Legislative session produced no tears, small positives for agriculture

Posted 4/6/21

None of the bills that wound through the houses of the Legislature this session caused a lot of stress for ranchers or farmers, and there were a few small positives. 

Ric Rodriguez, vice …

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Legislative session produced no tears, small positives for agriculture

Posted

None of the bills that wound through the houses of the Legislature this session caused a lot of stress for ranchers or farmers, and there were a few small positives. 

Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative, said there wasn’t anything on the state level that the co-op was particularly cheering or concerned about. 

For beef producers, the outcome was on the positive side. 

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, called the session “generally satisfactory.” 

The association wasn’t pursuing any big agenda items in the session, Magagna said, but they did support opportunities wherever they saw them. 

Early in the session, Magagna said they were keeping an eye out on some tax bills, such as House Bill 262, a real estate transfer tax bill. If passed, it would have added 2% to many real estate transfers for any amount over $500,000. 

It contained a number of exemptions, including transfers between spouses and parents to children, but still could have impacted some ranchers’ land sales. The bill was never introduced. 

A state income tax and a bill to provide a local option sales tax of 1% to fund education were also on the association’s radar, as well as some others, but they never got far along in the process. 

“We realize we’re all going to have to pay some more, because the mineral industry isn’t going to be restored to where it once was,” Magagna explained. 

However, he said the association would rather see a more comprehensive look at the state’s tax structure. Rather than looking at who is going to pay more, stock growers would like to see a more balanced tax structure. 

“Rather than a piecemeal approach of just targeting a tax here and a tax there,” Magagna said. 

Lawmakers have also advanced bills that the association didn’t ask for but supports.

House Bill 54 directs the Wyoming Business Council to provide support for the marketing of Wyoming agricultural produce. Contingent on availability of funding, it also provides support, in the form of loans or grants, for expansion or construction of meat processing facilities. 

It also directs the council to improve meat processing capabilities through technical assistance to producers and processors who are constructing, maintaining, expanding and marketing processing capacity in the state. 

This bill passed concurrence in the House on Friday. 

The stockgrowers association also supported Senate File 124, which grants the Wyoming attorney general more leeway in pursuing litigation against large meat packers regarding unfair, predatory practices.

The bill arises over what transpired last year during the pandemic. With 80% of the nation’s meat processing capacity controlled by four large conglomerates — all located in other states — Wyoming producers are largely dependent on them to get their cattle to market. 

During the pandemic, as meat prices at the grocery store skyrocketed, beef prices to the producers were crashing. While the packers denied any violations of law, there was a push for an investigation into the companies’ practices. 

The House also passed a joint resolution to continue and enhance trade opportunities with Taiwan. The country has an important opportunity for the marketing of Wyoming beef, due to a mystique in Taiwan over the American West. 

Some producers, such as Murrymere Farms in the Willwood area south of Powell, have been marketing their beef to high-end restaurants in Taiwan in hopes of selling the state’s produce at a premium. 

Magagna said the resolution “reaffirms that trade relationship and the potential that it has.” 

Being cautiously optimistic, Magagna said “there’s still time for things to fall apart,” but he said overall it was a positive legislative session for Wyoming producers.  

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