Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers are having a ‘harder than ever’ year

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Written by Kevin Kellogg, Energy Correspondent
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At the start of the growing season, many farmers and ranchers in Wyoming were looking forward to higher commodity prices and perhaps anticipating a good year. Then, as the cost of fertilizer, fuel, livestock feed, and freight took their toll on their business, the margins that higher commodity prices would have produced began to fall.

“It’s tougher than it’s ever been,” said Sage Askin, owner of Askin Land and Livestock in Lusk.

Shipping across all industries is facing labor shortages and rising fuel costs, and it’s also severely impacting livestock producers this year.

“Shipping itself was never anything we used to think about. You just rent a truck. Now we have to look everywhere and kind of take what you can get,” Askin said.

For some producers, Askin said, it affects their ability to be good stewards of the earth. When you have to leave the cows in the pasture for a long time, it is not good for that.

“Everyone is doing their best, but these are things we struggle with,” Askin said.

When they can get trucks to move their cows, fuel and labor costs go up exponentially, eliminating their profits.

Askin said they tried to accurately budget Askin Land and Livestock’s direct fuel costs, contracting between $3.00 and $3.20 per gallon. Instead, they were looking for $5 per gallon.

“From a budget perspective, we missed it badly,” Askin said.

Askin explained that these costs represent a large portion of the cost of operations. With them being 70% lower than their estimates, they had to become more fuel efficient.

“I know a lot of people have had to increase their credit lines in order to offset” the increased cost of fuel and freight, Askin said.

Drought conditions affect alfalfa yield and lead to higher forage prices. Askin said he’s seen feed prices range from $100 a ton two years ago to $300 a ton now.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said that due to the scarcity and cost of feed, many livestock producers ship their livestock to feed much earlier than usual, which means the quality of the cow is not good. As it could have been.

“It was very dry this spring. There was no water anywhere,” said Brett Crosby, owner of Cowley-based Custom Ag Solutions.

He said his neighbors sold 10% to 20% of their flock earlier in the year, but there was no good market for them. Therefore, they had to sell part of their herd to remain viable, but they did not get much money from the sales.

“It was kind of a double whammy for people who had to sell cows,” Crosby said.

One of the best indicators of the general condition of cow grazing in the United States is the number of cows in the cattle slaughter mix being fed. Crosby said the industry killed more females between January 1 and July 1 than in the same period in any year since 1982.

Magna said ranchers in the southeastern part of the state, around Wheatland and Cheyenne, got some rain later in the year, which would help their cows gain some weight before they were shipped, but some parts of Wyoming remained dry during the season. .

Farmers also face the same challenges. Beau Fulton grows alfalfa seed, grass seed, barley malt, and pinto beans in Heart Mountain in Park County.

“The fertilizer and fuel were very bloated, which I am sure is something you will hear from everyone,” Fulton said.

Magna said that in addition to everything else, the costs of agricultural equipment have also gone up. When producers need parts for their machines, they are hard to get, and when they can get what they need, costs go up.

The only blessing this year is the higher commodity prices. This will help offset some of those increased costs when everything goes to market, but the margins will be tight.

Askin said consumer prices are often misunderstood as a boon to farms.

Many people think that beef prices in the grocery store are entirely related to the product. Unfortunately, our share of that is very low,” Askin said.

Because of the weak dollar this year, Crosby said, the big packers that control much of the meat processing will likely see strong returns from selling byproducts in the export market. This will mean that the margins of the packers will be better, and therefore the product should get a good price per head of livestock. Crouse said cattle futures are doing well.

For the meat consumer, Crosby said, prices will rise like all food prices, but he doesn’t think they will explode next year because export earnings will be good.

Of course, nothing is certain.

Fuller said farming comes with these challenges every year, and for his own sake, he said it wouldn’t be a terrible year.

“Everything was pretty good. Fuller said.

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