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House Ag passes cattle contract library bill, others

The House Agriculture Committee on Thursday passed five bills including the Cattle Contract Library Act of 2021.

The cattle contract bill, H.R. 5609, passed by voice vote.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union all endorsed the cattle bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

“The bipartisan bill would establish a cattle contract library within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, equipping cattle producers with the market data they need to make informed business decisions and exert greater leverage in negotiations with major meatpackers,” NCBA said in a news release.

United States Cattlemen’s Association Vice President Justin Tupper, a South Dakotan, said, “USCA would like to thank Reps. Johnson, Cuellar, and the many others involved in continuing to push forward with meaningful changes to the Livestock Mandatory Reporting program that will increase transparency in the cattle marketplace. A cattle contract library is sorely needed, and this bill is one step closer to bringing that concept to fruition.”

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said a cattle contract library could be “an important tool that will help producers negotiate more favorable terms for their cattle. Instituting this new policy will be a helpful step in bringing greater fairness and competition to cattle markets.”

But R-CALF USA, another cattle group, said its board of directors “reviewed the bill and determined it does not address the competition-disrupting leverage the highly concentrated beef packers now hold over the cattle market and that new methods of cattle procurement in use today by the largest beef packers may fall outside the scope of the bill.”

“The problem with our broken market is not that we don’t know the details of the contracts that confer market leverage to the packers, the problem is there are too many contracts and because of that, our price discovery market is being destroyed,” said Iowa cattle feeder and R-CALF USA Director Eric Nelson.

After the vote, Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said, “A contract library would help cattle producers better understand the value of their product and ensure they are not taken advantage of by large corporate processors.”

“But the bill we’ve passed today is just one piece of what is needed — because Iowa’s producers are not getting a fair shake. There’s more that we can do to support transparency and increase competition in our cattle markets.”

Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, which represents processors, said, “Members of the Meat Institute are still analyzing the bill and how it might affect their operations.”

“More time is needed to consider how the bill will affect livestock producers, feedlot operators and packers and processors. And due to the limited time allowed to consider the legislation, we ask the House to pause and include packers in the conversation, since the packers would bear the burden of complying with this new government mandate.”

What the heck?

How does an ecoterrorist, Tracy Stone-Manning, become director of the Bureau of Land Management? You all need to read Rachel Gabel’s story on this most important issue on pages ????

It’s like hiring a fox to guard your chicken coop.

As if this wasn’t weird enough, the agency that is supposed to have our — the agriculture industry’s — backs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has invested $10 million in “cultivated meat.”

Shouldn’t really be a surprise as the USDA endorsed meatless Mondays in 2012.

The USDA has provided Tufts University $10 million to further develop alternative proteins. I looked up Tufts, which is in Massachusetts, on the Internet and the first story that came up was about a student that died after choking on a hot dog during a charity event. I am not joking folks. This might be the incident that inspired their hatred for real meat. I also learned that their mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to think that the people who run the USDA are too far removed from agriculture to properly do their jobs.

I spent several months in Washington, D.C., during my internship and was told that I would probably not have a career in government because I didn’t suck up to my “member,” which was a representative from North Dakota, and I skipped my “member’s” intern barbeque to attend the Save the Trees rally on the capitol steps. I wasn’t a tree hugger but River Phoenix was one of the speakers so I made an executive decision to skip the intern event.

The incident that prompted others to determine that I would never work in Washington happened when my “member” asked me to “walk with him” to the capitol where he was going to vote on something. He told me he wouldn’t be long and to wait for him, but after an hour of waiting I walked back to the office without him. Everyone at the office were asking me where he was and freaked out when I told them that I didn’t wait for him. And about an hour later my “member” called the office and told them to fetch me from the capitol steps because he was running late.

These events have convinced me that our government is out of touch and we need to make some significant changes.

I hate to pick on President Joe Biden, but after putting a cap on our oil and gas industry and making climate change one of the nation’s most important problems, he brags about how many millions of miles he has spent flying on an airplane and riding on a train since he became vice president for former President Barack Obama. And to top that off, he is asking OPEC to produce more oil to lower our gas prices.

You just can’t make this stuff up folks.

Party line battle ends in confirmation of Stone-Manning

Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., are the senators who did not vote on Sept. 30 to confirm Tracy Stone-Manning as the director of the Bureau of Land Management. Stone-Manning was confirmed on a 50-45 party line vote.

According to Western Justice founder Dave Duquette, the consequences are dire, especially for states that routinely interact with the BLM.

“They missed a huge opportunity by not voting on her and forcing (vice president) Kamala Harris to be the deciding vote, voting to confirm an ecoterrorist to lead the BLM,” Duquette said. “This could have been stopped. This should be a wake-up call for the western United States.”

In July of 2021, retired USDA Forest Service Special Agent criminal investigator Michael Merkley penned a letter to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Merkley said he was compelled to come forward with information about Stone-Manning after some news outlets had represented her as “a bystander or a victim.”

In his 28 years with the Forest Service, he was assigned to investigate a number of crimes committed on federal lands. In 1989, he was assigned to investigate the spiking of trees in a portion of the Post Office Timber Sale in the Clearwater National Forest.

That spring, the supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest in Orofino, Idaho, received an anonymous letter alleging that trees in the timber sale area had been spiked. More than just damage to government property, spiking is done with the goal of preventing loggers from cutting down the trees, and present significant danger to loggers when the chains strike the concealed spikes.

Merkley said in the course of his investigation, he obtained and carried out a search warrant for a residence known as the Sherwood House, identified as the local Earth First! residence in Missoula, Mont. Members of the activist group were identified as the ones responsible for teaching a tree spiking seminar at the University of Montana, and evidence was seized during that search that linked the activists to the event and the tree spiking.

Merkley said he presented the evidence to Assistant U.S. Attorney George Brietsmeter, which resulted in grand jury subpoenas for hair samples, handwriting exemplars, and fingerprints. One of the subpoenas, he said, was served on Stone-Manning.

He said Stone-Manning was the “nastiest of the suspects” and was “vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government” in addition to being uncooperative, initially refusing to provide the samples as ordered by the federal grand jury.

Merkley said in late 1992, Guenevere Lilburn contacted the FBI in Boston and came forward with information with regard to the tree spiking incident, naming Stone-Manning and others. Merkley said Lilburn’s testimony led to the grand jury notifying Stone-Manning that she would be indicted on criminal charges for her active participation in the tree spiking on federal lands. In December of 1992, Stone-Manning was named as the activist who wrote and sent the threatening letter to the Forest Service in 1989.

“Let me be clear,” Merkley said. “Ms. Stone-Manning only came forward only after her attorney struck the immunity deal, and not before she was caught, at no time did she come forward of her own volition, and she was never entirely forthcoming. She was aware that she was being investigated in 1989 and again in 1993 when she agreed to the immunity deal with the government to avoid criminal felony prosecution. I know, because I was the special agent in charge of the investigation.”

EARLY RETIREMENT

Merkley retired from the Forest Service in 1997 and said he received a number of letters of appreciation and recognition for his service. He said his experiences with Earth First! led, at least partially, to his decision to retire early.

“During the last years of my career with the Forest Service, this eco-terrorist organization harassed me and my family,” he said. “In fact, I received death threats from them and at one point was made aware that they had solicited a contract to kill me and harm my family.”

Merkley said now, even 25 years later, he remains concerned for his safety but was compelled to come forward as Stone-Manning was evaluated as a candidate for the director of the BLM position.

“I am grateful to the lead investigator for providing the committee with all of the facts of the case,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the ranking member of the committee. “Not only did Tracy Stone-Manning collaborate with ecoterrorists, she also helped plan the tree spiking in Clearwater National Forest. She has been covering up these actions for decades, including on her sworn affidavit to the committee. This new information confirms that Tracy Stone-Manning lied to the committee that she was never a target of an investigation. The nominee has no business leading the Bureau of Land Management. President Biden must withdraw her nomination and if he does not, the Senate must vote it down.”

Every Republican on the Senate Energy Committee signed a letter in July to President Biden urging him to withdraw her nomination. The letter said Stone-Manning made “false and misleading statements in a sworn statement” to the committee regarding her involvement in the tree spiking incident that put lives at risk.

In a speech to the Senate on Thursday, Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., described Stone-Manning as “one of the most egregious nominations to ever receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

“It’s hard to believe, but she has colluded with eco-terrorists, plain and simple,” said Sen. Barrasso, who held up a metal spike during his Senate speech. “She stonewalled a criminal investigation for years. She lied to the Senate. And she still holds radically dangerous views and yet she is still the nominee of the president of the United States for this very important post. It is outrageous.”

According to a letter Sen. Barasso sent to the committee, Stone-Manning (on her committee questionnaire) said she was never the subject of a criminal investigation and that the case was an “alleged” tree spiking. In court testimony obtained by the committee, Stone-Manning admitted she edited, retyped, and sent a threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the eco-terrorists. The court documents also confirm that hundreds of trees were spiked. Some of these trees remain a danger to loggers, Forest Service employees, and fire fighters.

The first BLM director to serve in the Obama administration, Robert Abbey, said the incident ought to preclude her from serving as the BLM’s leader, saying Stone-Manning brings “needless controversy that isn’t good for the agency or the public lands it oversees.”

CSU aims to Spur ag for all of Colorado

Included in the $1 billion-plus expansion and construction taking place at the National Western Center in Denver, is a trio of Colorado State University buildings. Named Vida (focus on human and animal health), Hydro (water focused) and Terra (focus on food and agriculture), the three buildings comprise the CSU Spur campus and are intended to integrate education and research, with accessibility designed to inspire future generations to consider animal health and agriculture as careers.

“The whole premise behind CSU Spur is to put science on display and have it free and accessible to the public,” said Tiana Kennedy, assistant vice chancellor of external relations for the CSU System. “We want to show real science or Science with a capital S on display… to really inspire the next generation to connect them to these big important issues of food, water and health.”

During the summer of 2021, Tiana Kennedy, assistant vice chancellor of external relations for the CSU System, described the CSU Spur's Vida building in the background and how it will be completed and open for the public to tour during the upcoming 2022 National Western Stock Show in January of 2022.

Working with organizations like the Dumb Friends League, CSU effectively communicates to urban and suburban audiences regarding the future ability to observe small animal surgeries in progress and to speak with veterinarians on site. On top of that, people will be able to watch horses rehab on water treadmills, and families will be able to drop in and have their kids perform water experiments. But will rural Coloradans be left out as a result of that focus on reaching out to urban and suburban demographics?

No, says CSU. And they are passionate about that answer.

In a September 2021 photo taken from the roof of CSU Spur's Terra building, the view takes in the nearly completed Vida buidling in the foreground that is scheduled to be open and ready for tours during the upcoming January 2022 National Western Stock Show. To the left of the photo is a corner of the Hydro building that is under construction and will be finished later in 2022.

AG LIFE AND COMMUNITIES

“There are a number of different ways that the Spur campus will enhance agricultural life and agricultural communities in Colorado,” explained Jocelyn Hittle, assistant vice chancellor of the CSU Spur Campus and Special Projects. Hittle has been involved with the CSU Spur project since January 2014, and is intimately familiar with its goals and designs. Sitting down for a conversation on the CSU Spur grounds in September, with the bustle of construction occurring in all directions, Hittle was ready to discuss the massive construction project and what it means not just for outreach to metro areas, but for agriculture throughout the entire state. As someone whose grandparents were farmers and ranchers, Hittle was enthusiastic to talk to an agricultural audience.

Standing in the middle of what will eventually be a K-12 educational floor, Jocelyn Hittle, second from right, describes the interior construction and function of the Terra building's room to a small group that is touring the site. Hittle is the assistant vice chancellor of the CSU Spur Campus and Special Projects and has been working on the project since January of 2014.

“One of the things we feel is really important is to inspire the next generation — whether they come from an ag background or not — to know that they can be part of the food system,” said Hittle. “The Fence Post readers know this better than anyone; the numbers of people that are engaged in ag has decreased. What we are hoping to do is reconnect youth with where their food comes from and to show them that regardless of their background or their interests, that there is a role for them to play in helping us to meet global food challenges. We want to really inspire young people to say you can be a part of this.”

An exterior shot of CSU Spur's Hydro building under contruction in September 2021. According to CSU Spur spokespeople, the Hydro building has connectivity down to the river and lots of flexible programming spaces. On the right side of the building is the start of what will be a signature circular staircase that is symbolic of a river eddy.

In preparing for the CSU Spur build, project leaders implemented a statewide listening tour with extension agents and ag educators to understand what they were doing in order to potentially showcase successes and amplify work to new audiences in the metro area. While they don’t have all the details worked out, CSU Spur personnel are interested in developing programs that bring rural and metro area youth together to see the connections of the food system across the rural to urban spectrum.

On the topic of how CSU Spur seems to be dialed in on small animal and equine health and education in their nearly completed Vida building versus what appears to be a lack of cattle education, Hittle pointed out the complementary role the Spur Campus desires to play on the grounds of the National Western Center.

“We have less of a focus on cattle at the Spur Campus because, in part, we are here at the National Western Center, where there is such an amazing opportunity to learn about cattle and other livestock throughout the year. The information we will have available will of course include cattle and livestock in the educational exhibits, but we don’t have any cattle on site at this time, just because they are everywhere around here, and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association will be here. We are here to collaborate and complement. It is not that we are downplaying the importance (of cattle and livestock), we are just trying not to duplicate information that is available right next door.”

Amid the ongoing noise and acitivty of heavy machinery and construction, CSU Spur Director of Education Kathryn Venzor, foreground, left, describes the construction progress and purposes of the campus to a group touring the site. The building under construction in the background is the exterior of the Terra building, which will focus on land and agriculture.

WIDE AND VARIED SCOPE

Along with university level education and scientific research, the CSU Spur campus will encourage K-12 experiential education in all three buildings. Field trips from across the state will be able to access the campus and have unique access “with real agricultural, water and animal health professionals at work.” Families will also be encouraged to take advantage of those same opportunities, no appointment needed. Rotating exhibits are planned to keep education fresh and showcase not only what is going on in Colorado, but talk about Colorado products. The scope is wide and varied.

A tour through CSU Spur's Vida building shows an equine water treadmill under construction. The Vida building will focus on human and animal health, and will include — among many other things — equine assisted therapy and equine rehab, along with small animal surgeries and treatment.

“You can think about the Spur Campus being a place that is great for telling the story of agriculture, the food system, and the state of Colorado,” said Hittle. “The connections between food, water and health. It is about how we are looking at human health, animal health, and environmental health together, which is something the agricultural community has done for time immemorial. You can’t separate those things.”

“We are building these buildings to bring tons of people in all the time,” summarized Kennedy. “When we think about our audiences for Spur, it is kind of everyone. We want to have people from all walks of life to come through these doors.”

For more information on the construction progress of the CSU Spur campus and the National Western Center, visit www.csuspur.org and www.nationalwesterncenter.com or check out csuspur and nationalwesterncenter on social media.

Preparing for cattle transport saves time, money and stress

With fall upon us, many producers are beginning to plan shipment of this year’s calf crop or moving cattle from summer pasture to crop residues, fall/winter pastures, or to a dry lot. Every year, millions of head of cattle are transported from point A to point B. During this time, our bumper-pull trailers, gooseneck trailers, or cattle pots are giant billboards for the cattle industry.

Because of this fact, we as cattle producers should be ensuring we are doing our part of shedding a positive light on the cattle industry by following best management practices when transporting animals.

Fulton

Important factors to consider when cattle are being transported include loading conditions, time in transit, weather conditions, comingling, segregation of different sexes and weight classes into separate trailer compartments, driver experience, and animal health status and physical condition.

Shipping can be one of the most stressful times in a calf’s life. More stress on cattle during shipping may increase the animal’s percentage of shrink loss. Reducing shrink by 1 percent alone could benefit the industry by more than $325 million. A past Beef Quality Assurance survey indicated that feeder calves traveling to Texas or Nebraska feedyards traveled an average of 468 miles, with a range that varied up to 415 miles.

Furthermore, the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit and Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit found that the average load of fed cattle travel over 2.5 hours and more than 135 miles from the feedyard to the harvest facility, and market cows and bulls traveled over nine hours and more than 395 miles from their origin to the harvest facility. These audits also found that the amount of space provided to these animals during transit often fell short of animal handling recommendations for larger animals.

GUIDELINES

According to animal handling guidelines recommended by the North American Meat Institute, a 1,000- to 1,400-pound hornless animal should be provided 12-18 square feet of space. According to both audit results, fed cattle were allowed on average 12.2 square feet and market cows and bulls were allowed 12.4 square feet.

The previous data provides insight on the long distances cattle travel, which could have negative impacts on cattle welfare and performance due to stress. Stress from shipping can affect calves’ immunity and prolong the amount of time calves are off feed following shipping. With these disadvantageous effects related to stress, it is important that producers work to make the shipping process as stress-free as possible.

Research has resulted in several pre-shipping suggestions:

Prior to trips longer than 12 hours, cattle should be fed and watered within five hours prior to loading

Prior to trips longer than four hours, cattle should be fed within 24 hours prior to loading

Cattle should be in good health and fit for transport

Cattle should be handled as little as possible and as gently as possible prior to transport

Cattle should receive a minimum of five hours of rest following 48 hours of transport

RESOURCE

One resource available to producers is the newly developed Beef Quality Assurance Transportation (BQAT) online training modules at www.BQA.org. With over 2,000 BQAT certifications currently issued in Nebraska, these modules can help producers improve shipping methods and reduce stress on cattle during shipping.

This resource provides checklists for producers to help make shipping cattle safe for both personnel and cattle. It also contains loading density suggestions for popular trailer layouts used in the industry. Taking time to work through the checklists prior to transport can save costs and headaches after the cattle are loaded.

Another online resource available for producers is the National BQA channel located on YouTube. Searching for the keyword “Transportation” will result in several informative videos covering transportation.

Finally, one important task for producers when shipping cattle across state lines is the entry requirements prescribed by each state animal health official. Producers have had to search through state regulations to ensure they meet all the requirements to transport cattle across state lines; however, a new feature offered at www.interstatelivestock.com allows producers to enter the state of origin and the shipping destination. The website will provide all cattle health requirements for transportation.

This feature is not only for cattle heading to the feedlot or inspected harvest facility; producers can also use it for sales, exhibition, and show and rodeo stock. With this new resource, producers can easily find all the requirements to successfully transport cattle to all 50 states.

Humane handling of cattle when transported is important not only to the producer, but also the industry. Producers should review these available tools and resources to ensure they are following the best management practices when transporting cattle.

Information sources: Schwartzkopf-Genswein K., J. Ahola, L. Edwards-Callaway, D. Hale, and J. Paterson. 2015. Symposia: Transportation issues impacting cattle well-being and considerations for the future.

Husker ecologists forge international network focused on ag, climate resilience

LINCOLN, Neb. — Two University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are playing leadership roles in establishing a “network of networks” that unites some of North America’s most forward-thinking, interdisciplinary collaborations focused on agricultural and climate resilience and food and water security.

Husker ecologists Craig Allen and Tala Awada lead a team that recently received a four-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Network for Integrated Agricultural Resilience Research, which is the first collaboration of its kind in the field. By sharing data, resources and expertise, affiliated researchers will generate new research paradigms that address the diversity and complexity of farming and agriculture in North America at a larger scale than was previously possible.

“With the kind of replication and long-term focus that these networks have, we expect to reveal dynamics that we otherwise couldn’t,” said Allen, professor of natural resources and director of Nebraska’s Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, or CRAWL. “Most ecological research is done on a square-meter spatial scale and a two- to three-year temporal scale. We want to do research on a much larger scale now that we’re in an era of big data and longer-term data series.”

The network unites the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service-funded Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network, or LTAR; the Canada-based ResNet and the Agriculture Canada Living Labs Initiative; and the international, theory-focused Resilience Alliance. With $150,000 of additional funding from the University of Nebraska’s Collaboration Initiative program, Allen and Awada are expanding the network to include partners in Mexico, ensuring the network spans North America.

Though the specific focus of each participating network varies, they share the vision that collaboration is essential to pursuing global food security, Allen said. Working in isolation, no single network can effectively study the sustainability of modern agricultural practices in the face of external forces such as climate change, shifts in land use and changing social behavior. Together, they may be able to identify the tipping points at which agricultural systems are vulnerable to unwanted, destabilizing regime shifts — the transformation of a grassland into a forest, for example.

“Often, there’s a tradeoff between efficiency and resilience,” said Allen, who will serve as the network coordinator. “We’re interested in what that tradeoff is, and what those tradeoffs cost.”

Allen and Awada’s leadership in the new network underscores Nebraska’s commitment to research focused on climate resilience and sustainable food and water security, which are two of the university’s seven Grand Challenge thematic areas. It also highlights the university’s global leadership in the field of agricultural resilience: In addition to the CRAWL center, which is aimed at helping decision-makers use resilience theory to boost agricultural production, Nebraska is home to an NSF-funded resilience-focused graduate training program and a USDA-funded research project focused on increased rangeland production, among others.

Tala Awada, interim director for the School of Natural Resources. Photo by Greg Nathan, University Communications Photographer.

Awada, associate dean and director in Nebraska’s Agricultural Research Division and professor of plant ecophysiology in the School of Natural Resources, took the lead in helping the network accomplish its initial goal of creating the Resilience Working Group within the LTAR network, for which she serves as a site co-lead for Nebraska. The working group will facilitate communication between the four member networks.

“Our diverse landowners and managers are interested in multiple outcomes on their land, and the involved networks will look beyond efficiency and profitability to include sustainability and resilience metrics and indicators across scales,” Awada said.

Network scientists will develop a research agenda focused on three trajectories. They’ll study heterogeneity and scale by exploring which attributes of agricultural systems bolster resilience; identify thresholds that may precede regime shifts; and pinpoint early warning signs of such shifts. Their work in these areas is expected to lead to large-scale, interdisciplinary proposals that marshal the network’s wide range of expertise and access to data from organizations such as USDA’s Climate Hubs, NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network and Ameriflux.

To flesh out the agenda, network scientists will conduct a comprehensive literature review to identify critical gaps in the research and launch a public website aimed at engaging the public and researchers outside the network. They plan to engage students and stakeholders, including tribal and underrepresented groups, throughout the process.

The researchers will collaborate through annual conferences, webinars, workshops and monthly meetings. Allen said the overarching goal is to build a sustainable network infrastructure and strong transdisciplinary collaborations that will long outlive the four years of the NSF grant.

“Hopefully, this network is just the beginning of multi-country, multi-institutional collaborations,” he said.

Will farmers and ranchers be taxed out of agriculture?

As the Biden Administration’s inevitable changes to the tax policy take shape, one thing remains constant: agriculture is under attack.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxation, released draft legislation on Sept. 13, 2021. As written, the proposed legislation would lower the amount that a person can transfer by gift or through an estate before incurring taxes, a change that will disproportionately impact agriculture.

Currently, a person may transfer a total of $11.7 million by gift or through their estate essentially tax-free and any amount above that is taxed by the federal government. This amount was raised by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is set to sunset in 2026, meaning that the exemption level would revert to $5 million per person, adjusted for inflation to about $6 million per person. The currently proposed legislation, however, would move the date of the reduction up to Jan. 1, 2022. The tax on the portion of an inherited farm or ranch estate that is over the exemption level is 40% and must be paid within nine months of death.

Although this amount is often discussed simply in terms of estate taxes, it also includes any gifts above the annual gift exemption. Currently, a person may annually gift $15,000 each to an unlimited number of recipients without being taxed. Any amount above that uses up part of the lifetime exemption. For example, a gift of $20,000 to a person in a single year will diminish the total lifetime gift and estate tax exemption by $5,000.

While these numbers may seem high at first glance, especially for those familiar with the low liquidity of agriculture operations, they include the value of land and other non-liquid assets such as equipment. In other words, this amount includes the total value of a farm or ranch, not just the money in the bank. Generally, the most valuable asset of a farm or ranch is the land itself, which typically continues to appreciate over time. In many parts of the country, hot real estate markets are inflating the price of land to a point that a lowered exemption level is likely to trigger gift and estate taxes upon transfer through gift or inheritance.

Another major concern for agriculture under this administration is a change to step up in basis, and advocates for agriculture throughout the country collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the proposed legislation did not contain such a change. The proposed legislation is still subject to multiple rounds of debate and revision, so the threat of a change to step up in basis is by no means gone.

“Step up in basis” means that when property is passed at death, its value is adjusted to the current fair market value. When a property is sold, the owner is taxed on the difference between the current market value and their “basis” in the property, meaning the value of the property at the time they acquired it. This difference is referred to as a capital gain or loss, which is then federally taxed. A step up in basis reduces the capital gains realized by the inheriting generation because the calculation is based on the appreciation of the land during their ownership rather than since the original family purchase. Since land typically appreciates over time, an elimination of or tax on step up in basis would disproportionately impact generational transfers in agriculture.

Despite the proposed legislation not including this change, it is not completely off the table. The proposed legislation is not set in stone yet and such a change may easily be added back through the extensive revision process prior to congressional approval. Additionally, Biden’s “American Families Plan” released on April 28, 2021, supports limitations on the existing step up in basis.

Although the current elimination of changes to step up in basis are a move in the right direction, changes negatively impacting the generational transfer of farms and ranches are inevitable under the current administration. Estate taxes can bankrupt an operation, so farmers and ranchers need to reassess their estate plans to protect their operations for future generations. Hopefully, our country will realize the disastrous implications of taxing agriculture out of business before it is too late. In the meantime, estate planning is one of the most powerful tools we can use to keep the industry alive for the next generation.

Merck is an associate attorney with Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC with a primary focus on property rights, environmental, and natural resources law. Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, has attorneys licensed to practice law in Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Forage minute

Have you noticed any black nightshade in your corn stalks that you are grazing or plan to graze? If these fields have too much black nightshade, be careful, it might be toxic.

Black nightshade is common in many corn fields in the fall, especially those that had hail damage in the summer or any situation where the corn canopy became thin or open. It usually isn’t a problem, but if the density of nightshade is very high, there is the potential that it could poison livestock. Almost all livestock, including cattle, sheep, swine, horses and poultry are susceptible.

Black nightshade plants average about 2 feet in height and have simple alternating leaves. In the fall, berries are green and become black as the plant matures. All plant parts contain some of the toxin and the concentration increases as plants mature, except in the berries. Freezing temperatures will not reduce the toxicity.

It is very difficult to determine exactly how much black nightshade is risky. Guidelines say that a cow would need to consume 3 to 4 pounds of fresh black nightshade to be at risk of being poisoned. These guidelines, though, are considered conservative since there is little data on the actual toxicity of nightshade plants. Also encouraging is that reports of nightshade poisoning have been very scarce in the past.

Fortunately, even though nightshade plants remain green fairly late into the fall, cattle usually don’t appear to seek out nightshade plants to graze. However, green plants of nightshade might become tempting toward the end of a field’s grazing period, when there is less grain, husks or leaves to consume.

So common sense and good observation must be your guide. Scouting fields to estimate the general density of nightshade plants will help you determine any potential risk. Secondly, and particularly near the end of a field’s grazing period, closely observe what the cattle are eating to see if animals might be selecting nightshade plants.

PLANNING FOR FORAGE

No matter what forage you use, establishing and managing a forage system takes time and planning to ensure a return. With shortages and high costs for fertilizer and seed on the horizon, planning out your next steps for a forage crop has never been more important.

Drought conditions across the western U.S. have taken their toll on seed production for a number of forage crop species. From rye to bromegrass, getting your hands on seed you need may be more difficult and costly. Not only will planning ahead and securing your seed early save some headaches down the road, but will provide a more accurate budget to work from. For some projects this year, scaling down the size or waiting on a reseeding may be a prudent option.

Many forage crops benefit from some additional fertility to boost yield and quality. With fertilizer prices on the rise and availability in question, we need to look at this portion of our forage systems earlier than ever before. Are other fertilizer options like livestock manure available? Can a lower rate still provide worthwhile yield improvements? Should a different forage crop be considered? In annual systems, how will the forage crop used affect fertilizer needs for subsequent row or forage crops? These questions need to be considered and taken into account ahead of next year’s growing season.

Finally, we need to consider the value of a forage crop in our system. We saw firsthand this year how dry conditions can raise the price of hay and limit availability, even when the hardest hit areas are a state or two away. Despite supply chain issues raising inputs like fertilizer and seed, the silage, hay or grazing produced at the end of the day may very well be worth the increased cost of production. Who knows what Mother Nature has planned for 2022?

No matter what your operation, planning for forage production next year has never been more critical. With shortages and high costs in seed and fertilizer, figuring out how to manage and fit a forage crop into the rest of an operation may take some extra effort. Start planning now to ensure you have the time to work it all out.

Beef Quality Assurance gains wide acceptance from industry; upcoming training sessions in Bridgeport and Scottsbluff

This article appears in the BeefWatch online newsletter at UNL’s beef production website, https://beef.unl.edu. A new BeefWatch is posted every month, and interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at https://go.unl.edu/podcast.

The Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance program is hitting the road offering in-person BQA trainings across Nebraska this fall and winter.

In the west, events will be held in Bridgeport on Oct. 27 and Scottsbluff on Nov. 9. To find the training closest to you, or to register for a BQA event, visit https://bqa.unl.edu/training-events.

The beef industry has been making moves to use BQA as the gold standard of animal welfare, and that is good news for producers. Consumers care about the welfare of food animals whose product may eventually end up on their table, leading them to ask questions about how their food is raised — in this instance, beef. In response, many restaurants, food service providers, and retailers adopt and implement animal-welfare programs.

One example is the BQA certification requirement set forth by most of the major beef packers. For example, Tyson requires 100 percent of the cattle the company purchases to come from BQA-certified feedyards. Cargill requires 90 percent. Both beef packers also require transporters who haul cattle to their plants to be BQA-transportation (BQAT) certified. Other beef packers have similar requirements.

The beef industry also is adopting the BQA program in sustainability efforts. Sustainability has been the talk of the industry for several years. Organizations are releasing sustainability goals, implementing sustainability programs, or participating in sustainability initiatives such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. The USRSB has adopted a policy that participation in the BQA program meets the animal health and welfare metric of the initiative.

GOLD STANDARD

Adoption of BQA across the industry as the animal-welfare gold standard program means producers need not implement additional animal-welfare programs on their operations to market their cattle.

For example, if every food service company, restaurant, or retailer had its own animal-welfare program (created by someone who has never been a part of a cattle operation or stepped foot on one), producers would need to adopt programs that might have unrealistic expectations in order to market their cattle. The BQA program comes from guidelines developed by cattle producers, veterinarians, academic representatives, and other animal-welfare experts, which is backed by industry-related research.

While last February’s terrible arctic temperatures and blizzards took a toll on the psyche of farmers and ranchers, the articles and pictures from around the country of calves in folk’s homes and truck cabs showed the industry’s dedication to animal welfare. However, those positive feelings consumers felt in that moment subside and are replaced with calls to provide more objective measurement of animal welfare improvements.

Animal welfare is a leading discussion topic for the beef supply chain. Many companies are either already implementing or discussing implementing some sort of animal welfare program within their business model.

Throughout the beef sector, there is a recognition that trusted, science-based training programs like BQA are the only feasible approach to objective improvements to animal welfare. If producers can stay focused on programs like BQA, it will provide the needed data to show marked improvement in animal welfare across the United States, and benefit beef producers who are already implementing BQA best-management practices on their operations.

The BQA program is offered through in-person and online training. To become BQA certified in-person, contact your veterinarian, a Nebraska Beef Extension Educator in your area, or find an in-person BQA training happening near you by visiting bqa.unl.edu.

Glenrock FFA receives Grants for Growing funding from National FFA Organization

INDIANAPOLIS — The Glenrock FFA chapter of Glenrock, Wyo., has been awarded $5,000 as part of the Grants for Growing program. The nationwide program, sponsored by Tractor Supply Company, provides grant funds to local FFA chapters to support the development or improvement of agricultural education projects that enhance the classroom experiences for students through chapter engagement activities.

Glenrock FFA plans to use the money to purchase a large livestock scale to help students with their Livestock Entrepreneurship projects. Last summer Glenrock FFA had over 20 members showing at least one animal in either Natrona or Converse County Fair. The purchase of this scale would give students the ability to regularly monitor their rate of gain and analyze their current feed program for their animal.

The program provided approximately $548,000 to FFA chapters in 47 states. Funding is provided through consumer donations made during checkout at a Tractor Supply Company store by purchasing a $1 FFA Paper Emblem. The fundraising period aligns with National FFA Week in February.

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to more than 700,000 student members who belong to one of the more than 8,600 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The organization is also supported by more than 8 million alumni and supporters throughout the U.S.