No deal yet on Washington's brand inspection fees


By Don Jenkins, Capital Press

Feb 8, 2019


OLYMPIA  — Washington's cattle industry has yet to agree on a plan to sustain brand inspections, a program that's heading toward a million-dollar deficit and might be closed down, according to the state Department of Agriculture.


The inspections prevent theft and record where cattle have been if a contagious disease breaks out. Last raised in 2006, inspection fees have fallen behind the cost of sending out inspectors, according to the department.


Moses Lake Sen. Judy Warnick, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate agriculture committee, said Thursday resolving the issue is her top priority. She said she hopes to soon introduce a bill to keep the program going.


In the meantime, she's floated a plan that would raise fees, adjust them annually for inflation and allow higher increases with the approval of an advisory committee made up of beef ranchers, dairy farmers, packers, feeders and horse breeders.


Under the proposal, the inspection of cattle identified by a brand or electronic tag would increase to $1.16 a head from $1.10. For cattle not identified by a brand or electronic tag, the fee would increase to $5 a head from $1.60.


The higher increase would presumably encourage more producers to individually identify cattle to improve the state's ability to trace diseases.


The Washington Cattlemen's Association and Cattle Producers of Washington generally support the proposed fees. Livestock auction yards, however, say the fees will harm the part-time ranchers who don't brand cattle and are their main customers.


"I understand part of the reason for that is to try and increase the number of branded and ID'd cattle in the state of Washington, but that seems to be a little inequitable," Kale McGuinness, owner of Stockland Livestock in Davenport, told the Senate agriculture committee on Tuesday.


Many of the livestock owners who bring cattle to his market aren't represented by the groups that have been trying to work out a new fee schedule, he said.


"Many of these folks are working multiple jobs besides raising cattle," McGuinness said. "We feel we are a voice for those small producers."


Brenda Balmelli, who owns Chehalis Livestock Market with her husband, Dave, said the average load brought to their auction yard is 2.5 head.


"We tell them they're going to be looking at five dollars, they go crazy," she said...