The week of March 10 looms large in the fate of the beef and pork checkoffs. On Monday, March 10, at 9 a.m. in St. Paul, MN, the Eighth Circuit Court will begin to hear oral arguments in the appeal of the Livestock Marketing Association's (LMA) suit against the beef checkoff. Four days later, on the 14th, the pork checkoff takes center stage when oral arguments on its constitutionality begin in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, OH.

In the beef checkoff case, the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), the body charged with administering the national self-help program, will present its case in appealing the June 2002 Federal District Court decision in which Judge Charles Kornmann ruled the checkoff was unconstitutional.

Canadian researchers claim a breakthrough in more efficient, ecologically friendly forages. The Alberta scientists say they've introduced a gene into barley lines that produces valuable feed-degrading enzymes, making the forage easier for cattle to digest. It's a major leap toward barley varieties that will enable the production of more meat with less feed and forage, and less manure production, say the Alberta scientists.

The long-term focus of enzyme-generating crops is to reduce cost and extend the benefits of enzymes to grazing regimes earlier in the animal's development, says project leader Surya Acharya, forage breeder for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“New enzyme technologies have shown great promise for increasing the digestibility of feed and forage, but enzyme additives can't be used effectively under extensive grazing situations,” says Acharya. “Producing crops that generate their own enzymes eliminates this problem. The approach looks very good as a safe and stable way to deliver enzymes to cattle throughout the animals' life cycle, from pasture to feedlot.”

Acharya says enzyme-enriched barley varieties are possible within a few years. “Research is now underway to ensure the gene expressions in the barley plants are stable and at a level useful to cattle,” says Acharya, adding that once the process is perfected in barley, the effort will move to other forage crops.

Wyoming's legislature is fighting back on federal wolf reintroduction. In mid-February, the House chamber approved two bills seeking to limit the scope of the federal government's wolf reintroduction program in the state. The Associated Press reports the measures seek to cut wolf numbers and also study a possible lawsuit against the federal government, which reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995.

The report says there are currently 280 wolves in Wyoming and 420 in Montana and Idaho, a level the bills' proponents say is a threat to humans, animals and livestock.

House Bill 229, approved 56-2, wants wolves that remain within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks protected, but seeks classification of wolves in wilderness areas adjoining the park as trophy game. Meanwhile, wolves outside the Yellowstone area would be classified as predators, giving residents the right to shoot them at any time. The dual classification, sponsors say, would keep wolves in the parks and wilderness areas.

Other provisions say that if the number of wolf packs in the state falls below 15, or seven outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the predator status would change to trophy game status. Legal hunting would then be curtailed until the packs recovered to the threshold numbers.

Another bill, HB300, would allow the state to study whether it's entitled to damages as a result of federal decisions, such as wolf introduction. It passed by a vote of 52-7.

The federal grazing fee is lowered. The Bureau of Land Management announced last week that the 2003 grazing fee for BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands will be $1.35/animal unit month, down from $1.43 in 2002. The fee takes effect March 1.

The fee is based on three factors — current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. The 2003 fee dropped primarily due to a drop in beef cattle prices in 2002.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) membership is growing. Membership figures for the first quarter of its fiscal year indicate NCBA will increase its membership for 2003.

Membership in NCBA was up 13% as of Dec. 31, as compared with the same time period in 2002. The increase is attributed to stronger membership recruitment efforts and increased knowledge among producers about what NCBA is doing on their behalf.

“We're encouraged by the increase in the number of NCBA members this year over the same period last year,” said Mark Nelson, an Angus producer from Wilton, CA. “Obviously our organization has been successful in Washington, D.C., and across the country, so beef producers can see the benefits we provide to them.”

This monthly column is compiled by Joe Roybal. Contact him at 952/851-4669 or e-mail