Wyoming Ag Ownership Network closes apps, seeks mentor ranches for program
After closing applications for beginning ranchers, the Wyoming Ag Ownership Network (WAGON) program has begun working to match beginning ranchers with appropriate mentors.
“I sent out 33 applications, and we got 16 back, which is tremendous,” says program manager Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council. “Those applicants have been reviewed by our committee.”
The review committee consists of Keith, Wyoming Business Council, Agribusiness Division Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, University of Wyoming Southeast Area Livestock Extension Educator Dallas Mount, Farm Credit Service in Wyoming Vice President Rick Griffith and Wyoming Board of Agriculture member Shaun Sims. The group met and divided the applicants into three categories: ready, emerging and incubation.
“The ready category are those who have a significant amount of livestock background and history and a good business background,” explains Keith. “Some of them already have a small cow herd that they are building and are just looking for a place to go, but they could still use the experience of a mentor.”
The emerging category consists of applicants the committee feels like they could place in an operation easily.
“They have experience and some financial knowledge and background,” says Keith. “Others have business experience outside of agriculture and some entrepreneurship skills.”
“The third category is called incubation, and they are good, young people,” Keith says. “They typically are just coming out of college and either don’t have a family operation or the farm isn’t big enough to go back to.”
He adds that producers classified as “in incubation” will likely be paired with ranches on an intern-style basis, and given some decision-making authority, as well as the opportunity to continue to learn the ropes of cattle production.
“Of our 16 applicants, we have five in the ready category, seven that are emerging and four that are in the incubation stage,” describes Keith, adding that the committee members will contact applicants for phone interviews and their references will also be contacted.
“We had a really strong pool of applicants,” comments Mount. “I’m really excited about the two top groups. They provide some different alternatives for partner ranchers.”
Developing business skills
Of applicants in the incubation category, or people looking to apply for the next cycle of the program, Mount mentions that there are ample opportunities to continue to learn and develop their financial and business management skills.
“It was interesting that almost everyone who applied mentioned financial skills and economic analysis as being their weak link,” explains Mount. “Programs like the Ranch Practicum School that we will start in June will provide a great launch pad and training program for the applicants who didn’t make the top cut and people who are interested in entering the program.”
Mount added that opportunities like the Ranch Practicum School can help new producers to refine their business plans and better understand the economics of ranching as well.
Moving forward, Mount says, “We’ll spend a lot of effort in trying to recruit mentor ranchers. We will be visiting with folks and getting the word out.”
He continued, “The WAGON program is not just about land transfer. The majority of people we are looking at are looking for someone who would be willing to enter into a business partnership with a beginning rancher.”
Mount emphasizes that he foresees a very small percentage of the agreements as working toward actually handing over the ranch.
“They might own cattle together, or the beginning rancher might lease land or equipment usage. It doesn’t have to be an arrangement where the beginning rancher will take over the ranch,” says Mount. “The program gives beginning ranchers a foot in the door and a leg up, so to speak.”
While several ranches have been identified as possible mentor operations, no final commitments have been made. As soon as mentor ranches are identified, the committee will pinpoint several applicants they believe fit the characteristics and desires of the operation and also meet the needs of the candidate. Mentor ranchers will be given candidates’ applications and will be responsible for any further action, including screening candidates and potentially selecting one for their operation.
“Once the candidate’s name is in the mentor’s hands, it is out of ours,” explains Keith. “It is the mentor’s responsibility to make the contact.”
The WAGON committee is currently focused on finding mentor ranches and encourages anyone who may be interested in participating as a mentor to contact one of the committee members for more information.
Find more information on WAGON at wyomingbusiness.org/program/wagon-program/5724. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.