Final Report for FNC10-798
- Name: Calvin Adams
- Address:283 360th Road
- City, State, Zip Code: Beloit, Kansas 67420
- Phone: 785-792-6338
- Website: www.ksranchinstitute.org
- Project Title: Kansas Ranch and Range Management Internship Program
- Project Number: FNC 10-798
- Project Duration: 2 years plus one year of no cost extension
- Date of Report: 3/15/2014
Calvin Adams has a 400 acre custom livestock grazing operation. This operation is a combination of native warm season grasses and introduced cool season grasses.
Ted Alexander has a 7,000 acre custom livestock grazing operation. This operation is completely native warm season grasses.
Cade Rensink operates a fifth generation family ranch. The commercial cow herd is managed primarily on native warm season rangeland. There is also a small back-grounding yard and diversified hay enterprise.
These ranchers are great conservationists, being locally, regionally and nationally recognized for their skills in applying ecologically sound grazing systems and management practices to their land.
Develop a summer internship program where qualified and interested young people can gain hands-on ranch management experience from qualified and experienced rancher/mentors in animal husbandry, business management, grazing systems, and grass management.
A) Identified the need of getting young people back into agriculture, primarily into ranching, and disconnect between formal production agriculture education and practical experience.
B) Conducted a small survey of about 80 agricultural students at three different colleges whose responses indicated that about 30% were interested in the internship idea.
C) Based on the survey and a naïve idea than many young people with limited or no agricultural experience would apply for an internship with a renowned mentor, we contacted five prominent agricultural Junior Colleges and Universities.
D) The reality is that ranching is a very traditional business. There is a huge gap between the practical applicability of agriculture college courses and what ranchers need to know about managing a profitable ranch. Colleges often give cursory educational experience to sustainable grass management, the place where a cow spends the majority of her life, but spend a substantial amount of time touting the traditional and expensive bale, bag, and iron method of management. Additionally, family ranches and farms expect their student to return to their home operation each summer even though the student’s educational experience is more that of a laborer rather than the future owner/manager.
E) Consequently, we have been forced to recruit interns from less traditional backgrounds and locations by expanding our search to national internship websites and contacting influential individuals within underserved cultural communities.
Lynn Meyers introduced the idea of creating a student intern program in Kansas from his involvement in the Cowboy Logic Mentoring Program in Nebraska. Lynn and his wife also served as a mentor ranch for one of our interns.
Joan Benjamin, NCR-SARE Associate Regional Coordinator, encouraged us to attend a Transcending Sustainability Conference in Fairfield, Iowa. The ideas from this conference led to our extended search for interns within the underserved communities.
Keith and Eva Yearout, Keith Long and Pete Ferrell, Doug Peterson, Lynn Meyers, and Ted and Brian Alexander have served as mentors. These individuals spent a considerable amount of time and shared their expertise and experience to develop our young interns into capable ranch managers. These mentors also developed close friendships with our young men and women interns.
Weldon Slight, retired Dean of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Curtis, Nebraska, gave us insight and encouragement from his experiences in conducting an internship program.
Elmer Fink, Biology Department Chairman at Fort Hays State University, provided us with connections within the Latino and Native American communities.
Greg Stephens, Kansas State University Salina, Salina, Kansas, was instrumental in our approach and understanding of the Hispanic Community in Salina.
We formed the Kansas Ranch Institute for the purpose of meeting the practical educational needs of ranchers within the state. The Institute now has its own website which is critical in reaching the X and Y generation’s connected culture. We also developed a tri-fold brochure to distribute at meetings and conferences.
We surveyed 208 ranchers at five educational/training meetings to glean an understanding of what subjects the ranching community would like more information on and how they would like the material delivered.
We also positively influenced the lives of seven future ranch managers. One of the interns, Travis Panek, who interned with Ted and Brian Alexander, said, “The Ranch and Range Management Internship was truly the opportunity of a life time. I learned a vast amount of information that will help me for the rest of my life. All aspects of management were the focus of the internship including the grass, cattle, profitability, and overall long term management of the ranch”.
Exit interviews from both the interns and mentors indicate a high level of satisfaction with the internship program. Based on the intern’s assessed skill levels before and after the internship, the exit interview data support the fact that the interns improved their proficiency in the basic ranch activities such as livestock handling, pasture management, and decision making. The interns reported that the program was well designed to bridge the gap between their formal education and laborer experience and the ability to make necessary management decisions required to successfully operate a ranch business. The professional relationships the interns and mentors built during the summer also extends past their employment. An attractive component of the internship program is the continued commitment of the Institute and mentors to the intern’s success in completing their formal education and eventual ranch ownership. What Weldon Slight did at Curtis is the model we are following: “Helping interns become owner/operators rather than just hired hands”.
Our extensive literature search prior to our initial grant application found very few agriculture internship programs directed at range and ranch management. We found several internships associated with other agricultural businesses such as feedlot management, feed and seed companies, and intensive vegetable production but only two within the ranching business. We are now discovering why that may have happened.
Ranching is a very traditional business. Most of the nearly 670,000 ranchers in the U.S. are over 58 years old and have no interest in retirement or plans for divesting of their business. However, simply due to attrition their business will pass on to the next generation within the next 10-20 years.
Less than 30% of young ranchers have any formal education beyond High School. Those who do invest in a secondary educational experience typically major in Animal Science and very few enroll in ecology, range management, or economics courses, courses vital to ranch sustainability and profitability. It has also become apparent through this project that several subjects of major importance such as low stress livestock handling and economic and ecological response to drought are best learned from experienced mentors on the ranch.
Our initial objective was to develop a summer internship program where qualified and interested young people can gain hands-on ranch management experience from qualified and experienced rancher/mentors in animal husbandry, business management, grazing systems, and grass management. To accomplish this goal it was necessary to identify and recruit a cadre of mentors who were revered for their management prowess by their peers. We have been successful in recruiting mentors of this high caliber in Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. Drought conditions have reduced the number of available intern positions within this mentor group due to destocking decisions and reductions in annual income.
The ultimate objective of this project was to connect ranchers close to retirement age but without an apparent heir to the business with a well-trained, capable future owner/operator interested in purchasing a new ranch business. This goal has not been realized. Identifying current ranchers interested in finding a suitable buyer has proved extremely difficult. We are still wrestling with the proper way to proceed with this next step.
Both the interns and the mentors have benefitted directly from this project. The interns have a better understanding of those subjects important to sustaining a profitable agricultural business and the mentors have a new appreciation for the next generation of ranch managers.
We have made numerous informational and recruiting presentations at local, area, state and regional meetings. Based on the attendance, discussion, and questions following the presentation the idea and presentations were well received.
We created a website, ksranchinstitute.org, that has been successful in reaching students from within and outside of Kansas.
Our poster has been displayed at several meetings where students attended professional enhancement activities including the No-Till On the Plains annual meeting held in Salina and the Kansas Natural Resources Conference in Wichita.
1) Knowledgeable field staff should be available at least during the last two weeks prior to the grant deadlines.
2) Some projects may take more than two years to develop and may need support longer than the grants are currently able to offer.
3) Your support was critical to the success of our project and your staff have been very supportive and helpful. We wish to specifically acknowledge Joan Benjamin for her tireless efforts, encouragement, and assistance.