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Monday, October 2,2006

Ranchers face bighorn sheep problems

by WLJ
—Bighorn sheep cause cattlemen to halt production. Ranchers are familiar with the challenges associated with sustaining the wildlife population and working cooperatively with the environment. Often heard called the best stewards of the land, ranchers have constantly compromised with environmentalists and federal institutions to take a proactive stance. Despite ranchers’ efforts, some decisions being made are causing ranchers to halt production. Most recently, environmentalists are praising a decision made by the Forest Service that will suspend livestock grazing in parts of Nevada and California, primarily near the eastern Sierra. The decision was a result of constant legal battles raging between ranchers and conservationists vying to restore bighorn sheep to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, as well as near the Yosemite National Park. Bighorns are generally found on steep slopes and high alpine meadows just north of Yosemite National Park to the south of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “It is refreshing and encouraging to see the Forest Service listening to and responding to biologists, including its own,” said Karen Schambach, California director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The decision was made in an effort to restore the endangered bighorn sheep to the area. Ranchers affected by the decision said they have been battling environmentalists over the protection of the bighorn sheep since the 1800s. Executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, Rachel Buzzetti, said this issue is nothing new and has been yet another hurdle for producers in California and Nevada to deal with. “We have already lost over 50,000 acres of prime sheep and cattle range due to environmentalists claiming to be trying to protect endangered species,” said Floyd Rathbaun, who is the range consultant for F.I.M. Corporation located in Nevada's Smith Valley. F.I.M. is the largest sheep ranch in the national forest affected by the recent regulations. The logic used by the Forest Service to make the decision was reportedly based on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The bighorn sheep were placed on the endangered species list in 1999. The concern on behalf of the Forest Service and environmentalists is that domestic sheep are spreading diseases to bighorn sheep, preventing any significant population growth. The environmentalists have scientists testifying that domestic sheep are causing bighorns to become infected with fatal diseases, while agriculturalists say the science is not science, simply circumstantial, and have their scientists testifying the opposite. An interagency task force recommended a buffer zone of between nine and 14 miles between the two species, which environmentalist say was the driving force behind the recent curtailment of grazing privileges. Daniel Patterson, an ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said domestic sheep are increasingly threatening bighorns with a pneumonia-like disease known as Pasteurella. Since declared endangered, the bighorn sheep population has more than doubled. When first placed on federal listing, there was reportedly an approximate 125 head. Now the population has grown to over 300 head, according to Patterson. Fred Fulstone, age 86, owner of F.I.M., said he has been around bighorn sheep for 70 years and knows more about them than activists trying to limit grazing to “supposedly” protect them. “We don’t bother the bighorns and they don't bother us,” said Fulstone. “They don’t care about the bighorns, they just want our land. The greenies want to take all the country up there.” Fulstone, who has testified in Washington D.C. to protect his property along with other ranches, said the supposed fact that bighorns are being diseased by domestic sheep is a myth that has been disproved multiple times by credible scientists, microbiologists and veterinarians. “Domestic sheep and the Sierra Nevada Bighorns have grazed together in close proximity for 70 years and no die offs,” said Fulstone. “It boils down to the California Fish and Game trying to railroad the final recovery plan for Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. This should be stopped because the bigger part of it is not true. Plus, the bighorns were illegally listed on the endangered list in the first place. It's proven that bighorns are not a distinct population as listed.” Anette Rink is a veterinarian and serves as the laboratory supervisor for the Animal Disease and Food Safety Laboratory in Reno, NV, and has testified on behalf of Fulstone and other ranchers based on years of research. She said it is not impossible for diseases to be spread if there were nose-to-nose contact, but calls it unlikely. “The trouble is, the only evidence is circumstantial. There is no hard evidence of any such thing happening after at least 16 years of looking,” said Rink, who said Pasteurella may be somewhat host-specific and is triggered by stress. Rathbun said the bighorns already more than likely carry the pathogen, then stress triggers it, thus causing sickness or death. “They have no scientific proof; absolutely none,” said Rathbun. Rink said the major problem is soon to be a result of simply avoiding the real problem. “The major problem with the reluctance of biologists to accept that domestic sheep are not the major cause of disease die-offs of bighorns is that it excuses them from looking for any other causes. They feel their present management is adequate and changes in management other than removing domestic sheep from the range aren’t necessary,” said Rink. “Unfortunately, it will be too late for the range sheep producer when it becomes obvious that even without the presence of domestic sheep, the bighorns are very susceptible to disease and are still very fragile, will still experience nutritional and environmental stress, and will still die off.” The Washington D.C.-based Public Lands Council, representing the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Sheep Industry, is among those critical of the Forest Service’s decision. In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year, Jeff Eisenberg, the executive director of the council, said federal wildlife officials had pledged in the mid-1980s that any efforts to reintroduce the bighorns would not result in any reductions in domestic grazing. “You have our word that we will not require any changes in the use of your allotment because of bighorn concerns,” Forest Service officials said in a letter to Fulstone on Dec. 20, 1989. Eisenberg said it was just one example of how ranchers have been treated unfairly in this particular issue. “Breaking promises to landowners to facilitate the relinquishment of federal permits will only create bad feelings and resistance to conservation efforts,” he wrote May 9 in the letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Eisenberg does not buy into the alleged fact that the stricter regulations have anything to do with ESA. “These people say the craziest things,” he said. “We’re looking for a solution that would take into consideration the needs of bighorn sheep, as well as the needs of the ranchers who have been in place for decades, a solution that takes care of the needs of domestic sheep,” he said. “This (recent restrictions) doesn’t address the longer term concerns.” Fulstone is more worried about the future than he is the present. “This bighorn problem is very serious to our cattle and sheep industry grazing on public lands. Thousands of cattle and sheep have already been put off public lands here in the West,” said Fulstone. “I believe the livestock industry should get together and form a coalition and fight this problem before anymore permits are cancelled.” — Mike Deering, WLJ, Editor  

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Monday, October 2,2006

Fed cattle trade expected to move higher

by WLJ
—Packers expected to trim harvest levels soon. Fed cattle traders were still several dollars apart with asking prices in the range of $92 live basis and $142-145 dressed basis last Thursday. Trade was anticipated to occur at prices steady to $1 higher than the previous week once it got underway. The last confirmed trade was Sept. 22 at $88.50-90 in the southern Plains and in the north, live sales traded at $87-89. Dressed sales sold at $137-141. Boxed beef prices, supported by lower packer harvest levels, moved upward last week. Choice cutout values rose 17 cents on Thursday last week to close at $141.72. Select cuts were also slightly higher, gaining 15 cents to trade at $132.82. Volume was much improved last week as wholesale buyers finally found a price point they were satisfied with. Analysts last week said they anticipated packers would continue to attempt to move the cutout value higher in an effort to improve margins. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was still considerably below break-even prices at minus $36 per head last Thursday. Erica Rosa, economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center, said she expected the market to move higher again last week, but that packers would cut harvest levels the following week to improve cutout margins. “The past two weeks, packers have come to the table with more money, somewhat unexpectedly, but they’re also working on the other end to move prices higher. I expect we will see cuts in kill-levels over the next week or two to help boost boxed beef prices,” Rosa said. “The problem recently has been the boxed prices will move higher one day and drop the next. Packers haven’t been able to maintain the upward momentum in the cutout value.” Rosa said, seasonally, she expects the boxed beef market to move higher, although not to the levels enjoyed during the fourth quarter last year when it reached record high prices. “Last year’s prices will be tough to beat and I don’t think we will do it this year, but I think the mid to high $140s are a reasonable target for Choice boxed beef during the fourth quarter,” she said. Factors which will determine the market are still playing out, according to Rosa. The contract trade in recent weeks has been largely dependent upon the cash market to determine direction and even a bearish cattle on feed report, such as the one issued Sept. 22, has done little to move the market. She said there has probably been some speculation in the contract trade with regard to trade with South Korea, and some improved demand on the consumer level as a result of declining energy prices, to boost the market. Beyond those two factors, there isn’t a clear direction for the market during the weeks ahead. “Right now, feedlot break evens are very high based on feeder cattle prices and right now packers appear to be willing to pay more money for them, but they have to be able to work toward better margins or they won’t be able to sustain that practice,” Rosa said. It looked early last week like packers might decrease harvest levels. On Monday, packers killed only 116,000 head, however, the remainder of the week’s harvest rate picked up and Thursday, packers moved 126,000 head through processing chains. That number was 1,000 lower than the previous week and 5,000 head more than a year ago. As of Thursday, for the week, harvest had reached 496,000 head, down from 505,000 the prior week, but well above a year ago when 476,000 head had been harvested. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) provided little market leadership last week as floor traders awaited cash trade to develop. In the meantime, contracts drifted sideways last week, with Thursday trade mixed to mostly lower last week. The nearby October contract was down 32 points during the session, closing at $90.67. December was down 25 points to $89.77 and February was down 12 points to $90.45. Back end contracts for August 2007 through February 2008 were slightly higher in last Thursday's trade, with the largest gain coming on the February 2008 contract which closed up 20 points at $89.30. Feeder cattle last week didn’t receive the normal boost from the fed cattle market and for the week, most auction markets were mixed to lower as a result. There is some optimism in the southern Plains for much improvement in the winter grazing prospects this year. Farmers are in the fields planting wheat, which is bolstering the stocker prices in some markets in the south. The rising corn crop estimates and fair weather as the crop moves closer to harvest has been pushing corn prices lower as well. According to Rosa, the decline in corn price is also bolstering the market for feeder calves. “Corn prices are declining and it’s adding value to what buyers are willing to pay. Hay is another matter, but rations can be adjusted, so it’s positive news for the feeder cattle prices,” she said. In Pleasanton, TX, last week, feeder steers sold steady to firm, with instances of $2-4 higher. Feeder heifers were called steady with instances of prices as much as $3 higher than the prior week on active trade and good demand. At Oklahoma National Stockyards, in Oklahoma City, OK, compared to the previous week, feeder cattle were mostly steady in a very light test. Feeder cattle numbers in the state remain very tight as this summer's drought, along with a good market, had many cattle moving early. Buyers last week were selective for kind and condition with some better quality black-hided feeders going to out of state buyers. Steer and heifer calves were reportedly steady to $3 lower, with the most loss on heifer calves. Calf demand was called moderate to good, with best action on long weaned calves. In West Plains, MO, compared to the previous week, feeder steers under 750 lbs. sold $4-6 lower, with some cases of $6-8 lower, heifers under 550 lbs. were steady to $2 lower, cattle in the 550-750 lb. range and heifers were $2-5 lower, steers and heifers over 750 lbs. were called fully steady on comparable weights. In West Plains, the large supply of feeders, many of which have health liability concerns, is keeping buyers on edge with filling orders and as a result, most have chosen to take a strong stand with what price they put their bidder cards back in their shirt pockets. In the northern tier, fall runs of cattle, what few are left in the country, anyway, are starting to increase the fall runs although most market sources are expecting fewer numbers than in prior years as a result of early weaning and drought-forced marketing. In La Junta, CO, last week, steer calves under 600 lbs. traded hands $2 lower although quality was noted to play a role at the sale. Steers over 600 lbs. and heifers were called steady. The few yearling feeder steers and heifers available were also trading hands at steady prices. In Bassett, NE, last week, testable weights on steers trended steady, with heifers trading fully $2 lower. However, it should be noted that many heifer consignments were carrying more condition than at the previous sale. In Philip, SD, the market was one of the few which moved higher. According to reports, steer calves under 500 lbs. sold steady to $3 higher, with some instances of as much as $5-10 higher on value added offerings. Cattle in the 500-600 lb. class moved $2-5 lower. Heifer calves under 550 lbs. sold $2-5 lower. Yearling steers and heifers were not well tested. Buyer demand was called good for steer calves with both spring and fall shots and moderate for heifer calves and cattle lacking both spring and fall shots. In Torrington, WY, a good run of feeder steers and heifers sold near to unevenly steady, with 800 lb. steers steady to $1 lower. Heifers in the 650-700 lb. range were steady to $1 higher. According to market reports, many of the calves sold were preconditioned and sold in good size bunches as did many of the yearlings. Demand was good for all classes of feeders. Mike Roberts, commodities marketing agent for Virginia Tech, said although contract prices for feeder cattle were slightly lower as a result of live cattle prices last week, there isn't too much reason for concern. He said losses were limited because there is a shortage of feeder cattle outside of feedlots which can be placed the remainder of the year.   “Interest for feeders is expected to rebound. Cattle feeders may want to watch these markets still looking to catch those up days to sell,” Roberts said. He also said cattle feeders should keep a sharp eye on the corn market if they haven’t yet locked in their contracts for winter needs. “Corn users may still think about pricing a significant portion of corn supplies at this time as input prices may have established their lows. Try to catch the low bounce in this choppy corn market to price your corn if you haven't already,” he said. On CME last week, feeder cattle contracts were also lower, along with the cash trade in auction markets. In the Thursday session, the only contract in the black was the nearby October, which gained 40 points to close the day at $116.07 last Thursday. October was down 62 points to $113.22, November and January 2007 contracts were the biggest declines of the day, with both losing 97 points, closing at $111.52 and $108.97 respectively. — WLJ  

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Monday, October 2,2006

Congress to consider new meat regs

by WLJ
— Twin bills could present windfall opportunity in beef marketing. Last week, Reps. Roy Blunt, R-MO, and Earl Pomeroy, D-ND, and 12 other representatives introduced H.R. 6130, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act of 2006. According to Blunt, under H.R. 6130, beef, pork, poultry and lamb approved by state inspection agencies in the 28 states which currently have their own meat and poultry inspection programs could be sold in every state in the U.S. It will allow the facilities inspected by such state programs to take advantage of opportunities in other states. The bill is a companion piece of legislation to S.B. 3519, introduced in July of this year by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, Kent Conrad, D-ND, and Herb Kohl, D-WI, which would, if passed, make similar allowances. That bill already has seven additional co-sponsors supporting its passage. These are just the latest attempts to alter the law. In the past decade, several other attempts to change the regulations controlling interstate shipments of meat have been introduced and defeated in Congress. The last attempt came as part of the 2002 Farm Bill negotiations. Current law, the 1967 and 1968 Meat and Poultry Acts, prohibits state-inspected products (beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and goat) from being sold in interstate commerce, even though they must equal or exceed federal inspection standards. However, it does allow some meat products such as venison, pheasant and quail to be shipped between states without restriction. Foreign meat and poultry also does not face restriction in interstate trading, while domestic meat is blocked. State inspectors already cover the work of federal inspectors as a result of the Talmedge-Aiken Act. According to the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors (WI-AMP), the Act allows state inspectors to do the work of the feds in more than 350 plants in nine states when it is more cost effective and a better use of resources to utilize state employees. Several producer groups last week expressed support for the bill when it was announced, among them National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, (NCBA). “We are supportive of the bill and think it is a great opportunity for producers and especially small businesses to create their own brand identity,” said NCBA spokesperson Karen Batra. Blunt said the fact USDA has agreed that state inspection programs are ‘at least equal to' federal inspections but are still banned from interstate shipment because of a 40-year-old law is harmful to economic growth in rural areas and reason enough for change. “I can’t find a good reason—scientific or political—for this law. That is why I want to change it. If we want to open markets for agriculture products, we ought to start at home,” said Blunt. He also said; “There are 2,000 state-inspected meat processors—31 of them in Missouri—that are prevented from competing in the national marketplace. Yet 30 foreign meat producing countries can sell their meats freely across the nation. Our locally produced, state-inspected meats are just as safe. In fairness, this measure will promote the local livestock sector of agriculture without compromising food safety that consumers demand.” Already, a number of producers are utilizing federally inspected plants and taking advantage of the internet as a tool to market niche meat products. The passage of this bill would create endless opportunities for others to follow suit. The allowance for interstate shipment of meat from state inspected plants could create a windfall for countless producers and small meat plants hoping to capitalize on the trend. According to USDA figures, there are some 2,100 small and very small processors who would be eligible to ship across state lines. In states like Ohio alone, the opening of the market could create nearly 600 new jobs and add more than $56.6 million to the state's economy, according to Ohio State University research conducted in 1997 when the first bill was introduced. Another strong advocate for the bill is a group whose membership has direct ties to the issue. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Executive Vice President and CEO Rick Kirchhoff said that “allowing interstate meat sales is just plain common sense—no other food commodities inspected by state authorities are prohibited from being shipped across state lines.” Kirchhoff noted “it does not make sense to allow these products to be shipped across state borders while beef, poultry, pork, lamb and goat products cannot be shipped interstate. Where is the logic in this?” State and local agriculture officials have also pointed out that the legislation would ensure fairness in trade. Foreign produced meat and poultry products can be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the U.S. as long as that foreign country's inspection program is equivalent to U.S. federal standards—in practice, the same standard which state meat inspection programs must meet. “This is unfair and wrong,” said Kirchhoff. "Do 34 foreign countries that are currently eligible to export meat to the U.S. have better inspection programs than we do? H.R. 6130 just makes sense and would provide small businesses in the U.S. with the same marketing opportunities given to companies in foreign countries.” Three USDA advisory committees have also recommended the outdated ban on interstate sales be removed because it would create jobs and stimulate rural economic development. H.R. 6130 would expand marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers which they haven’t had in the past. “We hope Congress will act this year because this legislation will improve competition and benefit farmers, ranchers, and consumers. It’s the right thing to do” said Kirchhoff. Other groups such as National Farmers Union (NFU) have also stepped up in support of the legislation because of its positive impact for producers who want to expand their marketing opportunities. “Inadequate market competition is one of the most pressing issues facing local producers and is a major reason so many family farmers and ranchers have been forced out of business,” NFU President Tom Buis said. “Repealing the ban to let domestic farmers trade freely within the country is a big step in ensuring that farm products are able to reach the consumers and markets.” In a survey of its members this year, WI-AMP found 96 percent of its members were interested in interstate shipments, with 88 percent of those focused on internet marketing of products, and 83 percent in gift sales. A total of 66 percent felt the allowance of interstate shipments would increase profits 5 percent or more annually. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor  

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Monday, September 25,2006

Mouse debate rages in Colorado

by WLJ
— Preble's Mouse debate illustrates problems with Endangered Species Act. The Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, a tiny rodent, is at the heart of an ongoing dispute between agriculture interests and environmentalists. The mouse, which ranges across the Plains of Wyoming and Colorado, inhabits riparian areas, particularly those along irrigation ditches and stream banks. Its habitat is a key to the debate, because if listed as an endangered species, it would prevent the alteration of those areas for improvements such as water storage basins, which are desperately needed in many areas of both states. Last week, in an effort to support the agriculture community and highlight the need for changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, R-CO, held a congressional hearing in Greeley, CO, to investigate problems with ESA and how the Preble’s Mouse is negatively impacting agriculture and local economic development. At the request of Musgrave, Chairman Richard Pombo, R-CA, of the U.S. House Committee on Resources, attended in order to hear from Colorado residents and other experts. Pombo, a long-time supporter of agriculture interests was the author of a sweeping ESA reform bill which passed through the House earlier this year. “Private property owners who encounter endangered species like the Preble’s Mouse on their land have to endure the enormous burden the federal government imposes in protecting them,” said Musgrave. “The current law has forced many people to ignore the existence of endangered species, opting instead to shoot, shovel, and shut up. It's disappointing this is becoming a popular creed throughout the West, but given the current climate, it's understandable. Today’s hearing will help other lawmakers and me pass federal legislation that is more integrated and places a stronger emphasis on involving the participation of land owners in species recovery.” The debate over the mouse is much larger than just the ESA implications. There is widespread disagreement over whether or not the mouse is even its own genetically distinct species. Many scientists contend the mouse is only a population segment of a much larger population of jumping mouse. If that's the case, the population is much larger and would not merit an ESA listing. The environmentalists who have inserted themselves on the side of the mouse have their own studies which indicate the mouse is a distinct subspecies. The Preble’s Mouse debate is a classic example of the problems of the ESA according to Pombo, whose bill, while passed through the House, has not been taken up by the Senate, the next step in the process of it becoming law. “After more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has given wildlife very little to cheer about,” Pombo said to start the hearing, which he led as chairman of the House Resources Committee. Patrick Crank, attorney general for the state of Wyoming, compared the mouse to the mythical Wyoming jackalope during the meeting in Greeley. “They both do not exist,” he said. “(The Preble’s Mouse) exists only in the minds of some folks in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and some environmental groups.” The mouse was declared a threatened species in Colorado and Wyoming in 1998. In the last 18 months, since opponents filed a petition to take the mouse off the Endangered Species List, two separate studies about the genetics of jumping mice reached different conclusions about whether the Preble’s Mouse should be considered a subspecies. The wildlife service will decide soon whether to keep the mouse in its current genetic classification. Nothing could be decided at last Monday’s hearing. Greg Hertzke of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which has been at the heart of an ongoing water dispute in northeast Colorado, said the mouse’s protected habitat, near northern and eastern Colorado rivers, prevents construction of new water storage. “At a time when farmers are more desperate than ever for more water storage, a mouse should not be put in front of farmers’ needs,” Hertzke said. Alan Foutz, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said efforts to protect the mountain plover in the same area were successful because the wildlife service worked with local governments and farmers. If the mouse is to be protected, the government should apply the lessons learned in the case of the plover to the Preble’s Mouse, he said. Eric Molvar, a wildlife biologist who spoke in favor of protections for the mouse, said classification of the mouse should not impact a listing as an endangered species because the law also protects “distinct population segments.” If the law didn't do that, the American bald eagle would never have been classified as endangered and might not have survived, he said. “Most of what we heard today was about politics, not science,” Molvar said. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor

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Monday, September 25,2006

Mentors teach sustainable grazing

by WLJ
RA rancher-organized and driven grazing and ranch management mentor program is providing grassland guidance and counsel to those new to ranching or to western Nebraska. The program, sponsored by University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension, the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition and Nebraska’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, started about two years ago with the goal to minimize grassland management disasters, said Pat Reece, extension rangeland ecologist at UNL’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff, NE. “The group wants to help other ranchers—outside or young—avoid career ending mistakes,” the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources specialist said. “Land ownership has changed a lot in Nebraska’s Sandhills,” said Lynn Myers, who along with his wife, Marlene, are grazing and ranch management mentors and run the family’s cattle operation near Lewellen. “Some people don’t understand or have any idea how fragile the Sandhills are.” To contend with these changes, Myers and nine other western Nebraska ranch families offer their expertise on what’s worked for them. “We felt there was a need out there for ranchers helping ranchers,” said Brent Plugge, UNL Extension educator in Buffalo County. “They have the experience in a number of different areas and are willing to offer their assistance. It's basically neighbors helping neighbors.” The group uses rotation grazing systems and is diverse enough in its operations that no one operation is the same, thus having an abundance of information to give to those participating in the mentorship program. “The concept is one where ranchers that have been successful are wanting and willing to provide information to other people that are considering some of the management practices that they have tried in the past or are using,” Reece said. Reece added the grazing and ranch management mentors are highly respected and have been in business long enough that they are clearly knowledgeable experts in their area and their areas of expertise. Some going through the mentor program have never sought information from UNL and a group of ranchers noticed this and wanted to do something about it, Reece said. If the mentors don’t know the answer to a question, they can call advisers, university faculty and extension educators. Plugge said the program also provides educational opportunities for the mentors. “Another important reason the mentors started talking about offering this program was the progressive increase in the average age of ranch owners. They realized the average age of ranchers in their ranch communities keeps going up. So, there is an outreach to young or new people coming in,” Reece said. “We really want to help the next generation of ranchers.” Brad Beguin, a senior at Chadron State College who participated in the program, said the hands-on experience the program offers is the best way to learn. Beguin visited three ranches during his mentorship, including those owned by Myers, Chris and Sherry Vinton, and Jack and Carol Maddux and their son, John Maddux. Beguin said he learned about everything from rotational grazing to fish and animals. The fifth-generation rancher from Rushville, NE, said Myers was able to show him a lot of grasses he didn't even know about, while at the Vinton’s he learned about their livestock mineral program and at the Madduxes he learned a lot about cattle handling. Another substantial component of the program is participation in UNL's Nebraska Ranch Practicum. The group awards scholarships for participation in the intensive educational program for ranchers. “The opportunities for young people are very tough on these ranches,” Myers said. “I really want to give something back to this industry,” Myers said. He added although he won't make millions doing what he does, it is a good life, which he hopes others will have the opportunity to enjoy as well. “It’s really quite an outreach. The whole mentorship program is rancher organized and driven,” Reece said. The effort also is supported by a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization, and the group hopes to receive another grant so the program can be offered statewide. For more information about the grazing and ranch management mentor program, visit the group’s Web site at www.ranchmentors.org/.

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Monday, September 18,2006

South Korea opened to U.S. beef

by WLJ
— After many delays, South Korea is officially open for business.   outh Korea, once the third-largest export market for U.S. beef, announced Sept. 7 that it will once again resume importing U.S. beef. However, the country that imported $814 million in U.S. beef in 2003 will now only be accepting boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months of age. Of the $814 million worth of beef exported, boneless beef accounted for $449 million, according to USDA figures.   The Agriculture Ministry in Seoul said health authorities have cleared 36 U.S. processors to start shipping beef later this month or early next month. This announcement came unexpectedly to some since the South Korean delegation of plant inspectors completed an audit of several U.S. beef processing plants three weeks ago and delayed their decision on resuming trade with the U.S. After the announcement, Korean officials again reinforced that U.S. beef will be subject to “very tough safety inspections.”   The agreement proceedings for trade resumption actually occurred in January, USDA Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. But based on bone fragments found in shipments to other Asian trade partners earlier this year, Korea once again delayed trade resumption until audits of U.S. processors could take place. Auditors conducted the second round of inspections of approved processing plants last month.   “Although the agreement was signed back in January, several months of cooperative effort between our two countries have been necessary, which included two visits by Korean audit teams to confirm the efficiency of the U.S. inspection system,” Johanns said.   Although Johanns made it clear this was very good news for the U.S. beef industry, he spoke of continued efforts to further the presence of U.S. beef in the South Korean marketplace. He discussed specific issues Korean officials have with U.S. processing procedures that he said will be addressed in coming days.   “Trade resumption in boneless beef is the first step in normalizing trade of beef and beef products with Korea. We look forward to expanding our access to the Korean market and other markets to achieve trade that is consistent with international guidelines,”   Johanns said. “We are mindful that significant technical issues exist that must be resolved. We will continue to work with Korea to address these matters in the coming days.”   The news was accepted with open arms from many livestock organizations and industries. Of those, Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s largest meat processor, was among the first to offer optimism in regard to the most recent announcement.   “We’re encouraged by South Korea’s decision to resume U.S. imports,” said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, based in Arkansas. “While we hope to begin sending beef there soon, we must first receive additional clarification from USDA on the requirements involved.”   The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also welcomed the resumption of trade, but indicated the negotiations are far from finished.   “The U.S. food safety system is second to none. Our beef is valued by American and international consumers alike for being safe, delicious, nutritious and affordable. There is no legitimate reason for Korea or any other country to sustain a ban on U.S. beef products that are proven to be perfectly safe,” said NCBA in a release Sept. 8. “As we continue negotiations with South Korea on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), we will insist on science-based trading principles. An FTA with South Korea presents a lucrative opportunity for America’s cattlemen, but Korea’s continued ban on many of our most popular beef products must be lifted in order for this agreement to proceed,” he said, adding that the current tariff on U.S. beef imports is a “whopping 40 percent.”   Korea’s Agriculture Ministry forecast that resuming trade will have a good impact on the domestic market for consumers. For example, prices of pork and chicken, which have been in higher demand due to the absence of U.S. beef, are expected to decrease slightly once trade is fully resumed. The Ministry also said imported beef prices may also drop as competition intensifies. More specifically, since U.S. beef was banned, meat products from Australia and New Zealand in the local market have pushed prices up. However, experts believe beef prices from Australia and New Zealand would drop to 60 to 70 percent of the price level of U.S. beef. — Mike Deering, WLJ Editor

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Monday, September 11,2006

Horse slaughter ban passes the House

by WLJ
— Bill sails with a 263 to 146 vote last Thursday. — If the Senate follows the House's lead, 92,000 horses have undetermined futures. U.S. House of Representatives legislators spoke last week during the first week of session since recess. The vote of attention on behalf of agriculturalists, as well as animal rights activists, was House Resolution 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Legislators said yes by a 263 to 146 vote to a ban that has the potential of leaving approximately 1 percent, or 92,000 horses, in the U.S. with an undetermined fate. Of the 9.2 million head in the U.S., roughly 1 percent are slaughtered each year at the three slaughtering facilities left in the country. The passing of the legislation surprised many in the livestock industry including Tammy Pate, a horse owner and trainer from Helena, MT, who testified at a hearing in Washington D.C. held in early August.   “To be honest, I am surprised,” said Pate. Adding to the shock value was the fact that the proponents of the bill needed 218 votes and only had 203 as of the first week of this month, according to numerous releases from both sides.   Until the bill passes the Senate, nothing will change. However, if the Senate follows suit, it will immediately cease all horse slaughtering in the U.S. The exact language of the bill reads: “To amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney, R-NY, as well as Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY, attracted attention from all facets, including those with celebrity status. Last Tuesday, the issue drew hundreds of people to Washington, D.C., to protest on Capitol Hill. Even Willie Nelson’s daughter, Amy, read a poem during the rally. Opponents also showed photographs of horses with bloodied and lacerated faces, saying that is the result of being crammed into trailers that would carry the animals to slaughterhouses. “What more can you do to mistreat a horse than ship one 1,500 miles and submit them to slaughter for a foreign delicacy?” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which reportedly have $111 million at their disposal for this particular cause. At the rally and at previous hearings, Sweeney, the lead sponsor of the bill, spoke of horse slaughtering as one of the country’s most disgraceful practices. “It is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the U.S. today,” said Sweeney. Sweeney argued that the slaughter of horses is different from the slaughter of cattle and chickens because horses are American icons. “They’re as close to human as any animal you can get,” said Rep. John Spratt, D-SC. The topic has turned into a battle of emotions, evident by those showing constant support vocally, as well as financially. The issue has triggered emotional responses, even from some unaffected by the industry, including Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. His spokesperson said last Tuesday, “He’s pleased with the outpouring of support and attention this issue has drawn. He’s looking forward to the vote. He is confident it will pass, but he understands the need to continue to shore up support.” After the passing of the bill by a large majority, agricultural leaders, among them Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, began issuing releases condemning the decision. “We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter,” Johanns said. Opponents of the ban said it is obvious proponents influenced individuals’ emotions by referring to the horse as an American icon and avoiding the facts of the matter. In fact, proponents plastered full page ads in several largely-read newspapers including USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News and many others.   “These unwanted horses are often sick, unfit or problem animals,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN. “Many of them are already living in pain or discomfort, and tens of thousands more could be neglected, starved or abandoned if their owners no longer have processing available as an end-of-life option.” American horse meat is sold mostly for people to eat in Europe and Asia; some also goes to U.S. zoos. Although there is still a long process ahead before slaughtering is permanently halted, if slaughtering did end, plants in Canada and Mexico probably would take over some of the business, supporters say. Unlike other countries, U.S. law requires that horses and other livestock be unable to feel pain before they are killed. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, said that for some horses, “these facilities provide a humane alternative to additional suffering or possible dangerous situations.” Some say enacting the bill would be inhumane to horses. Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm says, “City and county government understand that when there are unwanted dogs and cats, they end up having to deal with them. What about 125,000 unwanted horses? Who is going to care for them?” According to a recent poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a national political and public affairs research firm, 68 percent of Americans do not support the slaughter of horses for meat. Proponents say they will start immediately developing a strategy to pass the Senate. Pate is concerned and urges ranchers to speak up. She said supporters are voicing their misleading information to the general public while ranchers are taking the high road, but said now is the time. “No one really thought this bill would go anywhere, but it did,” said Pate. “Horse owners, horse lovers, ranchers and on down the line, need to come together and use common sense or we could lose in the Senate. We have to become a level headed, organized voice,” said Pate. Although she is concerned, she said it probably won't even come to a vote in the Senate and it may be postponed by opponents until it runs out or the president could even veto it. However, she said the activists are not to be taken for granted, further emphasizing the need for agricultural organizations to speak out just as loud as supporters of a permanent ban. — Mike Deering, WLJ Editor  

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Monday, September 11,2006

Markets remain strong

by WLJ
A shortened kill week, along with packers threatening to reduce harvest rates, drove beef cutout values higher last week. The higher boxed beef prices were encouraging news for feedlots who, as of last Thursday, were still holding out for steady to higher money despite packer margins still estimated to be slightly negative. The sharply higher pre-holiday weekend trade was difficult to explain and it had analysts scratching their heads last week. The result, though, was an expectation that when trade occurred, it would be at prices in the range of $92 live basis and $145 dressed in the north. There was some light volume at mid week at $141 dressed basis in Nebraska according to HedgersEdge.com, but not enough to call a trend. The last confirmed trade was two weeks ago at $90-92.75 and dressed sales, which traded at $140-145, going into the Labor Day weekend. Last week, the gambit of packers to push cutout prices higher finally worked. On Wednesday last week, Choice cutout values rose $1.05 and Thursday, Choice boxed beef gained an additional 22 cents to trade at $148.28, up more than $7 from the prior week. Select values were also higher, adding more than $3 from the previous week, trading at $138.59 last Thursday. Analysts last week warned it would take substantial cuts in harvest level if those prices were to be maintained. For the week though, it appeared packers had no intention of cutting back. As of Thursday last week, packers had harvested an estimated 388,000 in just three days, 7,000 head more than a year ago, but substantially lower than the prior full week of slaughter when 512,000 head were killed. According to Glenn Grimes and Ron Plain at University of Missouri, demand for beef at the consumer level for January-July based on preliminary data was down 4.6 percent from a year earlier. Demand for pork at the consumer level was down 5.4 percent for these 7 months compared to the same in 2005. Demand for broilers was down also for January-July of 2006, showing a 7.1 percent loss from a year earlier. There is some good news, according to Grimes and Plain, who said fed live cattle demand was up 3.5 percent for January-July compared to 12 months earlier. Due to large beef exports and smaller beef imports, beef production in the U.S. was up much more than beef consumption domestically. Beef production was up 7 percent for January-July, but beef consumption per person was up only about 1.4 percent compared to the same period in 2005. There has been some concern about rising consumer prices cutting into beef demand, however, so far that hasn’t been the case. Now, with fuel prices beginning to decrease, there is optimism among economists there won’t be a dip in retail level demand. All of that is important because carcass weights continue to rise as feedlots hold cattle back to take advantage of steadily rising prices. Last week, steer weights posted a new all-time high, according to USDA data. The trend looks like it will continue both this year and for the foreseeable future since packers aren’t docking feeders for excess weight. One cattle buyer for a major packer last week said the discounting for heavyweight carcasses wasn’t happening until carcasses breached the 1,050-lb. mark. Since that translates into an approximately 1,650-lb. live animal, there was little reason for feedlots to push cattle to the packer before they received their asking prices. All of the uncertainty and unusual trading behavior had live cattle futures trading unevenly last week with most market players waiting to see what direction cash cattle took. October live cattle contracts on Thursday last week were 70 points lower, trading at $93.75 at the end of the session. December contracts posted the largest drop, losing 85 points to close at $93 and February lost 42 points, closing at $92.52. April and June issues were both higher, closing at $91.97 and $87.97 respectively. Feeder cattle Feeder cattle prices are on fire, at least that's what industry leaders and anyone watching the steady and increasing prices say. The question as to why is one that is receiving several guesses, but the answer is unknown. Not only on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) are prices increasing and even reaching contract highs, but in reality, the high earning can be better seen in livestock auction markets across the country. In most markets across the country, prices increased by $1-2 higher for feeder steers and heifers. More specifically, at the Joplin Regional Stockyards in Joplin, MO, compared to a week prior, steers were steady to $2 higher, heifers were $1-3 higher. Market officials described the demand as moderate to good with supplies moderate. Last Tuesday, 6,000 head went through the ring, down 800 from a week earlier. Much needed rain fell across the four-state area over the weekend. But, according to co-owner of the market, Jackie Moore, not enough moisture for producers to wean and hold calves. The bulk of the offering was in medium to fleshy condition, with a few weaned and vaccinated. Moore said the bulk of feeder calves this time of the year are heading to Oklahoma to feed on wheat pastures. He said buyers from Iowa and Nebraska are also shipping cattle north to stock pastures that have received adequate rainfall compared to the souther tier. In regard to the prices, Moore doesn’t have an explanation. “I have my theories like everyone else, but nothing is concrete when it comes to the markets,” said Moore. “The markets have their own personality. Right now, they are having fun laughing at analysts trying to guess their next move. As far as I am concerned, I am enjoying their perplexing direction.” In Oklahoma City, supplies were light with only 920 head, due to the Labor Day holiday. The Market was closed Monday. However, steer and heifer calves were steady to $2 higher. Demand was described as very good for light holiday receipts. The majority were weighing under 600 lbs. In South Dakota, the trend was maintained. Again, prices seen were averaging steady to $2 higher. At the Hub City Livestock Auction, feeder steers and heifers sold $2 higher compared to a week earlier. Offerings including weaned spring calves with both spring and fall shots, made a total 2,864 head making their way through the ring. That number is up from the week earlier's 1,314 head. Demand was said to be good with steers making up the majority of supplies. In Wyoming, prices were seen as high as $6 up from the week before. At the Torrington Livestock Commission Co. last Monday at their Special Labor Day Feeder Cattle Sale, steers and heifers under 600 lbs. sold $3-6 higher, with most advance on weights under 450 lbs. Feeders over 600 lbs. were steady to $3 higher. Demand was called good with large buyer attendance. The majority of supplies were steers. On CME, prices were uneven, but still very strong. According to industry sources, a decrease on the board with prices as high as they have been is insignificant. In addition, the “real world” is showing little sign of any digression at this point. However, September trade was up 25 points, closing at $119.23 and October down 23 points, settling at $118.70. November was down just 5 points to close at $119.05 last Thursday. Despite any negative points on the board, few can or have argued the feeder market’s strength.

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Monday, September 11,2006

Premise identification abandoned in Vermont

by WLJ
— Other states now questioning registration process. Vermont Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr is putting the mandatory premises registration process on hold, but his office insists it has nothing to do with the strong opposition the agency has faced from producers in the tiny New England state better known for maple syrup than livestock. The decision came after Kerr said USDA could not assure him the information contained in the database housing premise information would be exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. “USDA had promised us complete confidentiality at every step of this process,” Kerr said. “Now we have reason to believe that may not be the case. Without 100 percent confidentiality, we will not be sending any information on Vermont farms to the USDA database.” The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has been drafting the rules mandating premises registration as a tool to help contain an outbreak of animal disease. The agency simply needs to know where the animals are should a disease like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza or other animal disease be detected. The process of drafting the rules will continue once the issue of where to keep the database is settled, according to Kerr. He said the current proposal will remain in place until it expires next spring. In the meantime, his agency has started working on a new system. According to Kerr, the decision to put the process on hold has nothing to do with the level of opposition that has been the tenor of all the hearings. He said those within the agency were expecting such opposition, though some of them were a little surprised by the personal attacks that came at the beginning of the hearings session. Kerr said it is highly unlikely that any premise information would ever be released and even if it did, it isn't much more than what someone could obtain by opening a phone book. “However, the Agency of Agriculture and the farmers were assured that this information would be secure, and we need to know that it is,” he said. The Agency had been hosting hearings and educational sessions on the proposed new premises registration rules over the past several weeks, however, now the focus will shift to emphasizing education about the benefits of premise ID and how it can help producers in the event of an animal disease outbreak. “Educating the public on how to keep their animals and themselves safe is a critical part of these meetings,” Kerr said. “We want these forums to continue so we can share that valuable information and answer any questions the public may have on biosecurity.” Through Vermont's voluntary premises registration program, about 300 local farms have already supplied their names, locations and types of animals housed. In a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, Kerr asked for absolute assurances that the database is secure. “Failing such a guarantee,” wrote Kerr, “I ask that you provide the Vermont farmers who have registered voluntarily the option to remove their information from the database.” Since Vermont officials made the announcement halting the registration process, other states have expressed similar concerns over confidentiality of the federal database. Wisconsin and Massachusetts officials are also requesting assurance from USDA that provided information would be protected. Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen, in a letter addressed to USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford, said he was concerned about the release of information to the public through FOIA requests. Nilsestuen requested USDA remove premise information from the database if the agency could not guarantee it would remain confidential. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor  

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Monday, September 4,2006

BLM seeks bids for new horse facilities

by WLJ
— Two new pastures in the West needed to house unwanted horses. John Hughes from Bartlesville, OK, has been in the cattle business for over 55 years now and is enjoying the run of profitability that he calls the best in history. Along with his stocker operation, which consists of 2,500 to 5,000 head depending on the year, the ranch also dedicates 18,000 acres to housing 2,128 unwanted wild horses and burros contracted through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM manages wild horses and burros as part of its overall multiple-use land management mission under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. In the fall of 1989, the ranch saw its first wild horses and burros. Hughes has been taking care of them ever since. “It really works out well for us,” said Hughes, who started the second operation in the country to facilitate unwanted horses, the first being in South Dakota. Today, there are eight such facilities, five in Oklahoma and three in Kansas. “For 10 years, we were the only running horse sanctuary, as people like to call them.” The largest “sanctuary” is located in Pawhuska, OK. With 31,000 head of horses currently running wild in the U.S. and long-term facilities such as the Hughes operation close to capacity, BLM is needing more space, according to spokesman Tom Gorey. Gorey said the most recent count of 31,000 exceeds by around 3,000 the number determined by BLM to be the appropriate management level. Gorey said the herd size typically doubles every four years, despite birth control efforts. There are currently 18,947 head in long-term facilities with the current maximum capacity being 19,700, making the need for more facilities critical. Of the wild horses and burros in the U.S., Gorey estimates 50 percent are in Nevada, making pastures west of the Mississippi River a prime location for two additional long-term facilities able to maintain 1,500 head annually starting Nov. 1, 2006, with an option for an additional four one-year extensions. “We wanted to reach further that just those two states (Kansas and Oklahoma),” said Gorey. Producers opting to submit a bid to BLM will be required to house the horses with adequate fencing, quality hay, sufficient forage and reliable water sources, according to Gorey. Producers bid on the needed price per head per day. Generally, producers receive between $1.22-1.30 per animal per day, or around $465 a year per horse, according to Gorey. BLM representatives will also monitor the operation to ensure the animals are being cared for and to observe forage and water conditions. Depending on the decision in Washington D.C. regarding a permanent ban on horse slaughtering, additional pressure may be placed on these facilities, as well as the wild horse and burro population. “It is possible that a ban on horse slaughtering could impact our situation. In the past, people have brought horses to our facilities and have turned them lose and with a ban, that could happen more frequently,” said Gorey, adding that BLM has taken no position on House Bill 503, the bill to ban slaughter. Since 1973, BLM has placed more than 213,000 horses and burros into good private homes through adoption. Under a December 2004 amendment to the 1971 wild horse law, animals over 10 years old, as well as those passed over for adoption at least three times, are eligible for sale. Since that amendment took effect, BLM has sold more than 1,900 horses and burros, according to Gorey. Hughes warns producers considering making a bid to BLM to conduct plenty of research before making the leap. “Prospective bidders need to have their ducks in a row,” said Hughes. “I recommend they have a range management specialist come out and conduct a full-fledged, bonafide study and sure enough come up with some figures. They (BLM) want to be confident you have the right resources to support that many horses and burros. You have to have the fencing and management ability. You have to have the background, education and experience because they (BLM) don’t want to get embarrassed.” Hughes said he allocates eight to 10 acres per horse on “good quality” bluestem grass and feeds hay for 160 days, but said every operation is different. He said when a horse reaches the point where its quality of life is nonexistent and suffering he has permission to ethically euthanize the animal. “If we didn’t have permission to put suffering horses down, I would not agree to take care of them,” said Hughes. “I can’t stand to see suffering animals. Humane animal rights groups want us to wait until they are to the point they can no longer stand up. That’s ridiculous. We want the animals to have a good life while they are here. This is their last home; they are not going anywhere else.” For more information regarding BLM’s wild horse and burro adoption program, see www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov; for information about the agency’s sale of older wild horses and burros, see www.blm.gov/nhp/spotlight/whb_authority Producers interested in facilitating wild horses and burros should contact their respected state BLM representative. — Mike Deering, WLJ Editor  

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