Farmers

Some Montana farmers are hoping to hear some good news on trade as President Donald Trump brings his campaign to Billings tonight.

Cooper McKim

It’s a hot day south of Wheatland, near the small town of Chugwater. Dirt kicks up around passing cars on a long driveway as the sunbeams gold on waving fields of wheat. At the end is the Baker Farm, with old water tanks and rusted antique farm vehicles in front of the home. 

Hay prices are spiking this year, driven up by a drought-induced shortage of the crop. It’s affecting ranchers across the board, but horse owners in particular are feeling the pinch. Horses eat higher quality hay, so it’s harder to get. It’s forcing horse owners in Colorado to buy more hay from neighboring states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and that’s driving the cost up even more.  


Caitlin Youngquist

The University of Wyoming (UW) is embarking on a new age by increasing its focus on economic development and entrepreneurship. One new project is taking this vision even further by trying to develop a new niche agricultural market for the state by producing first-grains, and the key to this innovation is actually ancient. 

Tennessee Watson

Farmworkers feed us, and to do so they travel around the country following the harvest. For their kids, that means moving from school to school. Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter Tennessee Watson found there’s a system in place to help these students, and brought us a story from North Dakota. To learn more about why we heard about one kid in North Dakota, Morning Edition host Caroline Ballard spoke with Tennessee about her reporting.

Tennessee Watson


Angel, a tall, lanky 14-year-old, dribbles down the basketball court of the school gymnasium in Manvel, North Dakota. Realizing he’s unmarked he goes for the three-pointer. It’s a nice arching shot, but the ball bounces tenuously on the rim and doesn’t go in.

Every day, about 19 people move to Boise. And that growth is creating a housing crunch in the valley.

The House of Representatives passed its newest version of the farm bill this week. It includes stricter work requirements for people who get food stamps.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may seem like an unlikely champion for an illegal substance, but the Kentucky Republican just added the legalization of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, hemp, to the Senate farm bill. The industrial hemp business is increasingly seen as an economic savior and substitute for vulnerable industries like mining, especially in Colorado, one of the first states in the nation to make hemp legal at the state level.

Public Domain / Jean Beaufort

The House did not pass its version of a farm bill last month, but the Senate may have a better shot this week when they consider the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

National Park Service

Japan is considering hitting back against the U.S. in retaliation for America's steel and aluminum tariffs. A Japanese levy could hurt our region's agricultural industry.

According to a monthly survey, farmers across the U.S. aren’t feeling too optimistic these days.  

Cooper McKim/Wyoming Public Radio

Winds were gusting over 45 miles per hour on an overcast day at the Dunmire Ranch in southeastern Wyoming. Black cows grazed in the distance with wind turbines lined up on the horizon. At the center of ranch, young colts milled around the corral. Gator, a 14-year-old blind and deaf dog, barked, guarding the home of rancher Les Dunmire. 

 

Inside the house, Dunmire put on his dirt-caked cowboy hat and boots, as he told me how he’s owned this ranch for just over 30 years and that this lifestyle goes back generations.

 

Tennessee Watson

Farmworker families often have to move from state to state to find work, and that makes school challenging for their kids. For over 40 years the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) ran a program to support this vulnerable student population, but that has come to an end.

Wyoming’s sugar beet harvest once was a big draw for migrant workers. On a tour of the farmland surrounding Torrington, Simon Lozano remembered a time when the fields were bustling.

“It was like 90 percent beets,” he said pointing out of the window of his truck.  

Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has assigned natural disaster status to Big Horn and Park Counties. An early freeze in September last year significantly damaged farms in the area.

Freezing temperatures hit crops early causing bean, corn and sunflower losses. Park County lost over $7,000,000 of crops while Big Horn County saw more than $3,000,000 of damage.

Gregor Goertz is the Wyoming Farm Service Agency’s Executive Director and says some farmers were hit harder than others.

ncrsresearch.blogspot.com

In the next half century, scientists are predicting more extreme weather for Wyoming with bigger winter storms and hotter, dryer summers.  That’s according to the latest National Climate Assessment out this month. Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers are skeptical about climate change, but some of them have been forced to adjust their methods of production. 

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is trying to reduce energy consumption on farms in Laramie County.

Jim Pike is the district conservationist for the NRCS. He says many farms in the area have old, inefficient irrigation equipment that uses so much power it can overload the electrical grid.

“In 2012, the rural electric company had to bring portable, truck-mounted generators that were powered by diesel motors to generate additional electricity because they couldn’t keep up with it in their normal infrastructure,” Pike said.

It’s early in the season, but a few prescribed burns have already spread out of control.

Meterologist Chris Jones of the National Weather Service in Riverton says one recent case involved an effort to clear weeds along fence line. Wind spread the fire into a trash pile.

Fire fighters responded and no structures were damaged. But with warmer winds and last year’s drought and subsequent drier soil, Jones expects that more such fires could occur without proper preparation.

The most recent farm bill expired in September and farmers and ranchers are eager to see when Congress will reach a decision on a new bill covering crop insurance, conservation and disaster relief programs.

Passage of the farm bill has proved challenging, as lawmakers battle over cuts to parts of the bill that deal with nutrition programs like the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps.

Some Native American farmers and ranchers in Wyoming could be receiving checks and debt forgiveness in the coming year in the wake of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
 
It’s estimated that Native American farmers and ranchers lost over 770-million-dollars in revenue between 1981 and 1999, because the USDA denied them loans and services based on their race. Many Native Americans also lost their land in the process.