Costly Closings: USDA ARS proposed lab closures affect producers nationwide

By SUE ROESLER, The Prairie Star

USDA-ARS (Agricultural Research Service) center closures affect not only the producers in the state they are located in, but also farmers throughout the nation lose out on the benefits of national collaborative ag research.

Seventeen USDA-ARS research centers/labs may be closed under the administration’s 2018 final budget proposal delivered to Congress in June.

Of those 17, four ARS labs are part of this upper northern region, including centers in Dubois, Idaho; Miles City, Mont.; Morris, Minn.; and Brookings, S.D.

The USDA-ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Lab in Miles City, Mont., mirrors what producers do in the real world – raise cattle on native prairie and improved grasses on pastures and rangeland – and it has been conducting research there since the 1930s.

“Fort Keogh researches not only cattle but grazing rangelands, grasses and forages – that’s for a start. The center is a such a big fact-finder for those of us who run cattle on grass,” said Fred Wacker, first vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the owner of Crossfour Ranch near Miles City, Mont.

Wacker, a third-generation Montana rancher, has never been hesitant to pick up the phone and call Fort Keogh when he has had any questions. He wants to know the kind of grasses and other forages his herd would thrive and perform best on.

What he has learned at Fort Keogh has translated over to his all-natural beef program. He said his program is the exact fit for the beef program newly opened in China.

Fort Keogh is one of the largest research facilities in the world with 50,000 acres of native rangeland; 4,000 acres of pastures and 1,500 acres of irrigated crop and pasture land.

Line 1 Herefords originate from Fort Keogh and have had profound impacts on the cattle industry. Nearly 70 percent of all Herefords in the U.S. have Line 1 genetics in their pedigree, and descendants still form the herd at Fort Keogh.

Scientists at the ARS Fort Keogh Livestock lab participated in sequencing the cow genome as part of an international consortium. L1 Dominette 01449, a Line 1 Hereford, was the source of the DNA used to decode the bovine genome.

“Fort Keogh is very important to cattlemen in the U.S. They researched the reasons for bloat, when and how to condition my cattle, and they’ve done a lot of research on water and minerals,” Wacker said.

Their studies on grasses have been unmatched – what grasses perform better in drought situations, for instance. Fort Keogh is the expert on burning parts of the range to bring back better grasses.

The lab’s research feeding heifers and cows prior to breeding to maximize pregnancy rates found producers didn’t need to feed the industry standard to have females breed back.

Andy Roberts, ARS animal scientist at Fort Keogh, said, “The beef industry has traditionally recommended that cows be fed to a minimum body condition and heifers be fed to a recommended 60-65 percent of mature body weight pre-breeding in order to achieve high pregnancy rates.”

Roberts and other scientists at Fort Keogh found nearly the same pregnancy rates occurring in the limit-fed heifers as in the controls. Both were fed a mixture of corn silage, alfalfa, and a supplement, and the limit-fed heifers received 80 percent of what the controls were fed. The controls could eat as much as they wanted.

Another lab that could be closed in the Mountain region is the ARS U.S. Sheep Experimental Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho, near the borders of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“It is the only ARS sheep research center in the nation – the only one,” said Mike Corn, president of American Sheep Institute, who runs a cow/calf and sheep operation near Roswell, N.M. “Without it, sheep and wool growers couldn’t operate in today’s economy.

This is the third time the USSES has been on the chopping block, and sheep producers and organizations have gone to bat to save it every time.

Corn said the U.S. would become more dependent on sheep and wool imports from other countries if the USSES were closed.

The station was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson and has been grazing sheep on the diverse landscape for more than 100 years.

“If we close the station that is in such a unique environment in the intermountain west where 62 percent of all sheep in the country are raised, we will be losing relevant research to most sheep producers, especially those with large flocks,” Corn said.

No other station conducts research into the unique challenges that confront sheep producers across the nation. The station regularly conducts research such as, the best grazing techniques, diseases and prevention, and developing new breeds.

“The sheep station has made germplasm available to ranchers and has developed three of the most important sheep breeds – the Columbia, the Targhee and the Polypay,” Corn said.

USSES has also conducted extensive research on the effects of fire on rangelands, the health and recovery of the sage grouse and its habitat, controlling invasive and noxious plants, and grazing management plans.

“They have found that grazing sheep can coexist with other wildlife – including the sage grouse, the grizzly bear and elk can coexist and have been doing it for more than 100 years,” Corn added. “That is huge for all us sheep producers.”

The North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, Minn., is also on the proposed closure list.

Sue Dieter, the coordinator of the Barnes Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association, said North Central has provided invaluable research to rural farming and ranching in the region and across the U.S.

USDA-ARS (Agricultural Research Service) purchased 15 acres of land near Morris, on which to construct the laboratory buildings. But there was no land available on which to conduct long- term water run-off and soil erosion research. Since the Morris research program was part of a larger national study on soil erosion, certain criteria had to be met with respect to soil type.

The Barnes-Aastad Association was thus formed as a non-profit organization for the purpose of purchasing land, which in turn could be leased, to the Research Laboratory for long- term field experiments.

Soil is an invaluable resource. Without knowledge of how to feed biology underneath the soil with crop diversity, farming practices and adequate residue, soils are subject to wind and water erosion.

North Central’s top 10 accomplishments include:

• Developing new and alternative oilseed cropsthat provide new revenue streams for improved cash flow, pollinator health and nutrition, and soil erosion control.

• Pioneered development of novel double-cropping strategies to sustainably intensify food and biofuel productionwhile promoting soil health and efficient use of agricultural resources.

• Improved pollinator health, abundance and diversityby the development of new crops and cropping systems.

• Led development and supported a large nationwide data baseto quantify the impact of agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions.

• Led development and supported a large nationwide network databaseto quantify the impacts of crop residue, such as corn stover, on soil properties.

• Developed best management practicesfor protecting soil resources.

• Created new non-chemical and environmentally friendly weed control alternatives(abrasive grit applicator) for organic weed control.

• Identified heirloom wheat and cornfor improved food security and nutrition.

• Developed economical wintercrops that sequester nitrate and eliminate nitrate losses to ground and surface waters.

• Accelerated development of green jet fuelfrom oilseed feedstocks.

Another USDA ARS lab closure is the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory or Integrated Cropping System Research Lab in Brookings, S.D.

Shannon Osborne, Ph.D., a research agronomist with North Central in Brookings, S.D., has been conducting research on incorporating cover crops in current production systems for the past 10 years.

Cover crops feed the biology in the soil in unique ways because they utilize many different types of crops.

One producer in North Dakota, Gabe Brown, said the use of cover crops has allowed him to not have to use fertilizer anymore. His yields have increased substantially, as well as the organic matter in his soils.

Other proposed USDA-ARS research laboratory closures include two ARS labs in Arkansas, one a partial closure; one in Florida; one in Illinois; one in Louisiana, one in Maine, one in Massachusetts, one in Mississippi; one in Missouri, one in Texas, one in Oklahoma and a partial closure at the Aquaculture Production worksite in Wisconsin.

This year, in 2017, the USDA-ARS is officially 54 years old. It continues to serve U.S. producers, and the labs work in concert with each other, so vital research is available to anyone.

MSGA participates in Farm Bill Listening Tour

from Roundup web by Jordan Hall

About twenty people gathered at the Ullman Center at Dawson Community College at ten o’clock Friday, May 26, to take part in Senator Jon Tester’s Farm Bill Listening Tour. Beginning with the pledge of allegiance led by Tester, the session was led by the Senator and seven other panelists from various public and private agricultural agencies in Montana.

Taking part in the session were Ben Thomas of the MontanaDepartment of Agriculture, Kurt Voss and Justin Loch of MontanaFarmer’s Union, Scott Flynn of the American sugar beet Grower’s Association, Steve Pust of the Montana-Dakota Beef Grower’s Association, Fred Wacker of the Montana Stock Grower’s Association, Don Steinbeisser, Jr. of the Montana Farm Bureau, and Senator Jon Tester (D).

After some words of gratefulness to Dawson Community College for the use of their facility, Tester explained that the purpose of the meeting was to receive feedback from panelists and the audience regarding the upcoming farm bill, and proposed slashes to agriculture funding by President Trump and possible responses from both the House and the Senate. Currently, Trump has proposed total reductions of 228 billion from the Department of Agriculture over the next decade. Cuts include reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the removal of billions from farm subsidies, and a twenty-one percent deduction to USDA discretionary spending. Panelists spoke primarily of how various agricultural programs are beneficial to Montana farmers and ranchers, and gave feedback on the possible ills of reducing federal handouts to the state.

Kurt Voss of the Montana Farmer’s Union spoke first, saying, “Most producers would like a chance to update base acres if possible, but we would be pleased if crop production remained where it is.” Voss explained that the CRP – the Conservation Reserve Program – is at about 24 million acres and has remained steady, claiming that the number works for Montanans.

Justin Loch, also of the Montana Farmer’s Union, shared various concerns as well, saying, “One of the things we need help with in the farm bill is that our farmers need to have their payments [from federal programs] in a more timely fashion, because they have loans and expenses to take care of and are sometimes paid a year later.”

Loch asserted that educating politicians in Washington is important, saying, “One of the big things is when we work with congressmen back in D.C., we need to educate them to understand what it takes financially to keep our farms going. Most of them are not from rural areas and just don’t know the cost.”

Loch suggested an education tool called “Farmer’s Share,” which explains the profit received by the farmer per price of unit of the production. This might help, according to Loch, urban legislators grasp that the price for a product in a grocery store doesn’t necessarily equate to farm profit.

Finally, Loch suggested to Senator Tester that there be a way to help up-and-coming farmers who may need to secure funding but don’t have a track record to demonstrate their ability to farm successfully, asserting, “For beginning farmers and ranchers we need to figure out a way so that we can support them if they don’t have a production history.”

Tester asked Loch for clarification regarding how new farmers secure resources without a production history, and Loch noted that it was a complicated process that perhaps could be alleviated by different regulation.

Ben Thomas of the Montana Department of Agriculture further explained, “The budget from the [Trump] Administration cuts out resources that may be needed for research and other industries. It’s one of the largest grant programs in our department and it would be a real loss to see it go away.”

Thomas claimed, “The Market Access Program is also zeroed out in the last budget proposal. The EU spends much more.” Thomas went on to relay his discovery that in Japanese supermarkets, beef is promoted as being Japanese, American or Australian and that the United States is not marketing it the same way. Aggressively competing in foreign markets is something that Thomas says Americans should do.

“We should rather be doubling or tripling the Market Access Program,” according to Thomas, “to make our products more accessible and desirable in foreign markets. Those funds help our wheat offices and other kinds of offices overseas, for about 30 different industries.”

Thomas also focused on a topic that several on the panel would go on to iterate, “Crop insurance is the basis of risk management, and we should oppose cuts to crop insurance.”

Steve Pust seconded that notion, adding, “Crop insurance seems to be extremely important for our young producers, especially for sugar production in this valley, who may not be as financially secure.”

Tester questioned the panelists, asking, “And crop insurance for beets now works?”

Pust confirmed, “We don’t feel we need a boost in coverage, but we need it to remain to help our younger guys. It’s important for young producers on renewals to have the ability to say ‘I have something to catch me before the bottom falls out,’ and will help them invest in agriculture.”

Pust also agreed with the assertion from Thomas regarding international competition, adding, “We want to make sure our trade agreements are enforceable and think that we should deal on a fair and equitable basis, even in our competition with other nations. We want to be on equal footing.”

Scott Flynn of the American sugar beet Grower’s Association gave his thoughts, “Our sugar policy is a government program that works. No changes are needed, and we are happy with what we have. That isn’t something that you can ordinarily say about government policy.”

“The sugar industry provides jobs to 140 thousand American workers,” Flynn continued, “that provides supplies at a reasonable price. We are the world’s third largest importer of sugar and we can’t produce all that we need.”

Flynn also spoke of the importance of continued accessibility of loan programs.

“Loans from the Commodity Credit Corporation is an important program because it helps bridge the gap between the production expense and the final sale of the sugar,” Flynn stated. “Our sugar policy should help protect us from unfair practices, like Mexico dumping sugar. Mexico dumping sugar at subsidized prices is allowing them to sell it cheaper here than they sell it in their own country, which is an attempt to hurt our industry. So while it seems good for the consumer, it is designed to hurt us in the long run.”

Fred Wacker of the Montana Stock Grower’s Association told the audience, “Most of our cattle people are also farm people, and so the Stock Grower’s Association is very interested in the farm bill.”

According to Wacker, a program called the Environmental Quality Encentives Program (EQUIP) is important and should be continued in spite of possible budget cuts. Wacker said, “The EQUIP program helps Farmers and Ranchers protect our resources. It allows us to provide water to our cattle without tearing up our resources. We would certainly encourage Congress to not do any cutting to that program.”

Wacker went on, “The disaster program also is a very good thing. South Dakota went through the storm of all storms, and that program worked very well. There are two major problems, however. First, the value of the animals has not been raised as the price has gone up, which currently stand at one thousand dollars per head, five hundred to one thousand dollars below the actual value, and secondly, the program is geared for smaller ranchers and smaller cattle feeders. Larger feeders are not eligible to receive those funds, because your eligibility is linked to your gross income.”

“We need stricter controls on beef coming into the country, which may be diseased. Furthermore, we think more funding from the USDA budget should go to state agencies because they are local and more connected,” Wacker noted.

“We need support from you, Senator Tester,” Wacker said while looking at the senator, “regarding Department of Transporation policy. They’re going to mandate electronic logs, and that is going to kill us on freight and red tape. You will have to unload and reload animals every day they’re in transit. It is a serious issue. Perhaps one solution that can help is to specify that for agriculture commodities carrying perishable items, they need exemptions.”

Tester noted that he was working on such an initiative, and said that it was also an education issue, as people in Washington may not understand that agricultural products are perishable and should be treated differently.

An audience member spoke up to suggest that animal welfare should also be addressed, because not getting animals directly to their new location as quickly as possible has adverse effects upon their well being, something with which some in Washington may sympathize.

Don Steinbeisser, Jr. of the Montana Farm Bureau also gave his concerns, “The first thing we want to do is protect farm bill spending. We also need money for rural development and more efficiency in grant approval and timely applications.” Steinbeisser went on to express the need for agricultural funding to not be cut because of the essential nature of help it provides to Montana farmers.

Tester reiterated the need for responsible distribution of federal funds to Montana‘s agriculture, in spite of likely cuts in the upcoming budget.

Miles City Rancher Wins Tractor Lease at Stockgrowers Convention

Fred Wacker Massey FergusonFred Wacker of Miles City and his wife, Gwen, were the lucky winners of a Massey Ferguson tractor lease given away by Montana Massey Ferguson dealers and Montana Stockgrowers Association at the 131st MSGA Annual Convention and Trade Show on Saturday, December 5 at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings.

The Wacker family was very excited to be this year’s recipients of the 8-month/200-hour lease on a 130-horsepower tractor and loader. This is the second year Montana Massey Ferguson dealers have teamed up for the promotion, raffled off at the MSGA Convention and Trade Show.

“The partnership with Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana Massey Ferguson dealers continues to grow and provide benefit for ranchers across the state,” according to MSGA President, Gene Curry of Valier. Proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets throughout the year go to benefit a number Stockgrowers programs for Montana ranchers.

Wacker is a third-generation Montana rancher. Cross Four Ranch operates in Custer and Rosebud Counties as a cow/calf, yearling, and a finished cattle operation. The entire Wacker family is involved in the operation and specializes in All Natural Cattle. Fred and his wife, Gwen, have four adult children: Sara Rehm, Julie Nowicki, Karen Martin, and Mike Wacker.

Fred currently serves as Second Vice President for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Outside of the beef industry, Wacker has served on the Custer County Water & Sewer District Board (including four years as chairman), the Custer County Planning Board, and as president of the Miles City Kiwanis.

2015 was the second year of partnership between MSGA and Montana Massey Ferguson.

Click here for more 2015 Annual Convention coverage from Montana Stockgrowers.

Fred Wacker Montana Cross Four Ranch

Fred Wacker – Miles City Ag Producer of the Year

The Fred Wacker family and Cross Four Ranch recently were recognized with the Ag Producer of the Year award for the Miles City area. The annual award, given by the Miles City Chamber of Commerce, recognizes a family or agriculture operation in Southeastern Montana who exemplify good agricultural production practices and a long-term commitment to the community.

Wacker is a third-generation Montana rancher. Cross Four Ranch operates in Custer and Rosebud Counties as a cow/calf, yearling, and a finished cattle operation. The entire Wacker family is involved in the operation and specializes in All Natural Cattle. Fred and his wife, Gwen, have four adult children: Sara Rehm, Julie Nowicki, Karen Martin, and Mike Wacker.

Fred Wacker was elected to the MSGA Board of Directors representing the Southeastern District in 2011.

Wacker has served as chairman of MSGA’s Marketing Committee is a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Live Cattle Marketing Committee, and served as Montana Cattle Feeders vice president, 2004-2005. Outside of the beef industry, Wacker has served on the Custer County Water & Sewer District Board (including four years as chairman), the Custer County Planning Board, and as president of the Miles City Kiwanis.

Montana Stockgrowers congratulates Mr. Fred Wacker and family for the recognition.