Alexander shares cautious optimism for economic outlookWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Cheyenne – Anne Alexander, director of international programs at the University of Wyoming, shared her economic forecast at the Wyoming Business Council’s board meeting in Cheyenne on Dec. 10, explaining that there are a number of conflicting signals on the horizon right now.
“We are talking about human behavior and the future. It can feel like the easiest way to do an economic forecast is to shake the Magic 8 Ball,” she joked.
Alexander noted that some positive signs for the national economy include a lower unemployment rate and more participation in the job market over recent months. Construction spending has also been up, and income growth appears to be increasing, both positive signs for the economy in the U.S.
“There are also other signals coming at us that indicate the national economy isn’t improving,” Alexander continued. “The manufacturing employment index has been compressed because our dollar hasn’t been very strong. When our currency is strong, that doesn’t bode well for our exports because our exports are more expensive.”
People’s sense of security is also weak. Recent survey results showed that 38 percent of people fear losing their jobs in the next 12 months, 33 percent say they may not be able to make a loan payment and 25 percent say they may not be able to pay rent.
“When people don’t feel secure, they don’t spend, they don’t hire and they stall out what they are going to do,” she explained.
Alexander also pointed out that China’s growth has been slowing down, which could have a negative impact on manufacturing, exports and Wyoming industry.
“China is a really big headwind, as is pretty much any kind of global growth slowdown,” she stated.
Alexander opined that nationally, the economy is improving moderately, but there are also some obstacles, such as a low rate of inflation in the U.S., instability in the European Union and a recent corruption scandal involving a renewable energy firm backed by national banks in Spain.
“Dollar strength is still a very major headwind for us all,” she added.
In Wyoming, the unemployment rate remains low at around four percent, although unemployment claims from the mining industry have increased.
“To balance that, tourism is booming right now,” Alexander remarked. “There are some other sectors booming as well.”
According to an index built by the Economic Analysis Division, Wyoming has not yet reached a state of recession. The model incorporates a variety of factors, including unemployment rate, private sector jobs, average hourly wage, hours worked, mining sector sales, use tax collections and national park visits.
“If we look at non-farm employment in Cheyenne, Casper and Wyoming, broken out by each of those regions, it has been recovering since the recession. Casper has been up, Cheyenne has been up and Wyoming has been up, but they are all starting to flatten,” mentioned Alexander.
Gas and oil production is one factor influencing those statistics.
“We can see that employment is still positive here for oil production, but it’s starting to fall. It’s still growing but at a slower rate,” she noted. “Non-farm employment is expected to be at about 0.2 percent growth this year and then flatten over the next several years.”
More positively in relation to the state’s economy, trona production is expected to increase, and bentonite production is steady.
“Bentonite is a value-added industry as well, so we should play to that,” Alexander commented.
She also noted that agriculture products make a positive impact on Wyoming’s economy.
“Quality of life here is tremendous. People want to live here,” she continued. “Our work ethic and the adaptability of our workforce is fairly strong. Those are great assets as well.”
“We have a lot of strengths to play to. Tourism has been a solid driver. Our year-over-year park visits from October to October were up 30 percent. Parks are not the only place that have awesome things to see here in Wyoming,” she remarked.
Moving forward, Alexander is also optimistic about the way that people across the state are working together.
She explained, “There is a lot of innovative thinking around regional collaboration on economic development efforts.”
Efforts are being carried out to work together between different counties, different segments of towns and between towns that have never sat down together.
“This helps strengthen our numbers, and I think it’s something people are interested in doing to try to strengthen their cases for getting firms to locate where they are, for getting people to come and visit their towns and for employing their workforce.”
Wyoming Ag Ownership Network closes apps, seeks mentor ranches for programWritten by Saige Albert
“I sent out 33 applications, and we got 16 back, which is tremendous,” says program manager Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council. “Those applicants have been reviewed by our committee.”
The review committee consists of Keith, Wyoming Business Council, Agribusiness Division Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, University of Wyoming Southeast Area Livestock Extension Educator Dallas Mount, Farm Credit Service in Wyoming Vice President Rick Griffith and Wyoming Board of Agriculture member Shaun Sims. The group met and divided the applicants into three categories: ready, emerging and incubation.
“The ready category are those who have a significant amount of livestock background and history and a good business background,” explains Keith. “Some of them already have a small cow herd that they are building and are just looking for a place to go, but they could still use the experience of a mentor.”
The emerging category consists of applicants the committee feels like they could place in an operation easily.
“They have experience and some financial knowledge and background,” says Keith. “Others have business experience outside of agriculture and some entrepreneurship skills.”
“The third category is called incubation, and they are good, young people,” Keith says. “They typically are just coming out of college and either don’t have a family operation or the farm isn’t big enough to go back to.”
He adds that producers classified as “in incubation” will likely be paired with ranches on an intern-style basis, and given some decision-making authority, as well as the opportunity to continue to learn the ropes of cattle production.
“Of our 16 applicants, we have five in the ready category, seven that are emerging and four that are in the incubation stage,” describes Keith, adding that the committee members will contact applicants for phone interviews and their references will also be contacted.
“We had a really strong pool of applicants,” comments Mount. “I’m really excited about the two top groups. They provide some different alternatives for partner ranchers.”
Developing business skills
Of applicants in the incubation category, or people looking to apply for the next cycle of the program, Mount mentions that there are ample opportunities to continue to learn and develop their financial and business management skills.
“It was interesting that almost everyone who applied mentioned financial skills and economic analysis as being their weak link,” explains Mount. “Programs like the Ranch Practicum School that we will start in June will provide a great launch pad and training program for the applicants who didn’t make the top cut and people who are interested in entering the program.”
Mount added that opportunities like the Ranch Practicum School can help new producers to refine their business plans and better understand the economics of ranching as well.
Moving forward, Mount says, “We’ll spend a lot of effort in trying to recruit mentor ranchers. We will be visiting with folks and getting the word out.”
He continued, “The WAGON program is not just about land transfer. The majority of people we are looking at are looking for someone who would be willing to enter into a business partnership with a beginning rancher.”
Mount emphasizes that he foresees a very small percentage of the agreements as working toward actually handing over the ranch.
“They might own cattle together, or the beginning rancher might lease land or equipment usage. It doesn’t have to be an arrangement where the beginning rancher will take over the ranch,” says Mount. “The program gives beginning ranchers a foot in the door and a leg up, so to speak.”
While several ranches have been identified as possible mentor operations, no final commitments have been made. As soon as mentor ranches are identified, the committee will pinpoint several applicants they believe fit the characteristics and desires of the operation and also meet the needs of the candidate. Mentor ranchers will be given candidates’ applications and will be responsible for any further action, including screening candidates and potentially selecting one for their operation.
“Once the candidate’s name is in the mentor’s hands, it is out of ours,” explains Keith. “It is the mentor’s responsibility to make the contact.”
The WAGON committee is currently focused on finding mentor ranches and encourages anyone who may be interested in participating as a mentor to contact one of the committee members for more information.
Program encourages young ranchersWritten by Saige
The Wyoming Agriculture Ownership Network (WAGON) is a new program launched this year and is now accepting applications for candidates who are interested in starting their own ranching operation.
“It’s a program to help young people get involved in agriculture,” said Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Jason Fearneyhough at the Wyoming Stock Growers Convention in early June 2011.
The concept behind WAGON is to pair existing ranches, or mentor ranches, with beginning producers looking to start an operation. Through an application and interview process, the two sides will be matched, based on their interests and needs.
“I think it’s got a lot of merit,” says Program Coordinator Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council (WBC). “There has been a long time push from the standpoint of Stock Growers and other organizations to keep young people involved in agriculture.”
One of the initial committee members for WAGON and Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Jim Magagna says, “It’s one really good tool to address the biggest problem facing Wyoming agriculture and that is ranch succession.”
“I feel like there is a need for this type of program in Wyoming,” says Rick Griffith, WAGON committee member and Wyoming Farm Credit Services Vice President “We need an option for producers who are looking to retire and need someone to take over their place. We also have a need to help the young producers get a start and stay involved in agriculture. It really is a very good two-way street.”
“There are a lot of older ranchers in Wyoming who want to stay in business, but don’t have the years to put into it and don’t have family to pass the operation on to,” adds Keith.
“On the other side of the equation, there are a lot of young people who want to go into ranching, but don’t have the capital to get into it or buy a ranch and livestock. Both deserve the opportunity, and the two sides need to find each other.”
Keith points out that 10 years ago, the age of the average rancher was 45 years old, but today, the average rancher is about 55 years old. The industry isn’t seeing enough young people pursuing careers in production agriculture, he says.
“The concept behind WAGON is to provide the network between established ranches and new producers, but also to provide some other support that goes along with it,” says Keith.
Keith adds that the program is set up to provide educational opportunities for young farmers and ranchers as well, including financial guidance and support, production education and farm management education.
“Different beginning producers are going to have certain needs,” says Keith. “The mentor ranches that we are looking to utilize will also have certain needs.”
“The idea started about two years ago with a meeting with Dr. Weldon Sleight of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture,” says Griffith. “We wanted to explore some ideas to see if we could implement a program in Wyoming similar to the 100 Cow program Nebraska has.”
According to Keith, the 100 Cow program was significantly adapted to account for diversity in Wyoming’s agriculture.
“We looked at the diversity across the state and decided that to require an education portfolio like in the 100 Cow program really just didn’t work,” says Keith, who notes the program’s education needs will be tailored to meet the needs of the new producers.
“After the initial meeting, we had Dr. Sleight speak at the Winter Stock Growers convention and saw some more interest in his program. We formed a committee from there,” adds Griffith. “We have met several times in between that first meeting, and there has been a lot of excitement behind the program.”
The WAGON committee includes seven industry partners. Farm Credit Services of America, University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, USDA Farm Service Agency, Wyoming Bankers Association, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust have all played a strong role in the development of the program.
From that group, an advisory committee will be selected to conduct interviews with beginning producer applicants and match them with mentor ranches.
Keith notes, “My job as coordinator will be to assist in mentor interviews with the partner who brought them into the program. I also will sort and screen applications from the candidates.”
Currently, the program is accepting applications for beginning producers and is looking for potential mentor ranches. This year, the program will be selecting three or four beginning candidate ranchers to match with mentors.
“It’s gotten its start,” says Keith. “We are accepting applications right now for beginning ranchers.”
Mentor ranches aren’t required to submit an application, but rather go through an interview process.
Keith mentions that he foresees three main categories of applicants for the program.
“One of those is going to be young producers that are just coming out of college and have a farm or ranch background and are looking to get involved in production agriculture in Wyoming,” says Keith. “The second place I see them coming from is people that are already working as a manager or foreman on an existing investor owned ranch.”
The third group Keith anticipates applying for the program is people who have been working on ranches, but are looking for the opportunity to start their own operation. However, applicants aren’t limited to any of those groups and will be selected based on merit and the potential to match with mentor ranches.
“We’ll start the process of selecting candidates and doing interview as soon as applications begin coming in,” says Keith. “Each scenario is going to have different needs and different things that each partner is looking for.”
Keith emphasizes that committee will suggest mentor ranches to candidates, but will not be making the final selections.
“We are going to let the mentor and candidate make the final selection. It won’t be our choice whether or not they will work together,” says Keith. “They need to see if their ideas match and the length of time they want to go through the program matches.”
Keith says the program will also require a business plan drawn up between the two parties to facilitate evaluation of the program and to make sure WAGON works as it was intended to.
“We’re going to see where it goes right now and not start out in a big way,” says Keith. “As it grows and develops, we’ll see where it goes.”
“In the future, I would like to see several mentor producers and young, beginning producers be involved in the program,” says Griffith. “I would like to see two or three a year come together at some point in the future.”
“I think it’s going to be great,” says Keith.
Be on the lookout for WAGON’s new website, to be released soon. Applications for the first year of WAGON are due on Dec. 31.
Wyoming livestock genetics go online through Business Council websiteWritten by Saige
The Wyoming livestock genetics industry can now be accessed at one location online through a recent project by the Wyoming Business Council’s livestock genetics program.
“The concept behind this page is to provide a one-stop website to access information on the livestock genetics industry in the state,” explains Wyoming Business Council Livestock Genetics Program Manager Scott Keith. “It will feature cattle and sheep, and, at some point, we’ll include the horse industry.”
The website was launched several weeks ago and can be found at wyolivestockgenetics.com.
“I’m trying to develop a place like the Wyoming Hay List or WyoBeef.com websites, where Wyoming seedstock producers can link their websites,” explains Keith. “If they don’t have a website and want to develop a page, we can provide information for producers to do that, and link those promotional pieces to the page.”
National companies and major industry businesses with headquarters outside Wyoming will not qualify to place a link on the page, allowing Wyoming business to be highlighted.
“There will be some criteria from the producer side to be involved. They have to be specifically raising and selling livestock for their genetics. It won’t be for people just marketing calves,” explains Keith. “For industry links, there has to be a direct tie to genetics.”
Keith says AI and ultrasound technicians with genetics businesses in Wyoming also qualify, and he will serve as the mediator to determine qualifying businesses and producers.
Keith emphasizes the website is not geared to provide free advertising for sales or events, but rather long-term promotion for Wyoming genetics operations and companies.
“I want to work to enhance what media outlets already do,” says Keith, noting the website is in its infancy and continues to develop.
“We’ll re-work the website as we expand,” says Keith. “Producer links, industry links and other links are available at the top of the page, and later the links will also feature producer logos. There is also a Facebook page for producers to use to interact.”
Keith explains the Facebook page will serve as a way to connect breeders and open lines of communication.
“Several years ago there were four producers from Argentina who met at SAREC and saw a need to develop a way to talk about production methods and operation beyond just semen or embryo sales to and from Argentina,” explains Keith. “An internal blog on our site is cumbersome, but the Facebook page provides a communication avenue. Also, if breeders have a contact page or email from their website, it provides instant access and opens communication.”
“Sales are changing,” says Keith. “The producers who are doing a good job of salesmanship are doing better than those who are just marketing.”
Keith says seedstock producers who identify the needs of commercial producers and explain how their product fits those needs have a lot better luck than those just putting up a sale advertisement.
“I see these trends through the production sale averages,” explains Keith. “Producers with higher production averages are those who are doing promotion on their own, rather than just advertising.”
Other links on the website will provide easy access to sale calendars and agriculture media sources related to Wyoming issues.
Along with links connecting producers and industry members, Wyoming Livestock Genetics also highlights the various components of the program, including livestock promotion opportunities at trade shows; one-on-one consulting and marketing plan development; assistance provided to various breed organizations; and international programs.
The website also allows Keith access to promotional materials for display during trade shows, making it easier for producers to provide display items to Keith.
“I can follow up with producers much easier through this website,” adds Keith.
Keith says, “I hope that I have a lot of people call or email me who are interested in being involved in the Wyoming livestock genetics website.”
Diversified Ag Tour showcases Johnson CoWritten by Saige
Buffalo–More than 70 people gathered from around the state on June 15 for the Ninth Annual Diversified Ag Tour, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming Women in Ag.
The tour boasted its largest group of participants this year in a daylong excursion in and around Buffalo. Six different enterprises operating in the area were featured, including Prairie House Pottery, TA Guest Ranch, IX Ranch, Last Loop Rope Art, Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and Carder Enterprises LLC/Wahoo Toppings.
Verna Lawrence, owner of Prairie House Pottery kicked off the tour. She learned how to throw pots in a class at Sheridan College and the experience prompted Lawrence to purchase a pottery wheel and kiln.
After 16 years, Prairie House Pottery is now a full-fledged business, according to Lawrence. She attends numerous craft shows every year where she sells her pieces.
“I love to sell it,” said Lawrence. “I love to give it away. I love to make it.”
The most popular items Lawrence offers are her “thumb bowls” that feature no handle, but a convenient and comfortable thumb grip.
A short trip just outside Buffalo to the TA Guest Ranch took the tour to the site of the Johnson County War. TA Guest Ranch’s deep history is visible in the original buildings, complete with bullet holes in the walls.
Barbara and Earl Madsen have owned TA Ranch and raised cattle for about 20 years. Tours and guests also frequent the ranch between May and October.
The TA Ranch was started in 1883, when a doctor from Laramie built the first bunkhouse. The ranch was homesteaded originally before being expanded by land purchase through the years, explains Madsen.
“Every fourth grade in Buffalo, Sheridan and Gillette visits here to learn about the war,” said Barbara.
The next stop on the tour, IX Ranch, features a satellite herd of Potter Ranch horses from Marana, Ariz. Sired by champion performance horses Dinero, MP Thriftwood and MP Rock the Creek, the high-end horses are raised and trained just outside Buffalo.
Owners Bryan and Rita Long run IX Ranch, breeding mares and selling their foals, and their daughter Bryna helps on the marketing end of the operation.
The studs boast a number of winnings in their rodeo careers. Dinero, a PRCA Rodeo champion, has over $600,000 in earnings, while Thriftwood has in excess of $150,000.
Two Shires are part of the herd, as well, and are intended to be a team by the end of the summer. Bryna explained that selective breeding of the horses to produce offspring with a silver gene will hopefully result in silver manes and tails in the foals.
IX Ranch also has a small herd of Corriente steers they sell for roping.
Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo is the first wool mill in Wyoming, and one of only a handful in the nation. Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos started the mill in 2004, and gathered used equipment from across the nation.
“We thought it was crazy that Wyoming didn’t have a way to manufacture wool at least into yarn, because at that time Wyoming was the number two wool producer in the nation,” said Spanos.
The mill takes wool from growers in Wyoming and washes, roves and spins it into useable yarn for sale. The finished products are marketed and sold largely in the handcrafting industry.
Producers are able to gain a higher profit by selling to Mountain Meadow Wool Mill because they reap the benefits of selling a finished product, and Spanos said producers made about twice as much last year by selling to the mill.
The mill also offers benefits to consumers, including labeling the origin of the fine wool.
“People are very interested in where their wool is coming from,” said Spanos.
Hostetler continued, “We were the first U.S. mill to provide that information to consumers, and we’re the only ones who offer that.”
Hostetler and Spanos continually work to expand and develop the operation.
“Today we just found out that we received a Phase 2 grant for treating our wastewater,” said Hostetler. “That is huge. They only fund a small portion of Phase 2 grants.”
The grant will enable the mill to create a wastewater system to extract the byproducts of washing the wool, and those byproducts can be sold, explained Hostetler. The work is being conducted with help from several universities.
Chele Needens, employee at Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and owner of Last Loop Rope Art, makes decorative pieces and furniture from used ropes.
Needens takes used ropes, acquired through bargaining or purchase, power washes them, and burns the rope together to make baskets, clocks, lamps and footstools, among other items.
“Anything that is circular and can be covered in rope, I can do,” said Needens. “I’ll try anything.”
After being featured in the April/May 2011 issue of Country Woman magazine, Needens’s business took off, she said. She continues to expand her business and make as much rope art as she can.
“This past December I started dying wildrags,” said Needens. “That has turned into a pretty good business, too.”
Needens buys the silk scarves for Wyo-Skies Wildrags and dyes them in a variety of colors and patterns.
The final stop on the tour was Carder Enterprise LLC/Wahoo Toppings, where Carolyn and Jim Carder make a number of toppings and food items ranging from steak sauce to ice cream toppings. Their wide variety of items are sold online and in stores around Wyoming.
Carolyn and Jim handpick all the chokecherries used in their products in the foothills of the Bighorns and transform it into delicious food products, including jalapeño–chokecherry jam and chokecherry drink mixes.
The Wyoming Business Council tour showed that Wyoming agriculture is more than cattle production and traditional farming, and each of the operations highlighted featured a different and thriving aspect of the diverse industry.