Elite seedstock producers encourage young producers to think outside the box in getting startedWritten by Gayle Smith
Whitman, Neb. – Production agriculture may be one of the most difficult fields a young person could select for a career. Thousands of youth who look at ranching or farming on their own must be prepared for astronomical capital requirements, long hours and days, little time for vacation and few days off.
Once these prospective youth take all that into account, the field of candidates dwindles down rapidly. But there are things a youth who is truly committed to the agriculture way of life can do to make the path a little easier.
During a recent open house at the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Laboratory in Whitman, Neb., the audience had the opportunity to ask a panel of elite seedstock producers a variety of questions.
Advice for youth
Several high school and college students were on hand that day, and their question for Loren Berger, Jerry Wulf and Jerry Connealy was what advice these ranchers would have for youth starting out in the ranching business.
“It is no mystery that, for someone wanting to get into our business, the capital requirements are astronomical,” according to Berger, a second-generation seedstock producer from North Platte, Neb. at Berger’s Herdmasters.
“For a rancher planning to pass the ranch on to the next generation, there needs to be a written plan specifying when and where there will be a transition in management,” he stated. “Verbal agreements are not good enough. Some type of tragedy will happen, things change and suddenly the operation someone has just invested half their life in will never be theirs.”
For young people starting out, the panelists agree it is a good idea to get some experience away from the home operation.
“Getting involved with someone else who is doing something similar may be of tremendous value to youth,” Berger told the students. “It allows them to see how other people think and how they do things. It also gives young people some experience they may not be able to get if they go directly to the home operation.”
One problem the panelists pointed out that they have seen over and over again, is in many families, the children feel they are entitled to a higher standard of living and management responsibilities from the beginning.
“Some kids have the expectation that because they are family, they should start out at the same standard of living that their parents took 40 to 50 years to achieve,” Berger said. “That is difficult for some people to accept, but in most operations there is a transition time. There needs to be a willingness to do some sacrificing from the younger generation – not only in terms of economics but also to prove they have what it takes to assume some management.”
“People who are in charge need to give young people the opportunity to make some mistakes, and develop those management skills. It doesn’t just happen overnight, but it is the key ingredient to becoming successful,” he said.
Jerry Wulf was the second generation to manage Wulf Cattle Company, based in Morris, Minn. His father, the late Leonard Wulf, founded the company in 1955. Wulf and his brothers have now relinquished management to the third generation of Wulfs.
“In the last 60 years, we have been blessed with some significant growth,” Wulf said. “But what got us from A to B isn’t the same as what got us from B to C. Going from generation two to three, we found it to be beneficial to separate ownership from management, which means just because you are a Wulf, didn’t make them automatically entitled to management. We didn’t want to restrict new talent, and especially the right talent, from coming into the company.”
Wulf said he and his brothers wanted to set the new generation up for long-term success.
“We have to take more of a business aspect, even though the company still carries the family name and values,” Wulf continued. “It is different for cousins to work together versus brothers. We run our company like a business, and we don’t get buried in the family dynamics.”