Continuing the heritage on the Wilson Farm - Wilson family looks to the future, continues traditionWritten by Rebecca Colnar
Alta – Heritage is important to the Wilson family. Lorin Wilson’s great grandfather, Thomas R. Wilson, was one of the first settlers in Alta.
“He was a true pioneer in Teton County even before it was called Teton County,” Lorin explains. “He traveled here from Midway, Utah in 1888, did some exploring and decided it was a good place to live. He brought his family here in 1889. He was very involved in the community and served four terms in the state legislature starting in 1904.”
The ranch still has some of the original buildings, which are a great reminder of the heritage of one of the oldest families in the area.
The place has always been used for agriculture.
“We used to do farming and ranching, primarily sheep, but for the last 15 years I’ve just farmed,” says Lorin. “This place has always had farming, but we used to run about 1,000 head of sheep. We were like most of the places, at the time. We had farming and ran some cattle and sheep.
He continues, “However, when the dollar was so high that Australia and New Zealand dumped lamb and wool on the market cheaper than we could raise it, it didn’t make economic sense to keep ranching, so we sold most of the sheep. Now all we do is farm.”
Barley is the principal crop at Wilson’s, as the short growing season is not conducive to raising wheat.
“We sit at 6,500 feet. However, since last winter was so mild, we could get in the fields early, so I thought I’d try planting spring wheat. We hadn’t planted wheat here since the set aside days when we planted winter wheat,” Lorin says. “Barley works well here as it has a short growing season.”
“We usually harvest our barley around the middle of September through the end of October. However, with this year being so warm, we were able to plant in April and harvest the barley by mid-September,” he notes. “We truck our grain crops about 50 miles to an Idaho elevator where it is used for malting. The barley that isn’t high enough quality is used in animal feed for the dairies and feedlots.”
The Wilsons also grow hay for the horse market in Jackson.
“We’ve got straight alfalfa, straight grass and an alfalfa mix,” explains Lorin. “We bale both small and big squares. The big squares are easy to ship. I have someone in Jackson who handles hay delivery. We also have people who like to come out to our hay sheds and pick up their own hay.”
Every farm around the area used to grow seed potatoes, as well, but that has declined, and now there are very few places that do, Lorin says.
“It’s a good area to grow them, but it’s a very capital intensive crop, so farmers either get big or get out,” he comments.
The joys of ag
Lorin enjoys the entire process of working the ground and seeing plants start to germinate.
“It’s like raising livestock and seeing a new calf or lamb grow. When one farms, they plant those seeds and see new growth,” he explains. “We get to watch the whole creative process from start to finish, and we can see the fruits of our labor on an annual basis.”
He agrees one of the challenges of farm marketing is getting the best price they can.
“Farmers have had some amazing crop prices the last few years, but that’s not going to continue. It’s coming down. The challenge is not to get over extended in those good times, because it swings around just like everything else,” Lorin says. “Another challenge is learning to use the new technology in farm equipment.”
“From a farming perspective, I look at my dad who is 90. When he grew up here they used horses for everything. He is amazed what one person can do today compared to what one person could do when he was a boy. I look at what he’s seen, transitioning from horses to modern farming technology, and it’s quite a leap. He often reminds me how efficient we are able to be today. He drives around the place every day and observes what’s going on,” Lorin says with a smile.
Legacy of the land
It’s that legacy and caring for the land that keep the Wilsons farming.
“A lot of people know that the land in a recreational area is very valuable, and people ask why we don’t sell out. Our roots are deep here. My son is in college studying agribusiness and he’s interested in carrying on the family farm,” Lorin says. “We hope future generations preserve our heritage. We love Wyoming.”