OLYMPIA — Three Washington ranching groups on Monday endorsed raising a slate of fees to stop the state Department of Agriculture from shutting down its brand-inspection program.
Fees for inspecting branded cattle would increase by 10 percent to $1.21 per head under Senate Bill 5959, introduced by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake.
The fee for inspecting unbranded cattle would increase by 150 percent to $4 a head, an incentive for producers to identify their cattle.
Warnick said brand inspections are critical for preventing theft and helping the agriculture department contain diseases. The agriculture department agrees, but says fees, last raised in 2006, aren’t high enough to sustain the inspections.
The department projects a two-year deficit of nearly $1 million by the end of June. The department has taken money from other programs to continue the inspections. If the lawmakers don’t raise fees, the department says it hopes they will pass a bill letting it end brand inspections, relying instead on electronic reporting of transactions.
Over the past several years, segments of the livestock industry have been unable to agree on new fees.
At a Ways and Means Committee hearing, the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, the Cattle Producers of Washington and the Washington Cattle Feeders Association endorsed Warnick’s bill.
Agriculture department senior policy adviser Evan Sheffels said the agency just wants the program to support itself. He suggested lawmakers amend the bill allowing the department to reduce or discontinue services if higher fees still fall short of expenses.
In a fiscal analysis of the bill, the department says it’s hard to say how much the higher fees would generate. The department estimated hiking the inspection fees to the level proposed in Warnick’s bill would raise another $775,350 the first year.
In the House, Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, is also working on a proposal. It has yet to be released.
“I don’t know how we can ever have unanimous agreement from the industry,” Dent said. “It’s a strong industry, with strong personalities. That’s a reality.”
Washington has 5,864 active brands, according to the agriculture department, but the number has been dropping. Based on recent history, the department projects recording 5,512 brands next year.
SB 5959 would also allow all cattle transactions to be reported electronically. Currently, only sales of unbranded dairy cattle can be reported electronically.
The bill also allows ranchers to have their cattle inspected by agriculture department-trained field inspectors, rather than department employees.
Under SB 5959:
• The fee for inspecting branded cattle would increase to $1.21 from $1.10, plus a $20 call-out fee. Approximately 55 percent of cattle are branded, according to the department.
• The fee for inspecting unbranded cattle would increase to $4 from $1.60, plus a $20 call-out fee.
• The fee to record a brand would increase to $132 from $120.
• The fee to transfer a brand would increase to $27.50 from $25.
• Introduces a $100 fee to transfer a “legacy brand.” A legacy brand is older than 25 years.
• The annual fee to license a feedlot would increase to $935 from $850. Washington has six certified feedlot operators, with 11 feedlots. The per-head inspection fee would increase to 28 cents from 25 cents.
• Annual fees to license a livestock market would rise. The four largest markets would pay $495, up from $450. Annual license fees for the state’s two smaller markets also would also increase by 10 percent.