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Policy

San Angelo, Texas – “Unlike 2014, where people didn’t understand why we needed ag support, this 50 percent drop in net farm income over the last four years – the worst since the Depression – will set a backdrop of why we need the programs and why we need a strong safety net, nutrition title, rural development title and energy title,” said House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway.

On July 31, the House Committee on Agriculture hosted a three-hour farm bill listening session at Angelo State University where producers, industry representatives and organizations alike attended to voice their stances for the 2018 Farm Bill.

“I appreciated hearing from Texas farmers and ranchers, and I am eager to take their input back to Washington, D.C. as we continue crafting the next farm bill,” said Conaway.

Insurance

A common topic among many speakers was the need for affordable crop insurance.

“As commodity prices drop and costs increase, our financial exposure has seemed to have grown every year,” said Matthew Huey of Huey Farms. “The gap in our farm between my cost of production and my ability to insure is about $600,000.”

He continued, “When our production has to be 133 percent of our 10-year average to breakeven, I don’t have to be an accountant to know that’s not sustainable. We’re in a position now where we have to figure out how to close that gap between what our cost of production is and where we are.”

Young farmer Lindsay Bowers noted the new farm bill must maintain affordable crop insurance and oppose limitations that would discourage producers from participating.

“This is especially critical in our era where we face extreme weather conditions. The farm bill should be a living document that provides adequate and stable support for our farmers who are faced with a changing environment,” Bowers said.

Conservation

Many speakers also asserted the need for a strong conservation title in the upcoming farm bill.

Richard Thorpe, president of the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, commented that most producers think of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), where landowners leverage their money with government funding on an improvement project.

He explained, “It works on a points system. The more points we get, the better chance we have of being awarded a federal EQIP contract. In a nutshell, the more money we’re willing to spend or put out, the better chance we have of getting an EQIP contract.”

However, this current strategy is not effective for landowners who only need to install one improvement or who have limited resources.

“We need to look at changes, so more people are allowed to use EQIP who have limited needs or limited financial resources,” Thorpe said.

Research

Thorpe also commented that research money has been reduced over the last several farm bills.

“We need a really strong research title. We need this to be competitive,” commented Thorpe. “We have emerging diseases, and we need production research in a lot of different things.”

American Sheep Industry Vice President and Texas sheep producer Bennie Cox echoed Thorpe’s sentiment.

“We fully support Food and Drug Administration’s minor-use animal drug research for the sheep and goat industries,” he said.

Cox also cited the need for continued research funding for the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.

Animal health

Many speakers during the hearing also touched on the need to prioritize animal health in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“We need a strong animal health program. We’ve got a foot and mouth disease (FMD) problem in South America, and we import a lot of beef from there,” said Thorpe.

He noted FMD in the nation’s vaccine bank has expired, saying, “We’ve got to build that bank back up. It puts us at risk.”

Concerning the vaccine bank, Cox commented, “While we must do everything we can to reduce the risk of FMD, we also need to be prepared for an outbreak.”

Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening spoke briefly on the emerging fever tick concern in south Texas.

“We have a task force working on some issues and solutions. We hope to make that part of the farm bill discussion, so we can work on that devastating pest,” said Boening.

Young producers

“Right now, it’s challenging for our current farmers to make it, but it’s much more difficult for young farmers to get started,” said Bowers. “The initial capital investment to get started is significant.”

She noted it is almost impossible for young producers to obtain land for their operation without having it transitioned to them.

Western Peanut Growers Association President and farmer Tony Diel stressed the dire situation facing young producers.

“A lot of us older producers are living off of equity, and these young farmers have no equity to get started on,” he commented. “The only way they have to get in is through their family, and it’s hard to get them going.”

Diel concluded, “In my hometown of Brownfield, Texas, there are five young producers who have gone out of business in the last three years. I see no future in our country if we don’t help our young producers get established.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Afton – Legislators from across the state of Wyoming met in Afton on Sept. 14-15 to consider a series of bills for sponsorship by the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee during the 2016 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature. 

As an anticipated hot topic during the meeting, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) was under scrutiny for their work related to livestock rustling and the law enforcement division. The scrutiny followed testimony from several producers during the May meeting of the committee.

Steve True, WLSB director, described that the agency has been working diligently over the past several months to address concerns of the legislators. 

“The Board, staff and I have been working every day to find answers to improve our performance in the law enforcement division,” he commented. “There are a couple of avenues that we are taking.”

Working with sheriffs

As part of his effort to improve the ability of the WLSB to reduce livestock theft and effectively enforce livestock laws, True noted that he has begun to meet with the sheriffs from around the state. 

“I have had conversations with two sheriffs in particular and asked them for one deputy who can spend a lot of time with our guys, learn the tricks, rules and regulations and understand what to look for,” True said. “They generally have primacy of investigation, and we count on them tremendously.”

True also noted that he will continue to work with the remaining 21 sheriffs in an array of forums over the next several months.

“I’ve taken the contacts with sheriffs I’ve had so far in a positive manner,” True said. 

Prosecution

True also noted that action has been taken over the past several years to prosecute those accused of livestock theft in the last several years. Though many details are protected through criminal statutes, he mentioned that several cases have been successfully prosecuted. 

In 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2013, five adults were prosecuted for stealing calves, sheep and horses. In addition, a 2014 case of stolen horses is under investigation and a 2015 case is pending in Uinta County. 

“We have had some activity,” True said. “We would like that to improve, and frankly, in our evaluation fired up by the previous meeting, we have found weaknesses in our reporting that I think we have addressed in our new computer system.”

Impacts of computerization

Recent updates to the WLSB law enforcement division’s computerization will also continue to improve the efficiency of the unit. The WLSB recently opted to enroll in a new law enforcement program for their work. 

“We are putting new cases in the system, and we are trying to figure out how to update the old cases into the new system without fouling up the record for the prosecution,” True explained. 

The system also offers a tool that allows the investigators to track trends in cases that will enable them to more effectively deter livestock crimes. 

Input from legislators

Despite the work that has been done, some legislators expressed concerns over the work of the division. 

Representative Allen Jaggi of Lyman said, “In Texas, the head of their agency says they have an 80 to 85 percent chance of recovery for branded cattle, and if they aren’t branded that goes to 35 to 40 percent. If we compare that to what has gone on in Wyoming for the money we spent, we are just not getting as much.”

Jaggi also asked True, “Do you feel that you can get a handle on this and turn it around, or should we be doing something else?”

In response, True offered, “I believe we can make a difference, and I think there is enough room for improvement.” 

Bill proposal

Though the WLSB has made efforts to move forward, Rep. Tyler Lindholm of Sundance moved that the committee sponsor a bill effectively getting rid of the law enforcement division of the agency. 

The bill would eliminate the livestock investigator positions and funnel the money previously provided for those positions to a Livestock Investigations Council. The council would utilize the money to train sheriffs throughout the state. 

“I bring this forward as an option, considering the testimony we heard after our last meeting,” Lindholm said.

“This piece of legislation calls for exactly what you want to do – work with county sheriffs, but it would get rid of those four investigators,” he said to True. “What is the difference that they are making?” 

True noted, however, that the investigators play an important role in mentoring county sheriffs through their livestock knowledge, as well as in investigating livestock cases.

“I value our investigators,” he added. “As long as they are within the agency, we will go ahead full steam, because there is improvement to be made and things we can do.”

Citing concerns that the WLSB has not had adequate time to make changes before the legislators stepped in, the bill failed by a narrow 7-5 margin. Several legislators expressed that if changes are not made moving forward, the bill may be of interest in the future.

“It is not in our make-up, as producers, to sit and wait for someone to tell us what to do,” True said. “Our goal is to push forward as fast as we can to do the best we can at our duties – including protecting producers from theft. We are committed to pushing forward, as long as that is in our statutory tasks.” 

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..

After seven years of litigation, Special Master Barton Thompson of Stanford, Calif., appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, released his decision in the Montana versus Wyoming water case, and the Wyoming Attorney General noted in a press release that, “in nearly every important respect, the Special Master sided with Wyoming.”

Beginning in 2007, Montana alleged that Wyoming had violated the Yellowstone River Compact in both the Tongue and Powder River Basins nearly every year since 1950, when the Compact was ratified. 

Case history

After the case began, in 2011, Wyoming won what the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office called “the most important issues in the case” in the ruling that irrigators could improve their irrigation methods to increase crop uptake without violating the Compact. 

“The Supreme Court also found that no Wyoming water user with a water right predating the Compact can ever be required to curtail their diversions for the benefit of Montana,” the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office continued. “The vast majority of water rights in the Tongue and Powder River Basins predate 1950 and were, therefore, unaffected by this litigation.”

Montana later opted to voluntarily dismiss its claims related to the Tongue River, and the Special Master further noted that Montana must make an affirmative call for water before Wyoming has an obligation to act. 

“Montana lost or voluntarily withdrew the vast majority of its claims prior to trial,” said Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael. 

The remainder of the case was tried over 25 days in late 2013 in Billings, Mont.

New decision

In his Dec. 29 decision, Thompson made five recommendations. 

First, he cited that the court should grant Wyoming summary judgment for 1982, 1985, 1992, 1994 and 1998. He also noted that Wyoming was not liable to Montana in 1981, 1987-89 and 2000-03. 

“The Court should find that Wyoming is liable to Montana in the amount of 1,300 acre-feet for 2004,” Thompson continued. “This represents the impact of Wyoming’s post-1950 uses and storage during the 2004 notice period on the flow of the Tongue River at the Stateline.”

Additionally, Thompson said Wyoming is liable for 56 acre-feet of water in 2006. 

“The Court should remand the case to determine damages and other appropriate relief,” he continued.

The total replacement value of this water for both years is approximately $14,000, cited the Wyoming Attorney General.

Other components

During the case, Wyoming admitted that it did not curtail several small divisions in response to Montana’s demands in 2004 and 2006.

“We took seriously their requests prior to my decisions in 2004 and 2006,” said Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrell of his decision to refuse Montana’s demands for water. “We felt confident that the minor amounts at issue were within our Compact allocation and that our interpretation was sound.”

He noted that while the Supreme Court disagreed with their Compact interpretation, it was positive to see that their estimates were correct.

“With a few minor adjustments in our regulatory response to Montana in future years, Wyoming should have no difficulty meeting its obligations under the compact,” Tyrell added.

Impacts

Michael said, “What this case confirms is that the primary solution to water issues in Montana on the Tongue River can be found in Montana’s operation of the Tongue River Reservoir.”

He added, “Montana’s internal operational decisions have the biggest impact on its ability to cope with drought, and fortunately, over the course of this litigation Montana has taken that lesson to heart. Recent changes in reservoir operational practices in Montana have been much more conservative and responsible, and we anticipate fewer future disputes as a result.”

Governor Matt Mead also said, “I am very pleased with the outcome in this case to this point and proud of the outstanding work of the Attorney General and the State Engineer’s Office.”

Net steps

The Office of the Wyoming Attorney General stated, “While Wyoming is generally pleased with the specific ruling and the overall result, Wyoming is considering whether to ask the Supreme Court to review parts of the Special Master’s recommendations.”

Parties have an opportunity to ask the Supreme Court to reject or modify the Special Master’s recommendations. 

Michael added, “At this time, we are carefully evaluating the lengthy recommendations, and we do have some concern that the Special Master has not held Montana to the appropriate standard under the Compact.”

“Montana failed to use immense amounts of water during the drought years of the last decade, and Wyoming believes that the Compact requires more diligence from Montana before it can be heard to complain about uses in Wyoming,” Michael continued. 

Coal-bed methane and groundwater

An additional aspect of the Montana v. Wyoming case was related to coal-bed methane. 

“During the litigation, Montana also alleged that coal-bed methane production in Wyoming adversely affected the flow of water in the Tongue River,” said the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. “However, the Special Master found that there was insufficient evidence that groundwater pumping associated with coal-bed methane production caused any reduction in flow of the Tongue River.”

Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell noted, “There was a significant amount of research and investigation into the effects of coal-bed methane production on the Tongue River, and all of the work done by both parties revealed that there was no discernible impact at the surface from these deep wells.”

“As a result, groundwater turned out to be an insignificant issue in the case,” Tyrrell added.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from the Special Master’s Decision and press releases from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper — Attorney Karen Budd-Falen’s recent editorial, “Federal ‘Gravy Train’ Funds Environmental Litigation,” which appeared in publications across the region including the Roundup, has earned the attention of Congressional leaders. The editorial revealed just how much money environmental groups are receiving from the federally funded Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and the Judgment Fund.
    Among them is Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). As Vice-Chairwoman of the Congressional Western Caucus, Lummis recently co-wrote an editorial on the subject with caucus chairman and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah). The editorial appeared in the Nov. 7, 2009 edition of the Billings Gazette.
    “Without improved oversight,” says the editorial, “the blank checkbook will continue to provide billions of hard-earned tax dollars to support environmental lawyers, and advance the narrow, public lands agenda of no use. The abuse of this system is cause for great concern. A bicameral group of members of Congress has called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a thorough review of this matter and provide suggestions to address any concerns that are identified.”
    Budd-Falen revealed that over the course of the last 10 years Western Watersheds Project, a group committed to ending domestic livestock grazing on federal lands, received nearly a million dollars in reimbursed legal expenses as a result of the EAJA. Of the 44 cases drawing upon the act’s funds between 2003 and 2005, Budd-Falen says only nine payments were made to plaintiffs other than environmental groups.
    As the congressional leaders point out in their editorial, “The EAJA was established by Congress to ensure individuals, small businesses or public-interest groups with limited financial resources could seek judicial redress from unreasonable government actions. Through a permanent appropriation, and without Congressional oversight, EAJA allows prevailing plaintiffs to recover attorney fees and other costs from the federal government itself.”
    Based on Budd-Falen’s research, Lummis and Bishop conclude, “…it appears that many environmental groups have created a virtual litigation industry using this government-funded program to bankroll their lawsuits against the federal government.”
    Budd-Falen’s editorial appeared in the Oct. 3, 2009 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Jennifer Womack is staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – Over the past month, representatives from the Wyoming Governor’s Office have travelled across the state gathering input on Wyoming’s emerging energy strategy.

“To a large degree, what brings us here today is the water strategy,” said Policy Analyst Nephi Cole during the Dec. 5 Wyoming Water Strategy meeting in Casper. “The further development of a water strategy was identified by 97-plus percent of the respondents of the energy strategy as being an extremely high priority.”

Regardless of interest group or background, Cole noted that the overwhelming support for a water strategy was so prominent, Initiative 9D was introduced as part of the energy strategy, requiring the development of a similar approach for water management.

Public meetings

A series of public meetings has been held around the state, with the last meeting to be held in Torrington on Dec. 19. 

“At each of these meetings, we catalogue what people are saying to take public comment for incorporation into our documents,” added Cole. “We are intending to get people thinking about the issues and challenges with water in the state.”

Cole cited Luna Leopold, son of Sand County Almanac author Aldo Leopold, during the presentation. 

Leopold said, “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and of our children’s’ lifetimes.”

“Leopold’s comment is very telling,” Cole noted. “Water is a critical issue for those of us in the state of Wyoming, and it probably will be forever.”

Wyoming water

In Wyoming, Cole remarked that about 17 million acre-feet, or over 5.5 trillion gallons, of water flow in streams and rivers.

“We are very much the headwaters of the nation,” he said. “In a few small cases, water comes through our borders before going somewhere else, but for the most part, it starts here.”

Wyoming has the right to put 3.5 million acre-feet of water to beneficial use, or uses that improve and benefit the state of Wyoming.

Quality

“There are other issues in the state with water aside from quantity,” Cole continued, mentioning a number of guidelines for addressing water quality.

The Clean Water Act, for instance, requires Wyoming to assess all waters in the state every two years under the 305(b) rule. 

“That report  evaluates streams on whether they are meeting their designated use,” Cole explained. “Designated use is different than beneficial use.”

The designated use looks at what a water could be used for, rather than just what it is used for, and may include uses such as agriculture, recreation, wildlife or aquatic life, for example.

“If a stream does not meet its designated use and fails to live up to those standards, it is put on the 303(d) list of impaired waters,” he continued. “Some of the issues that may impair streams include fecal coliforms, selenium, sediment and others.”

From there, efforts are made to address the water’s problems, including a total maximum daily load study and implementation of best management practices.

Water strategy

After looking at the amount of water in the state and the quality of Wyoming water, as well as the number of agencies managing water and the plethora of uses for the resource, Cole noted that it is important to collect information from a variety of sources on water priorities.

“In creating a Wyoming Water Strategy, we don’t yet know what the critical priorities are going to be,” he said. “We are just starting our journey in creating this strategy, and we are looking to our key stakeholders to help us define those priorities.”

The strategy will be developed similarly to the Wyoming Energy Strategy, with much the same framework. At the conclusion of the development of the strategy, a list of specific, measurable and actionable initiatives will be developed. 

“We’d love to talk more about how we can create positive incentives for innovative treatment and management of produced waters,” Cole said, “and we’d like to talk about the issues our stakeholders feel are important with relation to waters in Wyoming.”

Cole commented, “The key component of this strategy is that we want to be able to put some things on the ground to benefit the citizens of Wyoming for the long term.

Cole also noted that the Governor’s Office hopes to receive all initial scoping comments on the Wyoming Water Strategy by the end of 2013. For more information or to provide comments, contact the Wyoming Governor’s Office at 307-777-7437.

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..


SIDEBAR:
Water use

“If we break out our use, about 85 percent of the water we use in the state of Wyoming is surface water,” said Wyoming Governor’s Office Policy Analyst Nephi Cole, citing a survey from 2000 by the U.S. Geological Survey. “About 15 percent of the water we use is ground water.”

Agriculture is the number one user of water in the state. Other beneficial uses include mining, electricity production and public supply, as well as oil and gas use.

“Oil and gas uses a very small percentage of the water, and it gets a lot of attention,” added Cole. 

The remainder of water originating in Wyoming flows to a variety of other states.

“It would be nice if we could keep that water, but there are nine compacts and decrees that determine how we have to share the water with our neighbors,” said Cole.