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ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., Scheduled

Members of the American Sheep Industry Association's Legislative Action Council, along with member-state sheep association leaders, will be in Washington, D.C., March 11-13.

The purpose of the visit is to bring the message of the sheep industry to the nation's capital and coordinate updates on wool, lamb, trade, sheep disease and protection programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Visits with federal policymakers regarding USDA programs and meetings with agriculture and land management agencies about programs that impact the business of sheep producers in this country are being planned.

Of course, those meetings with USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of the Interior are contingent on ending the current partial government shutdown. ASI anticipates agency meetings on Tuesday, March 12, and visits with congressional delegations on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 13.

The ASI Executive Board will conduct its spring meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 11 as it works to assign volunteers to ASI's councils and committees. Members of the executive board will then join sheep producers from across the United States on the agency and legislative portions of the trip.

Producers interested in participating in this event should contact their state sheep association.

–American Sheep Industry

Kruse wins hometown rodeo at Montana Circuit finals

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Ten years after winning the ProRodeo world title, saddle bronc rider Jesse Kruse kicked off his pursuit of a second gold buckle by winning the RAM Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in his hometown of Great Falls.

"The plan this year is if a guy stays healthy and the funds are there, to make it back to the Finals," Kruse said. "It would be cool to win another title 10 years later."

Kruse is no stranger to the winner's circle at the RAM MCFR, having won it and the circuit title on multiple occasions. The 32-year-old cowboy qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times (2009-11) but ran into some tough luck in more recent years.

His luck changed Sunday, as he won the rodeo with 247.5 points on three head and the year-end circuit title with $15,571.

"It's been a tough last couple, three years," Kruse said. "A guy has been hurt and not doing very good, but it's a good feeling that he can keep going down the road."

It wasn't all luck that got Kruse to the pay window. The Montana native did some legwork before getting in the chutes at Great Falls.

"I've got to give a lot of thanks to Kaehl Berg and his crew," Kruse said. "Before the circuit finals, they invited me down and I got on some practice horses, and they helped me get stuff tuned in. A lot of the thanks goes to them, and it turned out pretty good, especially riding against Chase Brooks and all those guys. They ride tough. It stayed tight through the last day."

Kruse didn't know much about his first or third broncs at Great Falls, but he knew his second draw quite well, having scored 86 points on Kesler Championship Rodeo's Willow Brook at the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo in Kalispell in August.

Willow Brook and Kruse clicked again, winning the second round at Great Falls with an 83.5-point ride.

"I drew good this weekend and I could have ridden better, but it all worked out," Kruse said. "It means a lot. With our circuit finals being in my hometown, there's good stock and a good crowd with my family there, it all makes it a good weekend."

Kruse entered the RAM MCFR at the top of the Montana Circuit standings with $15,571. With the year-end circuit title in hand, he's heading to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo at Kissimmee, Fla., in March.

"It always helps to come in confident and start off on a good note," Kruse said.

Kruse ranked 48th in the 2018 PRCA | RAM World Standings with $21,326. Now, he's kicking off the 2019 season with a win worth nearly half his earnings from the previous season, picking up $9,180 at the RAM MCFR.

"Shoot, it makes it nice," Kruse said. "It gives a guy enough to get started for the winter, and hopefully it goes on down through Denver."

After competing against each other, Kruse and Brooks will be in the same rodeo rig alongside reigning World Champion Bull Rider Sage Kimzey.

"They're riding good and it's going good for me, so hopefully it'll be a good year," Kruse said.

Other winners of the $206,363 rodeo were all-around cowboy Hank Hollenbeck ($9,181, tie-down roping and steer wrestling); bareback rider Tristan Hansen (242.5 points on three head); steer wrestler Bridger Chambers (15.1 seconds on three head); team ropers Shane Schwenke/Kory Mytty (19.9 seconds on three head); tie-down roper Bradley Chance Hays (30.2 seconds on three head); barrel racer Tara Stimpson (40.34 seconds on three runs); and bull rider Parker Breding (240.5 points on three head).


Feinstein, Lofgren introduce farmworker deportation shield bill

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., on Thursday introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path toward earned legal status and eventual citizenship.

Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years may earn "blue card" status that allows them to continue to legally work in the Unites States.

Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three years or five years — depending on hours worked in agriculture — would be eligible to adjust to lawful permanent residence (green card), Feinstein and Lofgren said in a news release.

"Agriculture is a $47 billion industry in California, and U.C. [the University of California] Davis estimates that up to 60 percent of California's 421,000 farmworkers — approximately 253,000 people are undocumented," they added.

"Under the Trump administration's immigration enforcement guidelines, undocumented farmworkers are all priorities for deportation."

Feinstein and Lofgren included long lists of Democratic senators and House members who endorse the bill.

The Agricultural Worker Protection Act is also supported by the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation and Farmworker Justice, they noted.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents fruit, vegetable and tree nut growers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, did not formally endorse the bill but welcomed their efforts.

"We recognize and applaud the efforts of Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Lofgren, as well as many other members of the House and Senate, to address the acute labor shortage that plagues production agriculture," Nassif said in a news release.

"Farm labor is incredibly challenging work that most native-born Americans are not interested in pursuing so we have long relied upon a skilled workforce who are new migrants to our country as well as guest workers.

"Solving the immigration crisis is a priority and necessity for the agricultural industry, and we need legislation that will create a new guest worker visa program and provide a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and their families. As such, we welcome efforts by members of Congress to highlight the needs of agriculture."

–The Hagstrom Report

Heather Hamilton-Maude: Gifts

True, lasting and deep friendships are a rare gift in life. For Christmas, my husband wrote me a letter telling me to go see one of my best friends who lives in eastern Colorado. He included some spending cash, said he would keep the kids, and that I could be gone as long as I wanted, but to be home within seven days of leaving.

It had been five years since my friend and I had seen each other and, while I was nearly brought to tears by his gesture, this had been mentioned before. There was always a blizzard, sick kid, breakdown, etc… that brought it to a standstill. Even scheduling brief get togethers with another great friend on the way to my parent's house has become iffy due to everything we both have going on.

But, my husband persisted that she and I get it scheduled, so we did, and it all came together perfectly.

I don't know that either of us realized just how much we needed the three days of non-stop talking in between helping her father rebuild corrals and making a trip to town for lunch and errands. The trip itself was nothing special in terms of a vacation. But, it was unforgettable in terms of what it provided each of us.

We both had a chance to just be ourselves. All the weights in our lives were lifted as we discussed and solved world and personal problems. Our gratefulness for our husbands was manifested as we rehashed old flames. The Lord filled our cups through our fellowship with one another.

This stage of life seems to make it difficult to maintain meaningful face-to-face friendships. In my case, two toddlers mean phone conversations lasting more than three-five minutes are generally accompanied by background noise that must sound like someone is dying, based on people's concerned questions. If we are invited to another couple or family's house for dinner or an event, one or both kids are sick. Every. Single. Time.

My friend cares for her mother, who has advanced Multiple Sclerosis, in addition to farming and ranching with both her father and her husband. She took her grandmother to 22 doctor's appointments in six weeks last spring after she had a stroke.

That's life. That's the all-in investment we both willingly chose, and it's worth it. But, it's also tough at times, and this fall I told my husband I was struggling with feeling friendless. I know a lot of exceptional people, and many are friends, but I rarely have the opportunity to strike up a conversation that extends beyond the weather and casual pleasantries. Even if I were to have time to meet and truly visit, my capacity of topics is narrowly focused on my children and our occupation at the moment.

But, his thought-filled gift filled that void. Sending me to someone I've known for 15 years meant our list of conversational topics never ran dry. While he will say he isn't a good gift giver, I think a lot of people, myself included, could learn a lot from his approach. It was a truly memorable Christmas gift I will forever treasure.

Pelosi releases names of new House Ag appointees

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., late Wednesday released a list of 14 new Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee and three Democrats who have won seats on the committee despite the fact that they also serve on what are regarded as more important committees.

The names of most re-elected members who will join the committee has not been released yet, but a spokesman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said it may be released today.

The Peterson spokesman said the three members Pelosi included in her list who already serve on the committee — Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Al Lawson of Florida and Jimmy Panetta of California — were on the list because they were "waived" onto the committee despite their membership on other committees. They will rank lower in seniority than if Agriculture was their primary committee, the spokesman said.

Panetta said in a news release, "As the proud representative of the 'Salad Bowl of the World,' I am honored to have the opportunity to continue my service on the House Agriculture Committee.

"One of my proudest achievements during my first term was passing the bipartisan 2018 farm bill.This legislation fulfills a promise to support our farmers, rural communities, and neighbors. I helped craft a farm bill that promotes our specialty crop and organic sectors, expands opportunities for beginning farmers, invests in agricultural research, increases access to nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables, and protects nutrition assistance benefits.

"During the 116th Congress, I will continue to work on this committee to advance priorities for Central Coast growers, shippers, farmworkers, and families, and to make sure that the farm bill is implemented as Congress intended."

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, noted in a news release today that she had served on the committee from 2009 to 2012 before joining the House Appropriations Committee and the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

"I'm thrilled to regain my seat on the House Agriculture Committee where I can directly shape policies that make our food system better for farmers, consumers, and the environment," said Pingree.

"Being the only organic farmer on the committee, with years of experience in how policies affect farmers on the ground, also gives me an important perspective to share. I know how tough it is to be a farmer — and it's not getting any easier. Whether it's extreme weather or shifting consumer demands, there are so many challenges that farmers have to take in account these days."

"As we implement the recently passed farm bill — which includes many reforms I fought for — I'm excited to dig into my work on the Agriculture Committee," Pingree continued.

"I also want to make sure that farmers are represented in the discussions Congress will have about combating climate change. I look forward to highlighting farmers' success stories around reducing food waste, promoting on-farm energy production, and supporting practices that sequester more carbon in the soil."

A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said the list of Republican members of the committee should be released shortly.

The new Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee are:

▪ Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa

▪ Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York

▪ Rep. Salud Carbajal of California

▪ Rep. TJ Cox of California

▪ Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota

▪ Rep. Antonio Delgado of New York

▪ Rep. Josh Harder of California

▪ Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut

▪ Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona

▪ Rep. Tom O'Halleran of Arizona

▪ Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine

▪ Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington

▪ Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia

▪ Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey

Returning Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee who also serve on other "A list" committees are:

▪ Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois

▪ Rep. Al Lawson of Florida

▪ Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California

–The Hagstrom Report

ND beef group supports bill for accurate labeling of lab-grown meat

1/14/2019 ~ I-BAND leadership today announced the organization's support for HB1400, legislation introduced in the North Dakota legislature by Representative James Schmidt and Senator Don Schaible that will regulate consumer labeling of alternative meat products. The bill, which will require that alternative meat products be labeled accurately and plainly as to the production practice used in the manufacturing process, joins similar legislation currently being considered in Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming as well as a bill passed in Missouri last year. I-BAND has been instrumental in drafting the North Dakota bill and bringing the legislation forward.

Dwight Keller, I-BAND President, said the bill will ensure clarity in meat labeling for consumers. "Consumers are the beef industry's number one asset," noted Keller. "Today's consumer is demanding more and more information about the food products they purchase for their families. It's imperative for us to ensure they are informed at the point of sale about whether the meat they're purchasing is derived from an animal in the traditional manner or whether it's cultured in a laboratory. Deceptive labeling could mislead reasonable people to believe cultured or lab-grown meat is produced in the traditional manner and it is not. This is about truth in advertising."

Keller pointed to seafood labeling requirements as an example of how consumers benefit from mandated labeling accuracy. "Under a production practices provision in the seafood labeling law, retailers are required to identify for consumers at the point of sale whether uncooked seafood is harvested in the wild by fishermen or if it's farmed. For many consumers that's key information and they purchase accordingly. It's reasonable to assume that when cultured seafood grown in a laboratory hits retail shelves the production practice used will also be made transparent for consumers."

"I-BAND members are unanimous in their desire to do whatever possible to ensure and expand consumer transparency," said Keller. "Science is quickly advancing new production methods for food and as those evolve we must be mindful about modernizing the rules and regulations that govern how the consuming public is informed about what they are purchasing. The first step towards that end is updating North Dakota's Century Code to define traditional meat such as beef and we have been working hard with legislators and staff to develop appropriate language. As we move through the legislative process with this bill, I-BAND will continue its grassroots effort working with lawmakers so they understand our intention to build on the trusting relationship the North Dakota beef industry has with consumers. We urge every member of the legislature to consider signing onto this bill and help push it over the finish line.


TSLN publisher responds to NYT story

Good afternoon (New York Times) —

Thank you for sending this story along.


Thank you and the staff at the New York Times for keeping our ranching heritage in your content lineup. I commend the women in this story for their commitment and passion for agriculture. I have staff members who know several of the sources personally, and we appreciated them being spotlighted.

That said, there are some inaccuracies and underlying connotations that I can't support, and therefore will not be interested in reprinting.

This opening statement is inaccurate, according to your writer's own source.

Your author references the 2012 census data from USDA. https://www.nass.usda.gov/…/2014/Farm_Demographics/index.php

"The total number of farmers declined, with the percentage decline more for women than men," in direct contradiction to "As men leave animal agriculture for less gritty work, more ranches are being led by women — with new ideas about technology, ecology and the land."

The USDA website states, “Of the 2.1 million principal operators in the United States, 288,264 were women (Table 3). This was a 6 percent decrease since 2007, larger than the decrease in male principal operators."

I believe most anyone in this business would agree– ranching is about partnership, not competition.

There are a lot of women who could run the ranch on their own, and plenty who do. I feel like this article makes unsubstantiated claims that are more for the benefit of a feminist agenda than objective reporting. For instance, there is no source for the statement, "Women are leading the trend of sustainable ranching and raising grass-fed breeds of cattle in humane, ecological ways."

Men do leave ranching. Women also leave ranching.
It's often not because of choice, but for a plethora reasons including but not limited to higher wages, health reasons, cost of expansion or entry too high, etc.
Unfortunately, in a lot of cases today, a woman's biggest contribution is a paycheck that comes from off the ranch.
That's not because she's incapable of ranch work, but because someone has to have a job that pays for health insurance and groceries.

Women aren't "reclaiming" their connection to the land; we never lost it.
We've always been here.

A refreshing angle to this story could have been a review of the celebrated differences between women and men operators, and how they complement and enrich an operation, instead of making this a competition.

An angle less focused on the feminist agenda may have resulted in a story that investigated why the number of ranchers in general continues to decline.

Questions about property taxes, federal land management, non-ag interests driving up the cost of land and the volatility of commodity markets would have resulted in a more challenging, but more accurate picture of today's ag industry.

As a publisher of three livestock publications, one of them being the "best livestock newspaper in the country" (https://www.tsln.com/…/tsln-best-livestock-paper-in-the-co…/), I expect our writers to be objective. We emphasize that while a writer may start a story with one angle in mind, they have to be open to changing that angle—the story should dictate the angle, not the other way around. The article came across as anti-man, which most women in self-sustaining agriculture recognize as an attitude that is neither helpful nor based on reality.

In addition to working as a publisher, I'm also a rancher. And I'm a rancher's wife. A rancher's daughter. A rancher's granddaughter. A rancher's daughter-in-law.
I'm a mother, a horsewoman, a cowgirl, and a relentless supporter of agriculture and anyone who wants to grow food, fiber and fuel for our country and beyond.

In all my roles, I wholeheartedly support women's abilities and believe they can fully equal, and in many cases exceed, those of men's.

I hire journalists and sales people based on their abilities, not on their gender. We hire ranch hands in the same spirit.

The agriculture industry recognized women's abilities long before the rest of the world caught up. Wyoming—where cows outnumber people two to one—was the first to pass women's suffrage, more than 50 years before the rest of the nation, and elected the country's first woman governor in 1925. As I said at the beginning of my note to you, I tip my hat to the women featured in your article, but feel like the angle undermines the fabric of agriculture, which is equality, recognizing and enhancing individuals' strengths, not elevating one gender above the other.

If you're interested in learning more about the women involved in self-sustaining agriculture, like the Taussig family, check out some of our stories about many of the capable women in agriculture.

https://www.tsln.com/…/a-helping-hand-project-h3lp-focuses…/ (a story about Kelsey Ducheneaux's family)

Mare Power & Casey’s Ladylove


Wyoming Cowgirl – Skye Glick

https://cavvysavvy.tsln.com/b…/wyoming-cowgirl-jessie-allen/ and https://cavvysavvy.tsln.com/…/wyoming-cowgirl-jessie-allen…/

You'll notice that every woman profiled in our stories acknowledges and credits the men in their life, whether a father or husband, with being an important part of their life and learning. Not one tears down a man or elevates women above them. Despite the John Wayne picture of the West portrayed by Hollywood (and apparently believed by your writer), we recognize that ranching is about collaboration, not competition, and that the industry is continually improved by both men and women—most productively when we work together.

This lifestyle requires a commitment to the work, not to a role.

I applaud the women sources used in the story, as well as their efforts and commitment to our industry.

But I disagree with the data and agenda; it is inaccurate.




Sabrina “Bree” Poppe
Tri-State Livestock News // Farmer & Rancher Exchange // The Fence Post // The Stock Show // Cavvy Savvy

TSLN publisher and rancher Bree Poppe


Winter Cattle Journal 2019: Ranching hits the big screen in Ocean of Grass: Life on a Nebraska Sandhills Ranch

Scientists believe the Nebraska Sandhills were formed by an ocean. When polar ice caps melted, the water rose, then receded, forming beaches. The hills that are left are the remains of those beaches and that ocean.

Today it's grass that undulates in the sun—big bluestem, lovegrass, needleandthread, prairie sandreed are among the more poetic. The "ocean of grass" sparkles with the blossoms of penstemon, pricklypoppy, spiderwort, yucca and coneflower. And around the edges, a froth of wild plum blossoms.

It's this "ocean" that photographer Georg Joutras captured in "Ocean of Grass: Life on a Nebraska Sandhills Ranch," an hour-and-a-half documentary about the McGinn ranch in northeast Custer County.

After sharing a gallery in Lincoln with Joutras, rancher and artist Laron McGinn invited Joutras to visit the family ranch near Dunning. "I was going to stay one night, and I stayed a week," Joutras said.

Joutras initially worked with the McGinn family on a photography book called "A Way of Life," published in 2007.

"In the back of my mind I thought there was a bigger story to be told, a long-term view of the land, ranchers dealing with the animals in their care," Joutras said. "I wanted to counteract some of the bad press ranching seems to get."

The friendship that started with the book idea remained after it was published, and Joutras continued to visit the ranch from his home in Lincoln, helping out as he was able and increasing his knowledge of the ranch, the people, the Sandhills and ranching in general.

In 2014 his family gave him a GoPro camera and with that and his DSLR camera he put together a short trailer about the ranch.

"People really gravitated to the trailer and encouraged me to keep going. I kept getting better equipment. I shot for a year with the first generation of equipment, then invested in a professional-grade camera and drone and shot everything over again," Joutras said.

He wanted the capture the people, landscape, mentality, how they look at life.

Joutras grew up on the fringe of the Sandhills, in Ogallala.  "I knew people who were ranchers, but didn't know anything about cattle ranching. I knew they raised cows. That's all I knew," he said.

After spending time on the McGinn ranch, he knew a little more. "When I got into the guts of it, you can see what all is involved. Thousands of details, and they (the ranchers) know what all has to happen. Every day is a different day, you never know what you're going to have to deal with, whether pulling a calf or dealing with water that isn't there. It's a myriad of details that I thought was really interesting."

Laron McGinn, who is a co-owner in the ranch, with his dad, uncle and cousin, appreciates that the film portrays a real view of cattle ranching, especially in light of skewed and negative publicity that has become mainstream. "This genuinely shows how we in this business take care of our livestock. There's genuine compassion. We do our best in tough times, in storms, we keep them well-fed, doctor them when they're hurt and chop water every day. There's never a moment that we don't try to be on top of the well-being of every creature in our care. Mother Nature throws things at us sometimes, but our heart is in what we do."

Joutras had more than 100 hours of video when he was done with the videography. He cut that down to 84 minutes.

He credits his background as a photographer with giving him the critical eye to find the most powerful imagery for the video. "Every frame is really important. In photography, you're trying to tell a story with a single frame. I looked at video production the same way," Joutras said. "It's definitely a very pretty film, but it's more about the details of a certain ranch."

In video, the story also has a voice. In this case, a lot of voices from the fifth-generation McGinn ranch and the surrounding ranch community.

Laron McGinn spent time studying art and being a professional artist in Arizona and Los Angeles. But he missed home. "Mingling, you discover that, in some places, some people just don't seem to know who they are. In this part of the world, you really have no choice but to be genuine. Your word is everything. If you're not honest, it doesn't take long for people to learn that. Your integrity is probably what defines you. You have to be true to that. It's nice that we come from a place that a handshake is honored, and your word is your bond. The film brings that out."

While the focus is on the McGinn ranch, many neighbors make an appearance in the film, simply because ranching is a community job.

"We need each other," Laron said. "We'd have a hard time making it without relying on our neighbors, and our neighbors are also our friends. They're the people we socialize with in town. It's a great big community and everyone's success is intermingled. I don’t know, this day and age, how often you see that on this scale. I also love the way it depicts how genuine everyone is, how comfortable they are in who they are."

That observation wasn't lost on Joutras.

"They're very interesting, very quirky people," Joutras said. "They're all their own bosses. They don't have to change who they are to get along with people in the corporation."

It's that authenticity that tends to make ranchers a little uncomfortable in front of a lens. "Back when Georg first showed up with his camera, in 2003, he was just taking pictures all the time," Laron said. "It's natural for most people, to be outside of their comfort zone a little, having their picture taken. He was always snapping away, taking pictures of everything, especially the busy stuff that takes place. We were just a part of it."

Laron's dad was most uncomfortable with it, he said. But as they got to know Georg, and when the book came out, and they were able to see how Georg portrayed ranching, it was reassuring.

"Because of that experience, when he picked up a video camera, that's just Georg being Georg. We were pretty at ease with it. The sit-down interviews were harder to get people to participate in, just because of the comfort level. But it was just them talking about whatever they wanted to talk about."

Laron said it's an honor to have been part of the project. "All of us who were anxious to see how he put it together were all very pleased with what he created. It's a legacy piece for our family, and that's something we will have forever. Nothing was exaggerated. It's a very honest portrayal of who we are and what we do."

Joutras said the film gives viewers a look at how ranches work, but doesn't tell how to be a cattle rancher. "It shows how they take a long-term view of dealing with the landscape. These ranches have been out there since the 1870s and '80s. They definitely take a long-term view."

After 22 months in post-processing, doing editing and color grading, and getting a score written by fellow Nebraskan Tom Larson—four years after he first shot video for it—the film was done.

The film has been screened across Nebraska and beyond, including the Kansas City Film Festival, where it debuted to a sold-out crowd. In Broken Bow, after initially selling out, it expanded into all three theatres and sold out over and over again through the week. Though it resonates especially with rural audiences, it also saw sold-out crowds in Lincoln.

Word of the film is spreading and more screenings are scheduled well into 2019.

Winter Cattle Journal 2019: New Belle Fourche Career & Tech Center designed as career launch pad

Last fall as students in the Belle Fourche high school and junior high started classes, they opened the doors of a brand-new $2.9 million facility for the first time. The Career and Technical Education Center is a two-story structure of 100 by 100 feet, enclosing a state-of-the-art welding lab and classroom, a family and consumer science lab and classroom that has a focus on culinary arts, an ag lab and classroom, and a business classroom that has a focus on the hospitality industry and business and accounting practices. The new center complements a previous facility that houses carpentry, woodworking, CAD, architectural drafting and ag mechanics. 

Belle Fourche high faculty oversee six focus areas of technical education, including STEM, construction management and drafting, welding and metal fabrication, family and consumer science, business and computer science, and agricultural education. The district also buses all 125 eighth graders to the center once a day where they can experience each CTE cluster in a six-week rotation. 

Despite shiny, new computer screens and AeroGardens bursting with lettuce and herbs, the building is more than just a new learning center. It also represents a focus shift backward – or should it be forward – to preparing students for skilled trades that are seeing a drastic lack of workers in South Dakota, and the nation. 

Dr. Steven A. Willard is the superintendent of schools for Belle Fourche School District. He points out that what used to be referred to training for "vocational trades" is now called career and technical education, and students are learning skills needed for a rapidly changing work force. Computer driven machines, robotics and drone technology are just a few of the focus areas appearing in what used to be "shop class." 

"Career and technical education is moving our next generation of students farther than ever dreamed in the past," says Willard. "They are operating new equipment and learning new skills needed for a rapidly changing work force." 

Across the nation this changing work force is being felt. Career fields of health care, manufacturing, electricians and plumbers, construction and agriculture, among others, struggle to fill jobs despite relatively high wages and the ability to bypass an expensive, four-year college degree plan. The Association for Career and Technical Education works to promote schooling in these areas and notes the future looks bright for CTE workers, but bleak without them. More than 80 percent of manufacturers say talent shortages will impact their ability to meet customer demand. Approximately 3 million workers will be needed to build and maintain the nation's infrastructure in the next decade. Almost half of the energy workforce may need to be replaced by 2024, and demand for solar and wind energy technicians will double, all according to the ACTE. 

Mike Rowe of noted "Dirty Jobs" fame made his name showcasing America's hard workers. These days he works to champion their fields, formerly referred to as "blue-collar." He recently joined South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to launch a state initiative called Dakota Works. The program will offer limited full-tuition scholarships at South Dakota technical colleges for those completing CTE schooling. Recipients are required to work in their designated field in South Dakota for three years following college. On his blog at MikeRowe.com, Rowe notes the widening skills gap is a symptom of society's insistence on promoting one form of education at the expense of all others. 

"This lopsided, cookie-cutter approach to learning has led to a mountain of myths and misperceptions that discourage millions of people from exploring many viable opportunities that don't require an expensive four-year degree," he says. "To close the skills gap, we need to affirmatively debunk the misinformation surrounding these opportunities and stop treating whole categories of jobs like vocational consolation prizes." 

Rowe's foundation, mikeroweWORKS offers "work ethic scholarships" to learn what he calls "a skill that's actually in demand." 

One student interested in a field of need is Belle Fourche sophomore Laney Mackaben. A local ranch girl, Mackaben says she has always been involved in ag and was thankful to see the school bring back the ag-ed and FFA program after an eight-year hiatus. Mackaben now has many opportunities to don her blue corduroy jacket. Besides serving as the FFA chapter reporter, she competes on the agricultural communications and range and land judging teams. She's also competed in creed speaking, conduct of meetings, vet science and livestock evaluation.  

Mackaben is eying a career in veterinary engineering, which, although requiring substantial education, will also fill a gap in a demanding field. She notes the skills learned in ag classes and FFA prepare all students for future success. "The leadership and speaking really prepare you for the future, no matter what career path you'll be in," she says. "The new center is beyond wonderful; I'm fortunate I get to spend time here in this facility. It just makes sense to have an ag program in such a strong ranching community." 

Austin Bishop is the ag ed instructor at the new center, where he teaches classes and advises the FFA chapter. He says the six-member team of career tech teachers is excited about the opportunities for their students through the center. "If we can prepare these students who aren't choosing secondary education to hit the workforce coming right out of high school, that's huge for our society." 

Bishop says his faculty team works together with the goal of 100 percent placement for every student that walks through their doors. "This means we either want them to have a job waiting, or be accepted into a 2-year or 4-year institution. I think we can definitely achieve that, but it takes a lot of planning and opportunity." 

The support is currently there from the locals – Bishop says not just for ag and FFA, but he sees it for all six focus programs. 

Willard says the new facility was the end product of school district funds, a grant from the South Dakota Department of Education and a loan from the USDA through Butte Electric. "We are very fortunate to have a school board and community in Belle Fourche that is looking into the future to prepare students for new challenges and growing a skilled workforce for South Dakota." 

Because of that support, on any given day pupils at Belle Fourche can be found testing recipes, sparking a welder, writing a business plan, or building a full-sized house that will be sold in the community. 

For these students, it's just another day on their future job.

West Central Cattlemen’s to offer meetings throughout end of month

A series of four West Central Cattlemen's meetings will be held in the area during the month of January. The topics covered will address reducing cow costs. The locations and times are as follows:

· January 22, Hitchcock County Fairgrounds, Culbertson NE 6 pm CT

· January 23, Veterans Memorial Hall, Arthur NE 6 pm MT

· January 24, Community Center, Brady 6 pm CT

· January 31, McPherson County Fairgrounds 6 pm CT

Speakers and topics are as follows:

· Seeded Forages for Complementary Grazing by Troy Walz, Nebraska Beef Extension Educator

· Managing Feed Costs by Randy Saner, Nebraska Beef Extension Educator

· Cow Size and Efficiency by Travis Mulliniks, Range Beef Nutrition Specialist, West Central Research & Extension Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

· Benchmarking as a Management Tool by Robert Tigner, Agricultural Systems Economist Educator

· Grazing Management Principles that Make a Difference by Jerry Volesky, Range and Forage Specialist, West Central Research & Extension Center, University of Nebraska- Lincoln

To register contact your local Extension Office or Randy Saner by e-mail randy.saner@unl.edu or by phone at 308-532-2683. The cost is $15 per person if pre-registered or $20 at the door. An evening meal will be served at all locations.

–UNL Extension