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SHERIDAN — Despite several recent setbacks, local farmers and ranchers are continuing to push for the approval of an updated federal farm bill that they say is imperative to protect their industries from unwelcome intrusion by multinational agricultural corporations.
“We’re getting left in the dust,” said Bill Bensel, agricultural organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
An organization that works to promote land preservation, conservation and the vitality of the state’s agricultural industries, the Powder River Basin Resource Council has been working with various coalitions in recent weeks to bring awareness of what Bensel referred to as a need for progressive policy in the farm bill.
As the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government, two separate farm bills have been introduced in Congress since the beginning of the year.
The Senate version passed June 10 while a modified House bill passed earlier this week.
Still, discrepancies between the two pieces of legislation loom large, and Bensel said Wyoming ranchers stand to be affected if the two chambers can’t come to an agreement.
Specifically, Bensel and his coworkers are pushing for the addition of several amendments that they believe wouldn’t be able to garner enough momentum to pass as stand-alone bills.
One such amendment has been previously introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., as the Livestock Marketing Fairness Act.
Intended to prohibit certain arrangements that provide packers with the opportunity to use existing cattle supplies to manipulate local market prices, the bill died in committee in 2011.
Bensel said other amendments proposed by legislators such as Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also stand to protect Wyoming ranchers.
Nationally, much of the farm bill contention has centered on the role of food assistance and national education.
While large crop producing states stand to be affected much more deeply by potential inaction on the bill, Bensel said Wyoming cattle producers aren’t immune from the effects of the current impasse.
At the center of the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s efforts is the belief that ranchers and farmers stand to be further affected by the growing influence of large corporations.
“They want to control the food industry, and they want to control our producers,” Bensel said. “The heart of it is (trying to prevent) unfair competition.”
In the meantime, Bensel said he’s hopeful Wyoming residents will continue lobbying for passage of a comprehensive bill.
“People need to wake up on these kinds of things,” he said.
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