WAGON clarifies mentorship and encourages program involvement
The Wyoming Ag Ownership Network (WAGON) was created just over a year ago, with the goal of helping young people get a start in the agriculture industry.
In their second year, members of the WAGON committee have revamped the program, and Wyoming Business Council Livestock Genetics Program Manager and WAGON committee member Scott Keith says, “We want to encourage more people to be involved of the program in the mentor capacity.”
“It’s been a year since we started taking applications,” he says, noting that 16 applications were received and categorized based on where they are at in building their own operations.
With three categories of candidates, including those looking for a permanent home, those building knowledge and a stronger base of livestock and those who are just getting started, Keith mentions that the WAGON committee looked at classifying mentor in various categories as well.
“Because we have three types of candidates, we really need to find mentors to fit each of those classes,” he explains. “There are three different levels from a mentor’s perspective.”
“Initially, there was the perception out there that, if you are going to be a mentor, the emphasis is to transition your ranching operation to someone else – that isn’t the case,” Keith adds. “We changed our focus to provide people an opportunity to get a start, rather than the opportunity to get a finish.”
Committee member and Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna adds that expecting ranchers to invite new people onto their ranch with a firm commitment that they will hand the operation over is a lot to expect.
“Just as young people have to progress, the mentors have to progress too,” says Magagna, noting that ensuring a good fit is important. “I think this will provide us with greater opportunities.”
While one category of mentors still includes those ranchers without a succession plan or family members who are interested in taking over the ranch, two others will provide opportunities for candidates not ready to take on a full operation yet.
“The transitioning mentor are the ones that don’t want to keep operating the ranch themselves and want someone who can come in and comfortably take over pretty rapidly,” describes Keith. “This category is likely going to be a very small percentage of the overall picture.”
The next level that mentor ranches may fit into is referred to as the incubation level.
“I think there are a lot of people that could potentially fill this role,” he says. “They are producers that have no one in the family coming up to take over, and they have an operation of a size and scope that they could afford and would be interested in transitioning some of the livestock ownership or would be interested in providing some space to help a candidate grow equity.”
Keith notes than the incubation level mentors would serve to provide guidance and expertise to WAGON candidates, as well as the opportunity for some decision making.
“This is not just a hired man scenario,” he emphasizes. “These mentors would allow the candidate who comes in to have some say-so in the decision making on the ranch.”
The majority of candidates from the first round of applications fell into a third category, and Keith says he feels a lot of producers would fit that category – the intern level.
“Mentors at this level are looking at hired men, but because of their capability and experience, they can pass the information on to a young person, recognizing that person may be with them for three to five years,” explains Keith.
Keith notes that these mentors may provide an opportunity for livestock ownership or management of one unit of a multi-unit operation.
“This is a learning, growing opportunity, rather than a transition opportunity,” Keith says. “Intern mentors wouldn’t likely be in a transition state, or at least not at the present time.”
“Just because a producer is interested in WAGON doesn’t mean they are going to make an immediate decision to transition or sell the ranch,” says Keith. “These candidates are also more than just hired men.”
The WAGON program is not serving as an employment agency, but rather is searching to offer young producers the opportunity to learn and grow into a ranching or farming operation.
Keith also mentions that the process for scrutinizing applicants and interviewing mentors will also be more rigorous in the future to help increase the likelihood of successful pairings.
“The process is going to be more refined as far as gaining information before we submit a candidate’s information to mentors for the selection process,” he explains.
The program is accepting applicants on a rolling basis.
“Every time an applicant surfaces, we will pass the information on if there is a mentor that looks like they might fit,” Keith says. “We are going to take applications on a regular basis, rather than periodically like we were doing before.”
For more information on the WAGON program, visit the Wyoming Livestock Roundup tent at the Wyoming State Fair, located across from the beef show ring, or contact Scott Keith at email@example.com or 307-259-3274. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.