Wyoming Business Council sets path for the futureWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – The Wyoming Business Council (WBC) was created with the idea of promoting businesses across the state of Wyoming, and since it’s creation in the late 1990s, agriculture has always been at the center of the organization’s activity.
“When I was appointed CEO of WBC, I went to the Governor with the co-chairmen of our Board, and the Governor said, we feel like WBC is a bit like a farming operation in that we have a number of silos. If we can break those silos down, we can make things more efficient and improve the cooperation between WBC, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) and the University of Wyoming (UW),” explains WBC CEO Shawn Reese. “In breaking those down, the Governor said, do not lose sight of agriculture.”
WBC’s Agribusiness Division focuses on the agriculture-specific operations of the agency, and they work under the purpose of promoting and developing Wyoming’s agriculture industry.
“When WBC was created in 1998, the legislative directive included, ‘development of new, value-added agribusiness, product uses and markets for Wyoming agricultural products,’” says WBC Agribusiness Division Director Lisa Johnson.
Reese adds, “We address a number of what we call economic development building blocks, and we feel these are the foundation for what our mission is, which is to increase Wyoming’s prosperity.”
They provide leadership in public policy and infrastructure, which has been very successful over the past 15 years.
“We’ve invested $350 million or more in infrastructure across the state over that time,” Reese says. “We need to continue to invest in ourselves moving forward.”
Johnson notes that within the Agribusiness Division, two areas really stand at the forefront – agribusiness development and market development.
“The business development side includes our livestock program and value-added agriculture programs, where we try to help those existing agribusinesses expand or find new business that want to develop and add value to ag products,” Johnson says.
Within business development, the livestock programs have stayed constant over several years, with programs like Wyoming Verified and the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program.
“Within the livestock genetics, we still see a need to work with producers in helping provide protocol information, education and helping them become export-ready,” she explains. “We also try to bring trade leads and matching funds for international marketing.”
While cattle are a main focus, sheep production is also continuing to grow in importance for WBC.
“The other part of business development is the value-added ag,” Johnson comments. “That looks at helping those companies or people who have an idea about the production of products in Wyoming.”
Using Wyoming Authentic Beef out of Cody and Wyoming Malting Company in Pine Bluffs as examples, Johnson notes that they provide help for those businesses to start.
“Our other focus is in capturing added value and connecting to new markets,” Johnson says. “Over the summer, we’re concentrating on developing and expanding our Made in Wyoming, Grown in Wyoming program.”
The program has been around for several years and helps to brand products that are made and produced by Wyomingites and sold within the state.
“We want to make it about not just helping them with brand awareness but also looking at business development, connecting them to new markets and helping to make sure they have the production capacity to fulfill orders when they come in,” she continues.
“This all goes back to our enabling legislation, which talked about helping to develop those value-added ag enterprises,” Johnson says. “We really want to focus on developing new value, product uses and markets for Wyoming ag.”
With strong livestock programs in place, Johnson also says they help crop producers to find and enhance their markets, as well.
“Identifying alternative crops to grow, crop development and those kinds of things are really best handled by UW Extension, but we want to be there to help those producers find the best markets for their crops, which fits really nicely into our main program focus,” she says.
“We help to promote crops from Wyoming and find markets for them,” Johnson notes, adding that they also work extensively within the local food movement and in farmers’ market promotion. “We see a lot of interest and opportunity in local foods.”
Throughout the summer, WBC is actively involved in promoting Wyoming products, particularly through Wyoming Mercantile at the Wyoming State Fair.
“In the past, we’ve spread our efforts over several venues, but this year we’re really focusing on Wyoming Mercantile for a couple of reasons,” Johnson explains. “We want to really focus our attention and funds on not duplicating other efforts that are going on and really getting the best bang for our buck.”
Johnson notes that Wyoming Mercantile presents the opportunity to showcase a large number of Wyoming products in a location that sees heavy traffic.
“We’ll help to promote businesses in other venues and at other events, as well, by leveraging our resources to improve their visibility,” she says.
This summer, Johnson also comments that they will continue to develop and strengthen partnerships across the state.
“We have tried to be in close contact with WDA and UW Extension, and we’re working to cooperate and partner where we can,” she says. “We’re all facing the same budgetary cutbacks, and we don’t want to duplicate each other’s efforts. We think State Fair is one area we can have a big impact in.”
While working with outside partners is important, Johnson also notes that working within other divisions at WBC is also vital.
“Our division is working in concert with the WBC as a whole to talk about our strategy,” she comments. “When Shawn speaks about our strategy, he talks about thinking big, and that includes industrial development, and in our case, cattle and livestock programs.”
Reese also emphasizes thinking small, which Johnson recognizes as looking at business development and promoting small business through the Made in Wyoming program and other efforts.
“The other part is technology development,” she says. “WBC, as a group, is looking at different industry types to see how we can see overlap and help to grow existing businesses within the state.”
“Our division is really strong,” Johnson comments. “We have a group of people with really impressive backgrounds and some amazing industry experience. I’m really excited as we work together to promote agriculture in this state.”
Herd Rebuilding Slower in WyoWritten by John Ritten
By now I’m sure you’ve heard, the national herd is rebuilding. I figured I’d break that down to the state level.
How does Wyoming compare to the U.S. trend? Interestingly, we haven’t jumped on the rebuilding train quite like the rest of the nation according to the most recent numbers. I have to admit, I was a little surprised by that given the number of heifers that seemed to have been retained over the last couple of years.
The big surprise, at least to me, is, as a state, we haven’t recovered at all from the 2003 drought. Over the 20-year period prior to that event, we were in fact building numbers while the rest of the nation downsized. That drought had a pretty significant impact on our herd, and we’ve pretty much stabilized in its wake.
One reason we may not have rebuilt after that drought is that it took quite a while to rebound in terms of range condition.
According to USDA data, we didn’t really have good range conditions year until 2008. And, by then we had the spike in corn prices that put a lot of downward pressure on cattle prices. However, it is surprising to me that we didn’t see numbers ramp up after the last drought, as range conditions looked pretty good the last couple of years. Of course, high cattle prices during this period made selling heifers look rather attractive as opposed to holding them back and foregoing their value at the sale barn.
So, the big question is, are we going to jump on the rebuilding train now? With the dip in cattle prices, the opportunity cost of retaining heifers is lower than it has been, but many producers may also see that we have no guarantee of sustaining current price levels. So there’s still a risk that we are keeping back relatively expensive heifers only to have them produce calves in a few years that will be worth less than they're worth now.
How far and fast will prices continue to drop? I wish I knew, but the answer will ultimately determine if heifers retained now will be a wise or poor investment. I’m sure some people who bought heifers a few years back are rethinking that decision now. The Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) has posted both actual prices over the last 15 years and their projections for cattle prices in the coming years, as seen in the chart at the left. The data is forecasted specifically for the Southern Plains, but we would expect a similar trend in national prices.
The best guess at this point is that 2016 prices should be near where we ended in 2015, with only a small dip towards the end of the year. While this isn’t as good of a situation as we had in 2014, these prices are still better than any year prior to 2014. LMIC also projects a slight decrease in annual cow costs, but with the drop in prices, they figure per-cow profitability will likely be down 30 percent or so this year when compared to last year, which is still the third best over the last 20 years.
Given current inventory, we appear to have room to grow our herd. It looks as though we left the majority of our range resources in pretty good shape last year. If we get a decent spring we should be able to handle a few more animals in our state. Granted, according to the most recent drought monitor, over 70 percent of our state is in the “abnormally dry” or “moderately dry” category, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) seasonal outlook, available at cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions, the southeast portion of our state has a good chance at experiencing above normal precipitation over the next 90 days while the rest of the state looks likely to experience normal precipitation patterns.
It looks like if and how fast we expand will likely be more limited by confidence in the market than limited resources. If you think the market will continue downward, the smart money is to sell your heifer calves this year and start rebuilding when we hit the bottom. If you think the market will stabilize, then it may make some sense to rebuild now and take advantage of having more calves to sell over the coming years.
I think Steve Koontz down at Colorado State University said it best when referring to the cattle markets last fall when he said, “The outlook for 2016 is caution.”
I see four main things to keep an eye on when making rebuilding decisions.
First, spring precipitation is necessary, as we need rain at the right time to ensure proper forage supply. Corn crop progression will also be important, since a good corn crop will result in lower feed costs, allowing feeders to more aggressively bid for calves.
We have to also pay attention to domestic demand. Other meats are expected to see an increase in production, and consumers’ willingness to continue to pay high beef prices is important.
Finally, the global economy will remain a factor, as a continued strong dollar hurts exports, putting downward pressure on livestock prices.
I don’t envy your decision regarding rebuilding. And, while I doubt you’ll get many economists to tell you what you should do this year, rest assured, I’m sure there will be plenty of us telling you what you should have done in a few years.
Cattle Country Video, Market presents ‘new brand in regional marketing’Written by Heather Hamilton
Torrington — “We want to provide a more regional video auction that has more manageable numbers to draw buyers’ attention and to increase demand for this region’s high quality genetics,” states Torrington Livestock Markets co-owner Michael Schmitt of Torrington Livestock Market’s decision to establish Cattle Country Video.
“After being associated with a nationwide cattle video auction for 19 years it has become evident to us in the last four to five years that a more regional aspect of marketing needs to be created,” explains Schmitt. He adds that Western Video does a great job with video marketing and Torrington Livestock has enjoyed working with them for almost two decades.
Cattle Country Video will offer cattle from the Rocky Mountain and High Plains regions including Wyoming, Montana, western South Dakota, northern Colorado, northeast Utah and Nebraska. It will be headquartered in Torrington with local representatives across the service region. Valentine Livestock Auction is already on board as a member, and the Kearney and Lexington Livestock Markets are currently in the process of joining. T&L Livestock Auction in Utah is also involved.
“We think it is important to provide quality service to our region and get people in contact with a local representative. We don’t want to go to Oklahoma or New Mexico or California and market those cattle. We are marketing cattle we understand and sell every day,” says Schmitt.
“We are very blessed and fortunate to have such high quality cattle in this area. We believe the best cattle in the country are sold in this region and we get a lot of repeat customers because of the quality, genetics and performance,” adds Torrington Livestock Markets co-owner and auctioneer Lex Madden.
Cattle Country plans to provide more frequent, one- or two-day auctions with more manageable numbers as opposed to three- to five-day auctions that jump from region to region.
“Several buyers have commented that they are only interested in cattle from this region anyway,” says Madden.
“In talking to buyers last year we found it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to zone in for a three-day auction. If we have a six-hour sale that offers 30,000 head, it’s not hard to get a person to come to the sale or sit at the computer or in front of the TV and give us their undivided attention. Historically when we’ve sold cattle, a buyer will be interested in lots selling at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. We would lose his attention and have to call him back because he wasn’t interested in any lots in between since they were from different regions. This format will enable us to keep everyone’s attention at one time,” states Schmitt.
The first auction is scheduled for July 1 in Cheyenne at the Little America Hotel.
“It’s an important location to us because that’s where we started. Our first sale with Western was held there, so going back to Cheyenne is like a homecoming for us. It’s where we started and where we’re going to continue from,” says Schmitt.
Cattle Country’s second sale will be held Aug. 12 in Gering Nebraska at the civic center and a third sale is slated for Sept. 16 in Ogallala, Neb. at the Haythorne Ranch.
“Every sale will be broadcast on www.cattleusa.com, of which we are a member,” says Schmitt, adding that along with attending the sale, they will be made available on Dish Network TV.
“The industry started with a sale barn and went to satellite in the early 1980s. Then in the late 1990s and early 2000s it went to Internet so we are unraveling that and incorporating the Internet in our auctions. There are four or five different places buyers can access to bid on cattle. I think that’s great exposure,” states Schmitt.
Cattle Country’s aim is to make their auction user friendly while providing uniform, high quality cattle in a manageable time frame.
“There won’t be a break in regions during our sale. Cattle will all be from this region, which consistently provides powerful genetics that are in heavy demand by the industry and they will be offered in longer streams that buyers demand,” says Schmitt.
Madden states that work is being done with multiple breed organizations in addition to certified and natural programs to provide options to both buyers and sellers. Schmitt adds that Cattle Country will have its own age and source verification program in addition to providing verified vaccination programs for cattle.
“We are bringing different levels of success to cattle and trying to identify and provide niche marketing options to our customers,” says Madden.
Cattle Country will have the ability to send text and email alerts on specific lots and track the number of hits a lot receives online.
“We will have the catalog online and if one lot is receiving a lot of hits we can go in and see who is looking at it. Then we can send those people an email alert when that lot is five minutes from selling,” explains Schmitt.
“All we’re doing is using proven techniques with modern technology. We understand what video marketing is after being associated with it for 19 years. Most of the wrinkles have been worked out during that time and we are able to take the good pieces and drop some of the things we felt were deterrents,” says Schmitt.
Cattle Country Video will bring over 20 years cattle marketing experience and two world champion auctioneers to the table. A trusted group of people are involved in the business that understand the cattle industry and are committed to quality. Schmitt comments that while change is hard he has really enjoyed the process and is very excited about the future of Cattle Country Video.
“We’re very excited about it and we look forward to doing business with our old customers in addition to many new ones. We strive to be fair and honest with both our buyers and sellers because that’s the way we live and what we believe in,” adds Madden.
TaDa Soaps feature camelina oilWritten by Saige Albert
“We made soap for Christmas presents for everyone, and it was lots of fun,” comments Peterson. “Then, we started the family business – TaDa Soaps, LLC.”
Peterson’s daughters, Paige and Brekke, and her husband Bob are all part of the LLC, but she is the primary soap maker in the family.
TaDa Soap, LLC took off three-and-a-half years ago after Brekke’s research with camelina prompted Lynn to add camelina oil to their soap.
“Brekke went to MSU Bozeman and went into bioscience and plant science. She started working with camelina oil because it is so high in Omega-3 and natural vitamin E,” says Peterson. “Brekke came home and told me she had to do something else with camelina for her Master’s thesis, and that’s when I started putting it in soap.”
Camelina is used widely for livestock feed, biofuels and health products.
“Camelina is an amazing product,” says Peterson. “They are using the meal from pressed seeds to feed livestock for Omega-3 eggs and beef. It is also used as a biofuel by Air Force jets. Camelina is used in the cosmetic industry as a skin restorative, as well as on burn victims and racing horses.”
Camelina oil is not approved for human consumption, but provides benefits for the skin, because of the increased vitamin content.
“People love it,” says Peterson. “It makes your skin feel yummy.”
When her daughters moved out, Peterson took over the basement of their house to expand production and joined the local art co-op.
In producing her soaps, Peterson makes either 35 or 75 bars at a time.
“I generally make soap all morning and pour it,” explains Peterson. “The next day I turn it out and let it dry for several weeks. Soap lasts longer the drier it is.”
Next, Peterson polishes and packages the product.
“It usually takes a month from the time I start until it goes out the door,” she comments. “Some people make it so they can have it out the door by the end of the week, but I like the way I do it.”
By taking extra time to dry her soaps for several weeks, TaDa soaps don’t shrink and the packaging lasts longer.
Peterson adds that TaDa Soap is handmade from start to finish.
“I have no machinery. It’s hand mixed, hand poured, cut, polished and packaged by hand,” she explains.
Because she didn’t want a typical packaging, Peterson sells her soaps in boxes made of 100 percent recycled craft paper with a cutout so people can feel and smell it.
“You have to be able to smell the soap,” says Peterson, adding, “We try to keep this as light and fun as possible.”
TaDa soap boxes all say “Made with laughs and giggles and CAMELINA oil by the SOAP QUEENS,” and they also have instructions to “mix with water and enjoy.” Peterson notes that they try to add fun graphics for the holiday season as well, featuring coal or “Elfin magic” to embrace the seasonal spirit.
The business keeps growing as Peterson attends various craft and art shows and people spread the word.
“It grows in funny little ways and by word of mouth,” Peterson comments. “For example, I was at a bed and breakfast and mentioned TaDa soap. Now they want to use it. TaDa has a mind of its own.”
She currently has around 35 scents, along with special seasonal scents.
“We are regrouping and will have fewer basic soaps and do seasonal soaps,” says Peterson of her future plans.
Some of the challenges that Peterson experiences include estimating how much soap to make and keeping up with demand.
“If I make 300 bars of a scent, I don’t know if I’ll need more or not be able to sell it,” says Peterson, mentioning that she runs the business by herself, and she keeps very busy.
To market her soaps, Peterson travels around Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, hitting farmer’s markets, tourist shops and trade shows.
“We hope to do more farmer’s markets because I have found that they are wonderful. Brekke is doing her PhD at the University of Wyoming, so I hope to expand to the Laramie Farmer’s Market,” says Peterson. “We didn’t used to do a lot of art shows, but we really do well there. I’m hoping to move into doing more artsy shows.”
Peterson also sells her product at wedding shows, craft bazaars and mom-and-pop stores, but she says she’s hoping to move in new directions to address her target markets.
“We’re trying to change to reflect what really works well for us,” says Peterson.
Peterson is also expanding her website and Facebook page and is looking at other online platforms to sell TaDa soaps.
“People love our soaps,” she adds. “They like the way it smells, the way it makes their skin feel and the packaging. Once people try it, they get hooked.”
Local food marketing goes online through co-opsWritten by Ch
The program’s pilot project, made possible by a USDA specialty crops grant through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, will include Platte, Goshen, Laramie and possibly Albany County at the outset.
The program, operated under the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center, will be modeled after existing co-ops in Oklahoma, Nebraska and on the Front Range of Colorado.
“It’s a double-ended co-op where both the producers and customers are members,” explains RMFU Wyoming Representative Scott Zimmerman. “Customers can take a look online of what is offered, then order products directly from producers.”
Zimmerman says Oklahoma has a phenomenal effort – their co-op facilitates $60,000 each month in business. “The potential for this kind of co-op is vast,” he says.
The Colorado-based High Plains Food Co-op’s (HPFC) website slogan is, “We bring the farmer’s market to you.” The co-op unites producers and consumers with an interest in locally grown food and other locally produced products.
Appealing to recent food trends, the HPFC says it “strives to be a business that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially just. To foster a local food community and promote a culture of stewardship by cultivating farmer-consumer relationships, promoting the enjoyment of healthful food, increasing food security through diversity, and enhancing overall rural sustainability.”
The HPFC offers a variety of products including vegetables, meats, grains, flours, eggs, spice mixes, breads, pies, tea, herbs and pet supplies, to name a few.
According to its website, HPFC acts as the agent of producer members, posting and marketing the products the producers have for sale, receiving orders, providing delivery to other members of the cooperative, collecting from the consumers and forwarding payments to producers.
On the customer side, HPFC provides an online catalog of available local food products, including information about how and where the products were grown and processed. It arranges for food to be delivered and receives and processes payments.
On each order producers are assessed a 15 percent co-op fee, which goes toward the delivery process and the facilitation work in between. A check is mailed to the producer when delivery is complete. Each consumer has a 10 percent fee added to each order to help cover the same costs.
Although a few Wyoming producers are a part of the HPFC on the Front Range, Zimmerman says it’s a limited basis.
“Our plan is to replicate those co-ops on a limited basis in a trial project in Wyoming, and if it works we’ll go statewide,” says Zimmerman.
The southeastern counties were chosen for the pilot project to contain the initial transportation and logistics.
Although the funding was awarded in mid-October, Zimmerman says he doesn’t know exactly when it will be received. “There’s no timetable yet, but our intention is to start organizing the first of the year and have it up by next spring,” he says.