The state of agriculture
March 11, 2013
The present state of agriculture and challenges facing the industry, both in Wyoming and across the country, were key areas of focus during Wyoming Governor Matt Mead's address at the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous in Casper, WY, on Dec. 11.
"What I think is the most critical point is that agriculture is under pressure," began Mead. "My concern is this – the heart of ag is it puts food on the table, and for the most part I don't think we're doing a really good job of educating the public on what ag does. People have a misunderstanding of what ag is, the role it plays, and about the people in ag and how much they mean to their communities, the state, and the country."
As an example, Mead highlighted the topic of wolves, which has been a critical issue since he took office in 2010. Mead stated that through working together with producers, Secretary Salazar and other interested parties, the final plan is "very good," in his opinion, and that the initial 2012 hunting season has not been the slaughter many feared, but rather a well done implementation.
"But, I want to share with you a couple notes we get from people regarding wolves, and this is my point that we have not done a good job in educating the people in terms of what producers do," continued Mead.
The note recited began by calling Governor Mead mean spirited, with no moral compass or humanity.
"It goes on to say, 'I pray for you to get heart disease or cancer, and pain and suffering like you are causing to these wolves. Your wife and children too – maybe skin cancer or pancreatic cancer. Something as painful as what you're doing to these gifts from the same God who created you.' Then it ends with some un-nice words," said Mead.
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He added while he can appreciate the varying viewpoints of people, some viewpoints become a particular challenge to producers in their quest of continuing to raise and supply food to all people, and need to be dealt with.
"I would submit that the people who submitted these letters – their bellies are full, they haven't experienced hunger. Our country in large part has not experienced hunger. As we fight these issues, the question we should be able to ask the public is, 'Are you sure you want us to lose all these lawsuits?' At what point will they ask, 'Where is the food? Where are the producers? Where is the land that produced the food?' I'm not suggesting that next year or in 10 years we will run out of food, I don't think that's the case. But, in regard to ag, what I am suggesting is our state and country need to take the longest term view possible in making sure that today, tomorrow and forever that our country can feed itself," explained Mead of his viewpoint.
He then spoke to the challenges within his own statement, noting the current lack of appreciation for, and understanding of, agriculture not only among private citizens but also within the federal government.
"I and several other governors recently asked the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to waive the national volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standards Program (RFS). This was based upon the effects of the drought and feedstocks for corn used to produce renewable fuel in 2012-2013. The EPA denied the request, and it was summarily dismissed, without regard to the true impact and effect the drought had on us," stated Mead, recounting the inclusion of the 2012 drought and fire costs to Wyoming within the waiver request, and his question of what circumstances would create an exception to the RFS.
Involvement in litigation is a method Mead stated he will continue to use in dealing with agriculture issues and pressure that are not resolvable through other means. He provided the Bighorn Sheep/Domestic sheep cohabitation issue as one area of litigation the state is remaining actively involved in.
"Sheepherders say that if we are not successful in this, within the Medicine Bow area, sheep herding will be wiped out. Again that begs my question of whether that is what people really want, and what does that mean in terms of food production and for the ranches who support that grazing?" asked Mead.
A second litigation issue Wyoming is actively fighting involves livestock grazing on the Green Mountain Common Allotment, which has been an active grazing allotment for over 100 years. Several livestock producers in the area, along with the state of Wyoming, have recognized the responsible use of the allotment for decades, and are working together to ensure grazing remains on the allotment in the future according to Mead.
"These are all examples of where people fail to appreciate what ag means. As we address them, one thing we need to continue to do is educate the public. I put that on you – as if that's an easy thing to do. I know it's not easy, but for people who don't have an appreciation, who think food really comes from the grocery store, it's easy to do things like write letters, because they don't think there are any repercussions," stated Mead. He added that as a state, Wyoming is also working in ways beyond what he spoke of to do its part in educating the public, and in fighting issues that negatively impact the agriculture industry.