Hamiltons focus on return to ag
Worland – Doug Hamilton was raised on a ranch outside of Hyattville, and after attending college, then embarking on a banking career, he returned to production agriculture with his wife Michelle.
“Michelle is from Worland, and her family has a farm right outside of town,” Doug explains, noting the large family is all passionate about and involved in the agriculture industry.
Doug and Michelle went to the University of Wyoming to get their educations, where he earned an animal science degree and she received a pharmacy degree.
“We went to Billings, Mont. so Michelle could pursue her career,” Doug explains, noting it was a challenge to get involved in the agriculture industry in a place where he had few connections.
In December of 2005, Doug began a career at Stockman Bank in Billings, Mont., which is a large bank with an agriculture division.
“I was cruising along at the bank, when the hospital in Worland asked Michelle to be the manager of the pharmacy,” he explained. “I was just getting established, but the bank in Worland also offered me a job.”
In 2007, the couple returned to Worland where Doug worked for ANB Bank for three years.
“At that point, I was faced with a decision to further my banking career or come back to the ranch,” Doug comments. “I wondered if there was a way to do both, which was my goal at the time.”
He adds, “It didn’t work out that way.”
At the same time, near the end of his banking career, Doug and Michelle had the opportunity to purchase a farm, and he started working full-time at his family ranch and their farm.
“Michelle and I always felt like, to make things work best and come back to the family operation, we had to bring something to the table to be successful,” he says. “Michelle grew up on a farm, and I’ve always like farming.”
They ended up purchasing a farm between Manderson and Worland. The irrigated operation needed developed but provided a great opportunity.
“It was a journey we started not knowing how it was going to work out,” he comments. “We put our faith in the Lord to see what we could do.”
With his banking background, Doug utilized some connections to develop a plan to cash-flow the operation.
“Ryan Fieldgrove, a friend in Buffalo, asked if I had heard about Wyoming’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program,” Doug says. “We looked into it. Because of our careers, we could make the down payment, and they approved our plan.”
Doug credits Michelle with formalizing the business plan to start the business.
“That program was a really big part of our success, and it worked out,” he continues. “Then, when I looked to go home, we had something to offer.”
Going to work
“As we rolled back into the operation, we went to work,” Doug says, mentioning there was always something to be done. “Today, because of our hard work and because our finances were in order, the door is open to so many opportunities.”
In the agriculture industry, Doug notes finances are really important, and it’s important to make sure the financial piece of the operation works for the farm or ranch to be successful.
In addition to the financial information, Doug says, “We have to be the expert in so many things all the time. We have to be able to make decisions and work towards our goals in everything we do.”
“And every decision we make impacts the rest of our year – or longer. It’s hard,” Michelle adds.
Changes in the operation
For the Hamiltons, technology and innovation play a big role on their farm.
“When we bought the farm, it needed developed,” he says. “It all had gated pipe on the fields, though. Before us, one person lived there and just irrigated every summer.”
Today, they have utilized Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs to put center pivots across the farmland and more efficiently irrigate the property.
“I can run the pivots from my phone instead of spending all day irrigating with gated pipe,” Doug continues. “The technology has been huge.”
Michelle adds, “We can manage more acres and be more efficient with our time to have these tools and this technology.”
Working with partners has enabled the Hamiltons to drive their farm forward. The couple has worked with the State of Wyoming through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program, NRCS to install pivots and the conservation district to make other improvements.
“We have to be able to partner with and work with these organizations,” Doug says.
Michelle continues, “We also feel like we’ve made big strides in water management and improving our soils. We’ve also seen more and more wildlife as we’ve made this changes.”
Other young people
As he looks at advancing the involvement of young people in their family operations, Doug comments, “We have to be able to provide something to the family ranch to make it work. We can’t just expect the same old operation to be able to provide for another family.”
Additionally, Doug says it was important for him to go to school and bring his education back to the operation as another tool in the toolbox.
He adds, “There’s a lot we wish we had known getting into this farm.”
Doug also notes the history of the operation and the transfer of information between generations are huge.
Too often, he says information is kept under wraps, but the reasons why decisions have been made on the operation need to be passed down, as well.
“We have worked hard to understand why we do things a certain way,” Michelle says.
“It’s also important to understand what a true business agriculture is,” she continues. “Every day we make management decisions. Every time we make a decision, it’s a management decision that impacts the next 20 years. Ag is a business.”
Doug and Michelle are both passionate about the agriculture industry, and they enjoy the chance to work hard and see the outcomes that are a result of that work.
They are both goal oriented and appreciate the opportunity to improve the ranch every day.
“It’s hard not to question if we could make more money doing something else,” Doug says, “but the quality of life that we get through agriculture offsets that.”
“The value we get to pass to our children on the farm is also something we can’t get somewhere else,” says Michelle, adding she appreciates being able to work and play alongside her children at their farm. “Seeing the passion our children have for agriculture is really rewarding.”
“Our forefathers instilled us with a passion for agriculture,” Doug comments. “I get to be involved in agriculture because someone before me got involved, and I’m thankful for my family and that love of ag.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.