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Powell – “‘You have no idea where you’re going unless you have a good understanding of where you’ve been,’” commented Wally Congdon, Montana lawyer and cattle producer quoting Montana pioneer Granville Stuart. “It is important to understand who are we, where did we come from and what is our story. That is the story of the Drover’s Road.”

Congdon started the story of the West in the early days of Scotland.

“The best news happened in 1379, when the 50 year war with England was finally over,” said Congdon. “The drovers of Scotland finally received a license to trail and trade cattle in England.”

Scottish beginnings

Nearly 700 years ago, Congdon marked, the beginning of the cattle trade really began.

“By 1379, we exported 51,000 hides – much before Columbus and the first year of the Chism Trail,” he said.

The Drover’s Road led Scottish cattleman to England. Cattle swam across the ocean separating the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Man from England and were trailed many miles to markets.

“We didn’t have a lot of horses, and we had no money, so we trailed them all the way,” he commented. “What boosted the Drover’s Road to fame was a book by Sir Walter Scott called The Tale of Two Drovers.”

Congdon noted that Scott’s book is one of the best accounts of the history of drover and trailing cattle.  

The Scottish, Congdon said, also were rampantly engaged in “trysting.”

“What you call rustling, theft, pillaging and blundering, was trysting,” he explained. “We just borrowed another man’s cattle – for a day, a week or maybe years. If the 50,000 hides that we sold spoke with an English moo, the Scottish were happier.”

Until 1883, trysting wasn’t illegal and was common practice of Scottish drovers. 

“Our trysting habit drove what we did best,” said Congdon, referencing an age-old rivalry between the Aberdeen and Macintosh clans of Scotland.

“The Aberdeen boys did not like the boys from the Macintosh clan, so they kept their cattle black,” said Congdon. “The Macintosh’s sorted in red, because that way the Aberdeen boys couldn’t steal their cattle.”

Theft, Congdon said, motivated both groups to keep toward more pure lines, and Aberdeen Angus are still known today.

Moving in the 1900s, Congdon noted that a rapid depopulation of Scotland had begun with a desire to increase open spaces and wildlife and build large estates in the country. Scottish people were moving to the U.S. to join with the groups of Scotsmen that already settled in the West. 

Moving to America

Prominent men with deep Scottish ties had already settled and claimed land in the West.

Five acts between 1841 and 1888 additionally allowed homesteading, but by 1887, Congress passed laws that no longer allowed foreign peoples to invest in land in the West.

With names such as Mackenzie, Chism and Grant already present in the U.S., Scotsman took residence in the large ranches of the West, raising sheep and cattle and bringing influence to today’s American cattle populations.

Learning from history

“Our cattle showed up at George Grant’s Ranch in Kansas in 1873,” said Congdon. “We started converting America from red and white, mottled and brindle to black. Henry Ford was right – you can have a Model T in any color, as long as it’s black.”

The cattle brought by the Scottish were Durham cattle, and Congdon marked an extensive list of breeds that were influenced by Durham lines, including Charolais, Maine Anjou, Japanese Black and Murray Grey.

Today, he notes that the same thing is happening with the Angus breed. Producers are again utilizing black cattle and breeding with others to create new crosses, mentioning Chi-angus and Maine Angus as examples.

In the ancient records of the roundups and cattle and sheep production of 1910, Congdon noted that records weren’t written in English, but rather in Gaelic – the language that the Scottish learned.

“The observation of the Scots were written down,” said Congdon, who quoted one such observation by a Scotsman. “‘Unless the desisting of policy which places the preservation of deer and other game above the production of food and prevents the depopulation of the country for the pleasure of the wealth and foreign nations, this decline will rapidly accelerate. People will immigrate to the colonies, rather than continue to bear the evils and abuses.’”

“It is 2013, and if you said, instead of deer, wolves, grizzly bears and sage chickens it reads the same,” Congdon continued. “We have no idea where we are going unless we have a good understanding of where we have been.”

Congdon spoke during the closing session of the 2013 Northwest College Spring Roundup. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“With over 80 million millennials in the U.S. today, everyone is taking a strong look at this group trying to understand their trends, fine patterns and ultimately how to communicate with this affectionate “dubbed generation ‘selfie group,’” explained Angela Anderson, manager of Food Chain Outreach for the National Pork Board. 

The millennial generation consists of individuals that were born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s. 

Anderson was one of the speakers at the “Crack the Millennial Code” webinar presented by Dairy Herd Management, Drovers CattleNetwork and Pork Network on April 8 through BrightTalk.com.

Moderator of the webinar, Emily Meredith, communications director for Animal Agricultural Alliance, said, “Millennials will be the key to our industry’s success in the long run.” 

Food concerns

“While people should be concerned about how food is grown, the millennials in particular are asking the tough questions and looking to learn more about how food is grown and raised,” described Anderson. “Millennials also have a strong desire to be socially responsible, and this is included in their decisions about purchasing food.”  

Anderson added, “Millennials are inherently skeptical about everything and are asking more questions about everything in agriculture from farmers, food companies and even agricultural organizations.” 

In a survey conducted by the National Pork Board, nearly 65 percent of the participants indicated they currently have serious or some concern with how farmers raise animals for food. 

Educating millennials

“We haven’t done a good job of truly educating the consumer about how we raise our animals or grow our crops for food,” said Anderson. “Recently consumers have started asking more questions and are listening to the media, asking their friends and looking at social media for answers.”

Anderson warned that social media is a perfect opportunity for detractors or activists to really spread their message and create a bias against modern agriculture. 

However, millennials know that detractors have an agenda that can go too far, and the more extreme the message is, the less willing the millennials view it as positive.

Anderson further noted millennials do not want one-sided information from any source, and by giving them information and facts, it is an opportunity for them to understand the whole story and come to their own conclusions. 

“At the end of the day consumers may not want to know every detail, but they do want to feel confident that their food is being raised and grown in a responsible manner, and they want their voice to be heard on an issue they are concerned about,” described Anderson.  

Social media

“We have learned that millennials don’t just have to believe in something to share it with their social networks,” said Anderson. “They just want to have a conversation about anything, and this can be confusing to see where they really stand on different issues”

Anderson noted one of the most critical aspects of using social media to connect with millennials is to be ready to have someone ready to respond to any questions they have tweeted or posted on Facebook. 

“Nothing irks the millennial generation more than having to wait 48 to 72 hours for a response to a questions of theirs,” said Anderson. “The millennial generation is also an instant gratification generation.”

Millennial blogger

The webinar’s other speaker, millennial blogger and hog farmer Nicole Patterson, began her blog, farmgirlfactsoflife.com, in September 2013 as a response to the extreme disconnect she saw between consumers and her family’s farm. 

Patterson stated in the webinar that she feels the industry as a whole needs to work on the image of rebranding family farms and the disconnect between farmers and consumers. 

She added, “My goal is to help consumers understand how we raise their food by surrounding them with facts, not emotion. Farmers are eating the same products that they grow and are the same products that consumers are eating.” 

Trust

“People just want to know that they can trust the farmers growing their food, and when we build a trust in a positive relationship between the two sides, I feel like these issues of GMOs and antibiotic use won’t be so hard to talk about and to understand,” stated Patterson. 

“Agriculture has been hiding under a rock for far too long, and this creates a distrust in the food system,” described Patterson. “We’ve got to revamp the system and create a trust and understanding between the two groups of farmers and consumers.” 

Anderson explained successful communication with millennials must start with a deep understanding of their perspectives and how they engage in social media. 

Also, in a world that focuses on social responsibility and consciousness, millennials view it as the responsibility of farmers, food companies and agricultural organizations to step up and lead the conversations about modern agriculture. 

Easy prey

“Consumers are easy prey for misinformation about food because of low trust and their distance from food production,” stated Anderson. “It is really important for us to use engaging language in the conversation or message to millennials. They do not respond well to one-sided language or even defensive language.”

This webinar was a preview to the Animal Agriculture Alliance,Stakeholder’s Summit which will cover in depth how to crack the millennial code on May 8-9 in Washington, D.C. To register for the event visit animalagalliance.org/Summit.

Madeline Robinson is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

SIDEBAR:

Conversation Do’s and Don’t

Do

Don’t

Recognize that they are engaged and interested

Assume that they are more likely to side with activists

Invite them to a conversation that includes back-and-forth communication on social media

Use social media simply to broadcast a message to them

Use a realistic tone that takes their skepticism and cynicism into account

Give them a reason to question a producer’s true motives or poke holes in a producer’s story

Provide them with information that allows them to draw their own conclusions

Attempt to discredit other sources or information as less trustworthy or credible

Millennial trust – Millennials find farmers and veterinarians as credible sources and are more likely to believe them than government agencies like the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. When starting a conversation with a millennial it is very important to not use a defensive tone or one-sided information. 

 

 

Across the country, groups will be uniting during National Agriculture Day on March 19. This year’s celebration marks the 40th anniversary of National Ag Day, an event celebrated is classrooms and communities across the country, according to the Agriculture Council of America (ACA).

“National Ag Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture,” says ACA. “Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.”

National Ag Day falls during National Ag Week, which runs from March 17-23.

The theme to this year’s ag day is “Generations Nourishing Generations,” a concept that many in Wyoming embrace.

Wyoming impacts

“Agriculture in Wyoming has thrived generation after generation,” says Governor Matt Mead. “In the early days of our state, settlers and industry founders laid a rock-solid foundation. By the close of the 20th century, such intrepid folks had succeeded in making agriculture Wyoming’s third largest industry. Not only that, you have set the stage well for the current generation, sometimes referred to as the millennial generation, and for future generations too.”

Mead recognizes that Wyoming’s rich history is showcased in its more than 11,000 ranches and more than 300 centennial farms and ranches.

“There are 11,000 farms and ranches in Wyoming, with Wyoming ranking first in the nation in average acreage,” he continues. “Wyoming ag contributes about a billion dollars annually to the economy and so much more besides revenue.”

Additionally, Mead notes that while we see tangible benefits in the form of food, wildlife habitat and unmatched sceneries, agriculture also provides intangible benefits, including fulfillment from stewardship of the land and enjoyment from enjoying our beautiful vantage points.

Hard statistics

As times have changed, so has agriculture, according to Todd Ballard, director of the Wyoming Office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

“Not quite 100 years ago, 10,987 farms in Wyoming covering 8.5 million acres were reported on the 1910 Census of Agriculture. Of these, 6,095 of these were irrigated farms,” he says.

The same census showed 5.4 million head of sheep and 767,427 cattle. Hay was worth $6.1 million and 737 farms reported apple production.

Moving forward to data collected in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Ballard marked 11,069 farms, averaging 2,726 acres.

“Cattle inventory increased substantially from 100 years ago to 1.3 million while our sheep population decreased to 412,804,” says Ballard. “It is fun to look back on history to see the changes and just to see the type of things that were important then compared to what is important now.  What will the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture tell us?”

“Agriculture is constantly changing, but one thing remains the same,” he adds. “Agriculture counts.”

The next generations

As the theme  “Generations Nourishing Generations” hits close to home for many, Mead additionally says, “Future generations of farmers and ranchers are benefitting from all that has gone before.”

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough notes that the average age of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. continue to increase, but recognizes that the future is agriculture is not in jeopardy.

“In fact, the outlook for agriculture is bright due to the quality young people who are excited about the industry and are ready and willing to take the reins and reach the full potential in the years to come,” Fearneyhough comments. “As I have the opportunity to work with young people in various settings, I’m seeing excitement from not only ag backgrounds, but outside agriculture as well.”

With young people’s interest in policy making, education, science, advocacy and other arenas, he continues that they are well poised to continue the long history of agriculture.

“When you look around the state of Wyoming and the country, you see farms and ranches that have been in business for generations and will continue operating as they eventually get passed down to the younger generation,” Fearneyhough mentions.

“A legacy of conservation will endure,” Mead says. “Our young people are being well-prepared for the inevitable hand-off from one generation to the next.”

Celebrating agriculture

In celebrating National Ag Day, groups across the nation are celebrating the impact that agriculture has on their lives and educating others about the importance of the industry.

“Ag Day serves as a reminder to consumers where their food comes from and that agriculture is important,” comments Cindy Garretson-Weibel, Wyoming Business Council Agri-Business Division Director. “Agriculture is extremely important to the economy of Wyoming, and I think people tend to overlook the importance of the industry.”

At the same time, Garretson-Weibel encourages producers to work to educate new people about the importance of the industry.

“As we celebrate agriculture on March 19, 2013, take a moment to think about agriculture and the importance this industry plays in your everyday life,” Fearneyhough emphasizes. “From the food you eat to the clothes you wear to the products you use on a day-to-day basis, agriculture plays a significant role. It is undeniable that agriculture makes life today possible, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to learn more about this industry.”

For more information on National Ag Day, visit agday.org.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Though farmland has increased in value over the past decade, economists and real estate agents alike agree that there is little danger of the “bubble” bursting in the West, if a farmland bubble even exists.

“I’m not sure there is a farmland bubble in the Midwest,” comments Stephen Koontz, associate professor at Colorado State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “Even in our region, land prices have gone up, certainly not as much as in the Midwest, but they have increased.”

Koontz predicts that, while land values will soften, there won’t be a dramatic decrease in prices or burst in any bubble.

Farmland bubble

Bubbles in real estate are created when large amounts of debt are acquired in purchasing land.

“We get into trouble with bubbles in real estate when we have high loans as compared to the value of the land,” explains Koontz. “If the value of land decreases suddenly, people are underwater.”

However, in the current situation, Koontz says that there is very little debt being acquired in purchasing land. Rather, investors with large amounts of capital are buying land and generating cash returns in leasing the property.

“Investors with big piles of capital are looking for places that create returns,” he continues. “They are used to buying bonds, but today, bonds don’t pay. One of the things that big piles of capital does is buy land, and investors lease the land back to the farmer.”

Investors are generating cash returns from their purchases. At the same time, they haven’t borrowed money, so the likelihood of a bubble forming is significantly less.

Ag producers are purchasing land and driving land values and prices up, Koontz explains, is because of the good returns they have seen in their commodity businesses.

“Even with the drought in 2012, producers have been able to buy land, pay mostly cash and borrow relatively little,” Koontz adds. 

Western situation

Torrington Realtor Casey Essert even sees investors entering land markets in Wyoming.

“A lot of folks that are buying land are investors, and they are looking for a decent rate of return on their money,” Essert explains. “They want good farm ground, so they have good tenants and receive a good rate of return.”

Essert predicts that strong demand for those lands will continue.

Land in the West, however, is very different from the Midwest, adds Koontz, based on quality of the land and availability of water. 

“The further west we move, there is less pressure to move up in prices and there are more differentials between values,” he explains. “If land has predictable rain or better pasture, senior water rights or those types of things, it is much more valuable.”

Increasing values

John Pearson, owner of Pearson Realty in Buffalo, says, “Since about 2000, land prices have increased substantially.”

Even since mid-2011, when the recession started to lift, he adds that the volume of farm and ranch sales has increased, and the value of agriculture land in Wyoming has increased roughly five percent.

In Wyoming, Essert notes that good farmland has increased in value, noting, “Good, high-producing farmland with center pivots is in very strong demand.”

Top-end farm ground, Essert adds, could sell for as much as $4,500 per acre.

“We are seeing a very steady increase in ranchland values, and probably a more dramatic increase in farm values,” Pearson notes. “Farms are selling very well and prices have gone up substantially because commodity prices have been good all the way through.”

Forecasts

Looking to the future, Koontz, Essert and Pearson differed on their predictions for the future.

“I think we will see land prices not got down, but certainly not go up as much,” Koontz says. “I don’t think we have a bubble, but it also depends on the value of the underlying commodities.”

If corn, wheat or hay prices dramatically decrease, then land values will start to get too high. 

“I think commodity prices will soften,” he says, “but I don’t see all of those commodities going down that much.”

“When commodity returns soften – which will be this year – then the pressure on land prices will soften,” Koontz continues. “What matters is how quickly commodity returns soften, and that depends on demand and the weather.”

“Whether there is a bubble or not, I don’t know, but the fundamentals driving the value of really good ag land will continue to stay in place,” Essert notes. 

In general, Essert adds that high demand will likely continue, with investors continuing to make land purchases.

Pearson, on the other hand, sees a stabilization of prices and a moderate decrease in value looking into the future.

“The higher prices have been driven partially by lower interest rates, and we’ve had good commodity prices,” says Pearson. “As we go forward, we are not going to see, in my opinion, a bust of land prices.”

“What we are going to see, is something like sticking a knife in a tire,” he explains. “It is going to be a very slow, moderate decrease in land value across the West.”

At the end of the day, Pearson foresees a stabilization of land values, rather than a sharp increase or decrease.

Either way, Koontz says, “I don’t think land is going to be a great buy now. I think we will be hard pressed to get the rates of return that we have seen in the last four or five years. I don’t think that people buying land will be acquiring debt to do so.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..