during the 2014 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup, is a visa program for foreign workers in production agriculture jobs. These positions are defined as seasonal or temporary, up to 10 months, and for the same season every year.

“There are a lot of government agencies involved and a lot of hoops to jump through, but it is a program that has worked for decades,” stated Griffith.

She explained that the Basque sheepherders who came into the United States and Nevada were a precursor to the current program.

“There is a lot of history with sheep, but what a lot of people aren’t aware of is the opportunity to bring in help for cattle, as well,” she said.

One position represented by MPAS, according to Griffith, is the open range livestock worker position. She noted that MPAS focuses on open range herding positions because they are subject to special procedures.

Special procedures

“These special procedures have been an informal guidance that has allowed employers of livestock workers to have some special rules,” stated Griffith.

She explained that livestock employers can offer a job that is on-call 24/7, pays a monthly wage and can house employees in mobile housing.

The MPAS website also quotes, “Because open range livestock worker applications are for a 10 month period, the three-year rule, as in the goat and sheepherder occupation, does not apply.”

The three-year rule allows for contracts to be renewed, extending a worker’s commitment for up to three years, after which the worker must remain outside of the U.S. for at least three months, the website explains.

The H-2A program involves several state workforce agencies, the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor (DOL), which spearheads the program.

“DOL implements the foreign labor certification, so they get to determine who is approved to hire foreign workers,” she stated.

Rulemaking process

About three years ago, some workers and legal services decided to sue the DOL, which, despite the hurdles, led to good developments, she reported.

“For the first time ever, the H-2A special procedures will go up for a rule making process,” stated Griffith.

She noted that the proposed rule should be available to the public on March 1.

“Although these procedures have been looked out for by several very responsible congressional and industry members, they have never been set in stone and gone through the rule-making process,” she said.

Griffith recommended that producers speak to congressional members and industry advocacy groups to make sure that they are aware of what’s coming along with the rulemaking process.

Considerations

“It is important that we are prepared to look out for what we have. We have something that a lot of people don’t have access to,” Griffith said.

She explained that non-range workers using the H-2A program, such as fruit pickers and dairy workers, must be paid hourly or piece-rate wages. They cannot use the 24/7 work schedule without overtime pay.

“I don’t know if coyotes or wolves punch a time clock, but I’ve never met any that do, so the special procedures are an important piece for us,” she said.

She also noted that the wage-setting procedures have been working well for range employers, but changes in that process will be necessary in the new rules.

“We have had the same wage for over a decade, so we are looking at new wage methodologies,” Griffith said.

She added that a wage change is not necessarily wanted or needed, but it is important from a public relations standpoint.

Making comments

Griffith also discussed suggestions from MPAS to the DOL for revised job descriptions.

“In the current program we’re very limited to exactly what’s in the job description and contract,” she said.

The open livestock worker position was developed to allow for some more flexibility for job tasks, Griffith explained.

“That worker can be around sheep, cattle, goats or whatever the species may be and can also help with some irrigating and fencing,” she stated.

Along with the open range position, MPAS also represents sheepherder, sheep shearer and wool grader positions.

“We have some producers who have sheepherders and livestock workers on the same operation,” she said, noting that it can cause some conflict, due to differences in contract agreements.

 She reported that MPAS has done a lot of research and spoken with DOL about best and worst case scenarios. She added, DOL has taken the information, and decisions about the rules will be released in March.

Waiting for a rule

“We are trying to make sure that MPAS, as an organization, is able to disseminate information to interested groups as it becomes available,” stated Griffith.

She noted that the forecast of immigration reform brings up some unknowns.

“I realize the livestock worker position or sheepherder position isn’t something individual producers may be interested in, but right now it is our only legal labor supply,” she said.

Griffith encouraged producers to stay involved as the new H-2A rules and comment periods become available. 

Natasha Wheeler is the 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.

The global discussion about sustainability in livestock reaches every sector of the industry and hits producers at every level. 

In a policy seminar, “The Future of Livestock: Enhancing Sustainability, Responsibility and Efficiency,” hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Farm Foundation, panelists across a wide spectrum of interests looked at the implications of livestock production on solving hunger challenges across the globe.  

“Livestock production is a very timely topic, as we are facing some great challenges,” IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan said. “We have worked on many issues at IFPRI related to food and nutrition security, including livestock.”

Global hunger

Fan called out global nutrition security as a particular focus of IFPRI. 

“We’ve heard that 850 million people suffer from hunger,” he said. “In the meantime, hidden hunger hits 2 billion people. I think livestock play a huge role in helping us to solve hidden hunger.” 

Fan described hidden hunger as the lack of micronutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin A. 

“And don’t forget the third burden of modern nutrition – obesity,” he said.

“Animal-based protein plays a huge role for children in particular,” Fan said. “If children don’t have access to animal protein, their health suffers.” 

“How do we make sure that we have a profitable and efficient livestock sector to really meet the requirement of animal for proteins, for children, as well for everyone in the world?” he asked.

Cooperation

To address the question posed by Fan, Friedrich Wacker of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (GFFA) summarized the 10th Annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, a conference that brought together 69 ministers from nearly every continent, as well as international organizations. However, he noted the U.S. was not present at the event.

“This conference has become a leading conference on key issues on global food security and the future of agriculture,” Wacker said. “With the importance of animal production, animal health and animal welfare are even more relevant.”

Wacker continued, “The ministers emphasized that relations between human and animal health are growing, and they expressed support for a United Nation’s global welfare strategy.” 

Further, Wacker noted, since animal protein is an important source of nutrients, GFFA added livestock as a major topic on the agenda. 

“In the past, livestock production was not given proper recognition by policymakers on the international level,” he explained. “The diversity of livestock systems, variety of social economic factors and continued development require a comprehensive policy approach. We wanted to advance the policy dialogue, make knowledge available, identify gaps and initiate research.” 

Following the event, several teams were charged with exploring the issues facing livestock production, to report back at the next annual event. 

Conversation with consumers

To engage in conversations about livestock production, Joe Swedberg, who works in legislative affairs for Hormel Foods Corp., noted, “We have to look at the agriculture industry from the perspective of the environment, animal welfare and people in communities.” 

With a wide array of issues facing the agriculture industry, consumers are an essential component. 

“We’ve realized that our consumer want to have a conservation with us,” he said. “They don’t want to be talked to or dismissed. We need to talk with them.” 

At the same time, Swedberg said consumers are helpful in guiding policies moving forward.

“We are finding our customers are more and more helpful in guiding our policies. We’ve engaged with the market to be proactive,” he said. 

For example, to address world hunger, Hormel has created a product out of the pounds of meat left on a turkey after the majority of the meat product is removed. 

“We can take the pounds left off the bird, add micronutrients and can it, making it shelf stable,” Swedberg explained. “We’re feeding 30,000 children and 8,300 families. This is a product with dignity, and it’s a high value, animal-based protein.” 

Opportunities

The key to answering consumer concerns from developed countries while also addressing challenges surrounding hunger in technology according to IFPRI’s John McDermott, who heads up the program on agriculture for nutrition and health. 

“We need to trace products, source information in disease outbreaks and more, and we can do that digitally,” he said. “I see lots of opportunity in technology.”

Swedberg noted technology also provides opportunity in the form of food safety mechanisms on both the harvesting and processing side. 

“We haven’t knocked out salmonella, listeria or other pathogens, but we have the technology to do quick trace-backs, find out where they come from and put mitigation processes in place,” he said. “Food safety is not a competitive advantage, it’s an absolute, and the livestock industry is leading the charge.”

Wacker cited technology that allows producers to address consumer concerns will also continue to be important. 

“In Germany, our consumers are very much concerned about the fate of the male chicken in breeds that are used for egg production,” he said. “Because the male isn’t used for egg production, we are developing technology to identify the sex of that egg before they are hatched to avoid killing the chickens after they are born.”

“These technologies reconcile the expectations of consumers with the economic needs on the farm,” Wacker explained.

Technology also plays a role in allowing small farmers to be profitable and to enable sustainability of the livestock industry as a whole. 

McDermott emphasized, “We need frugal innovation and low-income companies will lead the way.” 

Saige Albert is managing 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 cattlemen and women from around the state of Wyoming gathered during the 2014 Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Winter Roundup, Scott George, immediate past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, looked at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s proposal for a second beef checkoff. 

“Secretary Vilsack has proposed a new checkoff, and he has done it under the auspices of the 1996 Generic Commodity Act,” said George on Dec. 3. 

George looked at the differences between the current checkoff and Vilsack’s proposal and noted that it is important for the industry to express its concerns related to a second checkoff. 

Early work

Work on reforming the beef checkoff began in 2011 with the creation of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG), which brought together 11 organizations.

“There were several enhancements that we talked about and agreed on,” George said. “There were also some wild demands that most of the group didn’t agree with, so we didn’t suggest moving forward with those.”

Some changes that were made include allowing non-profit organizations formed after 1985 to serve as checkoff contractors and removing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American National CattleWomen from the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC), which decides how checkoff funding is spent.

Increasing the checkoff’s funding was also discussed.

Conflict

At the end of 2013, Secretary Vilsack called the BCEWG to his office and expressed his concern that the checkoff was underfunded. He urged the group to come to a consensus on changes to be made to the checkoff moving forward. 

“We agreed to have three facilitated meetings, and we actually ended up with four big issues we could take to our membership so we could move forward,” George said. 

Areas for change

George noted that the first area was concern about the BPOC. 

“Half of the BPOC members come from the Federation of State Beef Councils and half come from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB),” he said. “They work hard to make those decisions.”

The members of the BPOC are elected, so the BCEWG decided that all member groups should have a voice in who is nominated. 

“There were also other discussions about a referendum,” George continued. “Some groups absolutely wanted a referendum every so many years.”

However, the extreme cost of referendum – between $1.5 million and $2 million – meant that the expense would be difficult to support. As a result, a compromise was reached in recommendation of a referendum similar to that in the soybean checkoff. 

“In that model, in a certain month, all producers across the country can go into their FSA Office and sign up,” George explained. “If 10 percent of producers go in, a referendum is held. It is not an automatic referendum, but it creates an organized way to get a referendum.”

Refunds

Producers also wanted a refund provision. 

“Some groups wanted to take their money out of the checkoff,” George explained, noting, however, that large groups opting to take a refund could dramatically impact the checkoff. “We compromised on the refund.”

The BCEWG decided that the initial checkoff dollar that is currently in place would remain mandatory. However, the additional proposed one dollar would have a refund provision.”

“Those who don’t like the increase can get their money back,” George said. “We had lots of compromises.”

The final change that was agreed upon by the group was the recommendation for an additional one dollar to the checkoff. 

Working together

“As we worked together, we agreed at the end of every meeting,” he said. “We didn’t come out with anything until we had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).”

However, following the agreement, the National Farmers Union decided they did not support the MOU, and Secretary Vilsack called another meeting in Washington, D.C., excluding CBB and the Federation of State Beef Councils. 

“Secretary Vilsack told us that because the group had failed to come to consensus, he was going to institute a new checkoff under the 1996 Generic Commodity Act,” George explained. “He said he was going to ask questions and get feedback, and after three years, a referendum would be held.”

The new order creating a second checkoff would be in addition to the existing program. 

Differentiating acts

The beef checkoff that producers are familiar with today was established under the 1985 Beef Promotion Act. Vilsack’s proposal is to develop a checkoff under the 1996 Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act. 

The two pieces of legislation are very different in many aspects. 

First, George pointed out that the 1985 Act was developed by beef producers for beef producers to increase demand specifically for beef. 

On the other hand, the 1996 Act was developed by government to create promotions for those commodities where no other legislation exists. 

Additionally, the 1985 Act recognizes and protects the role of qualified state beef councils and the Federation of State Beef Councils, while the 1996 legislation provides no such assurance for involvement of those groups. 

Government power is limited in the 1985 legislation, but the 1996 Act provides much more power to the government and Secretary of Agriculture. 

Membership and payments

Limitations on board members governing the checkoff are made in the 1985 Act, requiring that members be cattle producers and importers. However, the 1996 Act provides for appointments from the general public. 

George noted, “This means the Secretary of Agriculture may appoint one or more members of the general public to the Board. He could appoint Wayne Pacelli of the Humane Society of the United States or someone from those groups who regularly and actively oppose our industry.”

Finally, the 1996 Act does not require payment from importers, while the 1985 Act requires importers to pay assessments on a per-pound basis. 

“The bottom line is, grassroots producers have been the cornerstone of the beef checkoff program since it was first enacted in 1985,” George said. “There is no required element of the 1996 Act that increases grassroots influence in national checkoff efforts.”

“Furthermore, the 1996 Act assures no protection to state beef councils and gives much greater power to the federal government,” George commented.

Producer input

While the BCEWG continues to meet in an attempt to develop an MOU to amend the 1985 Act and Order with the provisions agreed on, George said the group hopes to provide Secretary Vilsack with an alternative to a new checkoff in their plan.

“Our best option now is simply to comment on Secretary Vilsack’s proposal,” George emphasized. “Spend a little time, review the proposal and questions and decide if the 1996 Act is something to support or oppose. I encourage everyone to comment.”

Secretary Vilsack will draft the order after comments are received and will ask for comments on the proposed order. 

Comments must be submitted by Dec. 10. Submit comments at regulations.gov

For more information, visit wylr.net, beefusa.org or regulations.gov

Saige Albert is managing 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.