Bullish on agriculture: Wildman invests in ag businessesWritten by Christy Martinez
Manderson – Joe Wildman of Manderson says his business – Big Horn Truck and Equipment – was one created out of necessity. He says the subsequent additions to that business, and the evolution of his other entities, come from his optimism about agriculture.
A transplant from Ohio, Wildman found himself with a place in Wyoming after his dad, a sheep feeder, purchased the Big Horn County farm from a friend in 1965.
“I was a livestock feeder – that’s what brought me here,” says Wildman. “My father was the largest lamb feeder east of the Mississippi river in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and everyone said I could take my knowledge from the east and move west, but I learned you can take your hard work ethic from the west and live a life of riley in the east.”
Wildman met with success through his early years in Wyoming.
“It didn’t make any difference what livestock I bought – I made money,” he says. “Then we lost three-quarters of a million dollars in six months, and that’s when we started to convert beet dumps to end dumps rather than side dumps and we started Big Horn Truck and Equipment.”
The business further evolved in the late ‘70s, when Wildman started farming his ground again and became involved in repowered John Deere tractors.
“A friend of mine in Illinois farmed 100 miles southwest of Chicago, where they grow a lot of vegetables in sticky ground, which takes lots of horsepower. They’d been repowering tractors, so they bought a 5010 John Deere, tore it all to pieces and put it back together with a Detroit engine,” explains Wildman. “He came to know a guy in Des Moines, Iowa who was a Detroit mechanic.”
Meanwhile, Wildman’s brother had a repowered tractor, and Wildman was in the process of buying machinery with which to farm, so his brother put him in contact with the mechanic in Des Moines.
At the same time, there was a get-together of people with repowered 5020s, and another man by the name of Ron Baker from Nebraska had heard of the guys in Illinois repowering tractors, and he started buying the removed engines, taking them back to Nebraska and making power units for irrigation systems.
“When it all came to bear, that’s how I settled on T&L pivots,” says Wildman of the early stages of an irrigation pivot dealership that was added to his businesses.
“We put our own T&L pivot up in 1990 as an experimental machine, and I learned a lot about it and started selling them,” he states.
Wildman describes T&L as the “oddball company” because the other three large pivot manufacturers are electric, while T&L is hydraulic.
“If you look at longevity, they’ll live the longest of any of them because the T&L system is constructed and built so it doesn’t start and stop – it’s a continual move system, and it has a lot more even water application,” he explains.
Today Wildman travels the state with the pivot dealership, from pivots near Split Rock to Casper, Big Piney and Sheridan.
“I go wherever they want me,” he says of his clientele.
Although the pivot business has taken off, Wildman says Big Horn Truck and Equipment still sells truck equipment and parts, and sells a truck box now and then. Another entity – a truck salvage – was added in the early ‘90s.
“The salvage business was doing a lot better than the sprinkler business at one time, but with EQIP the sprinkler business has picked up,” says Wildman of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which now offers cost-share dollars when producers convert to sprinkler irrigation.
“I’ve seen a noticeable increase in business. Many of these producers wouldn’t put up pivots without an EQIP grant,” he says, noting that some producers will put up pivots on their own, as they can afford, because of their benefits in increasing production and saving on labor.
Of his business philosophy, Wildman says he’s a “womb to tomb” salesman, starting with design and being involved through operation.
“I’m a relationship salesman, and I like to get to know my customers and see what’s on their minds and what their plans are, so we can design what we’re doing today to fit into the end vision for their project,” he says.
“Another thing I’m very adamant about is the nozzle or sprinkler package,” he states. “The pivots are like computers – there are numerous manufacturers, but if you don’t put the right sprinkler package on, it’s like putting the wrong program on your computer, and you won’t get what you want. All sprinkler packages aren’t created equal, though many people think they’re one-size-fits-all, but that’s just not the way it works.”
In early 2011 Wildman added another location to the T&L dealership, this one in Montana.
“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but it appeared, and I thought, ‘Why not?’” he says. “I’m pretty bullish about agriculture – I don’t see anything left in our economy besides agriculture that has the ability to pull us out.”
Regarding his farm ground, Wildman says his son is now in charge.
“When he came home from college I was running the outfit and he was working for me and had started to take it over. A neighbor of ours told me, ‘You’re the big, old oak tree, standing out in the pasture, that has weathered all the storms and is still standing. But have you ever seen grass grow under a big oak tree?’ That’s when I started backing off and got into the sprinklers and truck salvage,” says Wildman.
Now, Big Horn Land and Livestock owns the ground, but Wildman’s son rents and manages it, just like he would from anybody. He farms sugarbeets for Western Sugar, malt barley for Coors, alfalfa hay and the occasional bean crop.
“It makes for a good relationship, and he’s done really well,” says Wildman. “Although I do push him to figure out how to farm with less pesticides and fertilizer, because down the road they’ll take that away from us, so he’s his own agronomist now, and he does all his own analysis and prescription.”
Of his main business of today, T&L pivots, Wildman says it’s been good to him, and that he thinks it’ll continue to be good.
“My motto is: We sell the best, and repair the rest,” he states.