Wyoming lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation aimed at making lasting efforts to grow the state’s economy. Senate File 108 (SF 108) contains language that would help promote Wyoming branded beef and all of Wyoming’s agricultural products.
SF 108 calls for the Wyoming Business Council to work with the agriculture industries and the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) program. Supported by Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) and Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), the measure among other things would look at options for USDA-inspected meat processing plants in Wyoming so locally raised cattle could be processed in state, then promoted and sold locally, across state lines, and internationally as Wyoming beef. ENDOW was authorized by the legislature with the support of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead last year.
Sommers told WLJ that when ENDOW was first rolled out the top priorities didn’t specifically include agriculture. He noted, “I really thought it was important at the creation of this ENDOW effort that agriculture and agriculture diversification—economic diversification—have a seat at the table. Ogden and I are both on Appropriations Committee, so we visited around and got some support and put it in the budget, and then a bill was crafted.”
According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wyoming sees close to $2 billion in agricultural receipts annually and it is one of the top three industries in the Cowboy State, along with minerals and tourism. Wyoming has the largest average size of farms and ranches in the United States.
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture says there are approximately 80 meat plants in the state. But of those, only two, located in the northwest corner of the state in Cody are USDA-certified. The others meet state certifications, which by law must at minimum meet the federal guidelines. However, only federally-inspected meat products are eligible for interstate or international sales.
Driskill explained the money initially is not to actually build more USDA-inspected plants, but to look at existing operations and what may be needed to make upgrades to meet the federal inspection guidelines. “We’re really just trying to find a way to enhance our own products,” he said.
Driskill and Sommers, both ranchers, noted that SF108 is not specific to beef production but could impact all aspects of agriculture in the state. In addition to providing funding to look at meat inspection options, $400,000 was made available to create a trade representative for Wyoming in Taiwan.
Sommers told WLJ, “If you look at Idaho, or Colorado—Idaho, our neighbor is doing billions of dollars of trade in the Far East; they have a trade representative in Taiwan, China and Mexico. We don’t have one. So, it’s funded that position, which will be above and beyond ag—but will certainly help try to put Wyoming agricultural products in front of the Taiwanese.”
Additionally, ENDOW will work with the Wyoming Business Council to enhance the Wyoming Grown website, www.growninwyoming.org, where individual businesses can list their products for sale. Sommers said, “Ogden and I both believe that that needs to be much more and actually help sell products and whether that’s farm products or lamb or goat or cattle, but we think it needs to be more and needs to be a bigger marketing effort to really market Wyoming products, regionally, across the state and internationally.”
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said the program could provide a positive impact to the state’s economy, “With expanded federally-inspected processing, and access to export markets for Wyoming branded beef, we can both add value to existing production and foster growth, in particular in the feeding sector.”
Driskill also commented on the cattle feeding aspect, saying there are three large feeding areas in the state that would have potential if new processing plants were built. Those are Torrington, the Big Horn Basin and Riverton areas.
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen, Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) could help Wyoming beef producers, as well as producers in all states. The New Markets for State-inspected Meat and Poultry Act would allow meat and poultry products inspected by state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MIP) programs to be sold across state lines.
Logan Penfield, legislative aid for Rounds, told WLJ, “This bill deals with the state meat inspection programs as opposed to the federal, FSIS [Food Safety Inspection Service] inspection programs. Right now, if you took a product across the state line, say, into South Dakota and you went to a South Dakota state-inspected program, that product that is processed at a South Dakota facility that is state-inspected is restricted to be sold within South Dakota and only within South Dakota.” Meat under this law would bear a state inspection stamp but would be eligible for sale nationwide.
The proposal is still in the early stages and Penfield said the original sponsors are looking for additional senators to back the measure. It could proceed as standalone legislation or be attached to other bills, possibly the 2018 Farm Bill, he said.
Magagna was traveling when he responded to WLJ’s questions and although he didn’t have full details of the newly proposed federal plan he said, “This could certainly facilitate our efforts domestically.” — Rae Price, WLJ editor