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Saige

  Today, U.S. agriculture is not just about feeding the people in the U.S. While I can’t deny that it is important that we continue to make sure that people across the U.S. have full bellies at the end of the day our agriculture industry extends far beyond that. Today, we are literally feeding the world, and the impact of the global marketplace is incredible.

It’s no secret that I’m an international junkie – I love travel, follow international politics and I’m pretty excited by the idea that we live in a big world geographically, but on a more personal level, it’s a pretty small place. And recently, international news has had my rapt attention.

Just this week, Japan (finally) announced that it will open its border to U.S. beef under 30 months of age. This has huge market implications. Economists from coast to coast mark Asian markets as having the most potential for expansion. However, on the other side of the coin, CME Group looked deeper and released a report that said last year, Japan didn’t import as much U.S. beef as they could have. They didn’t meet their import ceiling. 

But Japan continues to be at the top of the list of export markets for U.S. beef, and their hunger for cuts like the short plate is still there, despite competition across Asia for the product. 

“Japan could have bought a lot more steak and round cuts, even chucks in 2012, but they did not,” CME Group stated, adding that price is a significant issue for Japanese consumers. Since beef prices from the U.S., Australia and the domestic market have all increased sharply, CME Group speculated that high prices were keeping consumers out of the market. However, in my basic knowledge of supply and demand – as supply goes up, price goes down – it makes sense that more available cattle eligible for export to Japan would help ease price concerns. We can only hope that the Japanese market will compensate for the loss of exports to Russia.

Also this week, Russia made good on their threats to ban beef and pork beginning Feb. 11 because the products could not be guaranteed ractopamine free. With Russia sitting as the sixth largest export market for U.S. beef, the ban may make a big impact. Hopefully, Japanese markets will surge and compensate for the loss.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember the people across the world love U.S. beef. It’s about the taste, quality and experience of eating the delicious product that we serve up around the globe. And with marketing campaigns working to increase awareness and educate global consumers, things look good for beef exports. 

However, on the domestic front, it seems to be a different story. Our consumers still question beef production and want to know more about how we produce and how we treat our animals. The questions that have been put in their minds by groups like the Human Society of the United States, for example, has caused a surge of concern – and it’s something that we need to continue to address. 

But for now, despite all concerns, just keep producing that delicious, high quality product that we all love – beef. 

Saige

 
As I returned to work on Monday from the Thanksgiving holiday and began to prepare for Christmas season, I couldn’t help but notice trees in the backs of trucks and families bundled up to brave the cold weather for winter fun. It’s also hard to avoid the crowds and chaos that surround shopping centers across the country.
    It’s shopping season! And it’s the time of year when we spend some of the extra money we have on the people we love, preparing for Christmas morning.
    Last Friday marked the “official” first day of holiday shopping, known by many as Black Friday. Americans spent $52.4 billion over the four-day weekend. Then, on Cyber Monday, online shoppers influenced a 15 percent increase in web purchases, with 7.4 percent of that increase in shopping from mobile devices. Over the weekend, shoppers spent a record-breaking average of $398.62 per person. That’s a lot of money spent, and a lot of money funneled out of America to the rest of the world.
    I am all too guilty of attempting to one-stop shop by heading to the mall or Wal-Mart, or even hopping online and ordering gifts from around the world. I think this year I’ll change things up a bit and think about avoiding my favorite online outlets to check out something a little more local.
    In the last few months, I’ve been making a special effort to see just what the talented Wyoming citizens have to offer.
    I’ve seen soap that makes my skin softer than ever before, lamps made from used ropes and I even discovered a barbeque sauce that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. There are women and men out there dipping chocolates, making high quality saddles and tack and even crafting beautiful purses and jewelry. The collection of products available is simply too vast to even begin to mention them all.
    Wyoming has a lot to offer as far as places to find those unique, hand-made products that last longer or taste better than things you might buy in at big box retailers, and in purchasing them, we support our friends and neighbors. If you ask any small business owner, I’m sure they will tell you that you should buy from the locally owned shop on Main Street rather than a corporate giant.
    Even when you’re getting ready to choose your Christmas tree, think about where it came from. You can buy a permit from the Forest Service, and cut a Wyoming-grown tree for your home, rather than picking up a plastic variety made in China. The American Farm Bureau Federation reminds us that real trees remove carbon from the air and, if you buy your tree, are grown by American farmer. It seems like a pretty great way to support American agriculture yet again.
    As you’re shopping for Christmas presents, think about checking out Wyoming stores, owned and operated by your friends and neighbors. Maybe a gift subscription to the Wyoming Livestock Roundup or a gift from one of the advertisers featured in our “Christmas Corral?” Look around the corner downtown, rather than around the web. It’s Christmas time, so have some fun shopping and think about spending money in your communities this season!
Saige

The future of agriculture is in the youth of today, but as I look at some of the fine specimens that inhabit the mall here in Casper, I can’t help but be worried about the future of our country – that is until last week, when I attended the AgriFuture Conference in Laramie.

Students from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah joined together with industry professionals and producers to talk about the challenges facing the industry and come up with solutions to ensure the survival of agriculture.

The students arrived full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas to solve the problems of the next generation. Their knowledge and insight was impressive and gave me a renewed hope for what will occur as the current generation of farmers and ranchers continues to age.

The students realized that, to keep American agriculture alive and well, it is necessary to continue to educate the public, as well as the industry, and advocate for agriculture. They came up with solutions relating to everything from how to involve consumers in the industry to how agriculturalists can become more integral in connecting with the public.

Students suggested that producers and industry members make connections outside the agriculture sphere to bring their positive image to the consumer and become more involved in agriculture promotions. They mentioned how important it is for advocates to know their facts and be consistent. As producers, students also found it important to continue education and to close the gap with technology, by embracing social media and other technology.

After just a day and a half in Laramie, I am more confident than ever that the future of agriculture is in good hands.

While AgriFuture was geared toward college students connected to agriculture, this week we also have the chance to watch high school students from Wyoming show us what they have to offer at the National FFA Convention.

Students from across the state have travelled to Indianapolis, Ind. to compete in a wide range of career development events. These contests revolve around all aspects of agriculture, including judging contests, ag business events and public speaking. We have the chance to see how our students match up to those in the rest of the nation. Wyoming has an incredible reputation on the national level for producing worthy competitors, and this year is no exception.

We have also sent a candidate to National Convention to go through a rigorous week of interviews, presentations and essay-writing events in an attempt to secure a National FFA Office. Catlin Caines of Hyattville also represented Wyoming last year, and he has progressed to the final round of the selection process this year. National officers will be announced Oct. 22.

Good luck to all who have traveled to Indianapolis this year – we know our Wyoming students will represent us well!

As I look into my crystal ball, searching for the answers to the future of the agriculture industry and the future of our nation, I think we are in good hands. The bright, enthusiastic students involved in agriculture are innovative and willing to take on the challenges that are presented. For the future, it seems to me that things might not look so grim after all.

Saige

This week – and last – I’ve had the pleasure to see a little bit of what youth are doing across the country, and it’s provided me a lot to think about. 

Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. with the Wyoming LEAD program touring a variety of agencies and visiting with our congressional delegation on the hill.  

At the same time, we had the unique opportunity to participate in the Provider Pals program. Within that program, the 15 LEAD Class XIII members visited a pre-kindergarten class, elementary school and a middle school to teach the students a little bit about our world. I spent four hours teaching 120 three- and four-year-olds about wheat. That afternoon, I visited with 60 sixth grade students. My fellow class members looked at different aspects of agriculture – from irrigation to beef by-products to wildlife and agriculture. 

What was really enlightening was the difference between those children and the ones I interact with through Wyoming’s 4-H and FFA programs every day. 

When I came into the classrooms, both pre-kindergarten and middle school students were inattentive and in general disrespectful. They talked over their teacher, didn’t sit in their seats and did things as outrageous as sitting on their desks and laying their heads down. If I would have done any of those things when I was in school, I would have been sent to the principal. Then, when I began my presentation, students talked over me, carried on side conversations in the back and some flat out ignored me. I’m not sure about you, but I was raised differently. 

Folks, these are the youth of today. These are just a segment of the students who will help to lead our future generation. Frankly, it scares me to think that these youth are going to provide the example for the future.

On returning to Wyoming, I’ve had the opportunity to spend this past week at the Wyoming FFA State Convention. Talk about a difference of night and day. 

During my four days at convention, I’m not sure I have seen a more bright and respectful group of students. If I was carrying a full armload of things, students would either offer to help or take something without being asked. Often, they were students I’d never met before. They opened doors, said, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Sir” and “Ma’am” and even went above and beyond what was necessary in helping their fellow students. 

It’s a pretty spectacular thing to meet a group of students so polite and respectful and so dedicated to an organization and a cause. 

I am eternally impressed with the level of professionalism that Wyoming FFA members show. And I’m optimistic that these are the students who will do great things for the world. 

It’s not every day you meet a young woman or young man who has grown a herd of breeding sheep or cattle or who runs their own farming operation. It’s impressive that, even before they reach 16 and 17 years old, these students are building successful businesses. That’s no easy feat, and it’s something that most Americans can’t say they’ve done. 

We’ve got a lot to be proud of here in Wyoming, and our kids these days are just one of those things.

 
It’s interesting to see how mass media attacks production agriculture these days, yet Americans continue to enjoy safe, healthy food across the country. Large media outlets are consistently publishing articles targeting production practices that provide the food that consumers demand. I really wonder how many of them criticize their beef while enjoying a tender, juicy steak.
    Personally, I know that production and harvest practices used in the industry are safe, efficient, effective and humane, but until a recent tour of JBS in Greeley, Colo., I had never seen firsthand the measures that are taken to really ensure a safe food product.
    This past month, I was fortunate enough to visit the Greeley packing plant during the National Institute of Animal Agriculture conference, and it was a great experience.
    According to their website, JBS is the largest animal protein company in the world, with 140 facilities worldwide that produce food, leather, pet products and biodiesel, and they routinely allow tours through their facilities to inform the industry and consumers alike about the plant’s operations.
    First and foremost, if you haven’t had the opportunity to tour a packing plant, I highly encourage everyone to do so. It was one of the most educational and interesting experiences of my time at the Roundup.
    After “suiting up” – including a hair net, hard hat, earplugs, smock, gloves, gators and rubber boots – we were allowed to tour nearly every area of the plant – from the kill floor to packaging stages.
    At each entryway, the plant had a basin of sudsy water to disinfect boots, ensuring sanitation through the entire facility. I’m not sure what I expected entering a packing plant, but it was definitely not the clean, bright, nearly sterile facilities that I encountered. It was really quite impressive.
    Our first stop was where the carcass is cut into edible pieces and packaged for shipping. Interestingly, the facility was also equipped with placards describing what each cut was, as well as where it came from. JBS really is consumer-friendly and wants people to know what is going on.
    After seeing the finished product on its way to market, we walked to cold storage, where rows of cattle carcasses were being graded by a USDA inspector, and through to the beginning stages of cattle harvest.
    The steamy room where cattle were first knocked, then bled, skinned and the insides are sorted through was pretty eye-opening, as well. I find it incredibly interesting that each phase of the process in carried out in one or two quick motions by a specialized, skilled individual.
    As the offal is removed and waste products are shipped to the rendering facility, it really helped me to realize that every part of the animal is utilized in some way or another, and the process is super efficient to provide products to the consumer as quickly as possible.
    I think at the end of the day it is so important to remember that many Americans’ only impression of a cattle-processing facility is that image portrayed by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle. As more and more people become curious about where their food comes from, it really matters that they get the right picture – not one from an early-1900s novel.
Saige