- Project Duration: 2 years plus one year of no-cost extension
- Date of Report: 3/10/2016
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 grazing systems and management practices to the land.
Previous SARE Grants: FNC07-660, FNC09-732, and FNC10-798
The number one goal of this project was to develop a student summer internship program where qualified and interested young people could gain hands-on experience from qualified and experienced rancher/mentors in animal husbandry, business management, grazing systems, and grass management.
Additionally, we wanted to extend the project to include multiple states in a “Great Plains” project coordinated through each state’s existing Grazing Lands Coalition organization. We hope to submit an NCR-SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) proposal soon.
There is a need for ranch internships and additional range and pasture management training. Most of the nearly 670,000 ranchers in the U.S. are over 58 years old and will pass their businesses on to the next generation within the next 10 years. Many of these businesses, extremely important to their local community, will transfer to other family members. However, there are a significant number of ranchers who don’t have a family member interested in acquiring the business.
These ranchers often sell the assets of the operation to other members of the community; however, as is too often the case, the new owners aren’t residents of the county or state. The result is a net decrease in the number of businesses and families within the rural community.
Because of our extensive literature search prior to our initial grant application we knew there had been 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.
The objective of this project was to provide the ranchers without an apparent heir well trained young people who can become that next generation of ranch owner. The owners who are going to retire and do not have an heir but recognize the importance of their business to the community, and who may want to preserve their legacy, these are the ones we want to influence — it is these soon to retire operators who we are targeting building relationships with.
It has become very apparent that several subjects of major importance to ranch business success such as plant identification, forage production, forage management, and responsiveness to drought are not taught to successive generations on the ranch. Traditional educational institutions teach the scientific theory of these subjects but don’t provide the students with the practical application as it relates to sustainable and/or profitable implementation.
- We identified the need to get young people to return to the business of agriculture, more specifically ranching since, according the national census report, there has been a steady decrease in the number of young ranchers entering into that segment of the industry
- We also identified a serious disconnect between formalized production agriculture education and practical experience and application.
- A small survey of about 80 agricultural students from three different state colleges was conducted. The responses to the survey indicated that about 30% of the students in agriculture are interested in participating in some type of formal internship training opportunity.
- During the initial roll-out of this project, we personally contacted at least one instructor or professor at nine of the state’s Junior Colleges and two State Universities which offer agricultural classes in their curriculum. We, perhaps naïvely, thought several of the agriculture students with little or no actual ranching background or experience would be enticed and/or encouraged to apply for an internship that offered an opportunity to train with a regionally or nationally renowned rancher/mentor. Unfortunately that was not the case. What we found was a distinct disconnect between agricultural college courses and the practical application of what ranchers need to know about managing a profitable ranch. Practically speaking, sustainable grass management often only gets a cursory time allotment while the more traditional and usually expensive bag and bale method of management receives the substantial amount of the classroom time and training effort. In addition, we found that family ranches also expect their student to return to the family ranching operation each summer to serve as a laborer rather than the future owner/manager heir.
- Consequently we turned our recruitment efforts toward students from less traditional backgrounds and locations and expanded our search to national internship websites and contacted influential individuals within the underserved cultural communities. While this activity met with some success it also returned relatively few intern applications.
- Finally, we made a conscious effort to contact and meet with the faculty who supervise the summer internships at Kansas State University and Colorado State University. Creating these personal relationships paid huge dividends. These universities embraced our vision and posted our internship resulting in 10 intern applications for Kansas State University this spring, a number much larger than any we had previously achieved.
- During this same time we were also diligently working to expand our mentor base through presentations at rancher attended grazing events and meetings. The ranching community encouraged us to expand our mentor recruitment efforts into a multi-state, regional “Great Plains” program. We are now working with several rancher organizations to create the framework required to initiate this expansion.
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.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
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 today’s socially connected electronic 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 about and how they would like the material delivered.
We also positively influenced the lives of seven future ranch managers. Travis Panek, who interned with Ted and Brian Alexander, said, “The Ranch and Range Management Internship was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. 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 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 also reported that this type of internship program is well designed to bridge the gap between their formal education and laborer experience and the management decisions necessary to successfully operate a ranch business. The professional relationships the interns and mentors build during the summer also extends past their employment. An attractive component of the internship program is the Kansas Ranch Institute’s and rancher/mentor’s continued commitment to the intern’s success in completing their formal education and eventual ranch ownership/management. What Weldon Slight did at Curtis is the model we are following: helping interns become owner/operators/managers rather than just hired hands.
Most importantly, we have initiated efforts to expand our Kansas program into a regional “Great Plains” program, and will coordinate it through the various state Grazing Lands Coalitions (GLC). We now have a formal working relationship with the Kansas GLC, and the Nebraska GLC, such that they can participate as partners on grant applications. We are also actively engaged in developing a partnership with the Texas GLC. In the future, we plan to partner in a similar fashion with Colorado GLC and North Dakota GLC, based on their expressed interest following our presentation at the Sixth National Grazing Lands Coalition conference in Dallas.
Educational & Outreach Activities
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 they were well received.
We created a website, www.ksranchinstitute.org, which has been successful in reaching students from within and outside of Kansas.
Our posters have been displayed at several meetings where students attended professional enhancement activities including the No-Till on the Plains meeting held in Salina and the Kansas Natural Resources Conference in Wichita.
Lastly, we made a major presentation at the 6th National Conference on Grazing Lands held in Dallas, Texas on Dec 13-16, 2015. See following abstract:
Improving Rangelands One Mentor at a Time: A Roadmap to Begin a Regional Internship and Mentoring Program across the High Plains
Calvin Adams, Lynn Myers, Cade Rensink, Brent Plugge, and Ron Bolze
ABSTRACT: In every state there are ranch managers who have been recognized by their peers for their successful work in stewardship and conservation. The Nebraska Cowboy Logic Stewardship Network taps those individuals in a peer-to-peer mentoring program for beginning ranchers. Conversely, the Kansas Ranch Institute’s Internship program is built around a mentor-to-student “hands-on” experience for university students. Both the mentoring and internships are very successful in transferring information and, maybe more importantly, the experience of successful ranchers to the next ranching generation. The need for better communication and interaction between ranching generations is a common sense theme across the High Plains and beyond, and State Grazing Lands Coalitions have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in addressing the issue. As small businesses, successful ranches are the lifeblood of rural America. While technology has and will continue to provide instant access to information, there is significant value in the collective wisdom of the current ranching generation. In a real and basic sense, mentoring and internships are simply the best way to transfer that wisdom and experience from generation to generation, ensuring community maintenance and development. Grazing Lands Coalitions are committed to the enrichment of our rural ranching community and expanding these programs across our region through mentoring and internship programs provides a way for the peer recognized ranchers in each state to partner with State Grazing Lands Coalitions and share resources and experiences across generations. Combining tradition with innovation is a great way for Grazing Lands Coalitions to build a strong ranching future. Kansas and Nebraska have experienced what a mentoring program might encompass, and now the challenge is to spread this concept to solidify its use in a wider area. This presentation will address the challenges, opportunities and impacts of rancher-to-rancher mentors and student internships.
As a result of this presentation, Texas, Colorado, and North Dakota have expressed an interest in joining our program.
Mary Howell, Kansas Farmers Union, assisted with ranch visits and student interviews, coordinated the development of enrichment activities, and assisted with program evaluation. She was also instrumental in being an advisor on the grant writing.
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, Pete Ferrell, Doug Peterson, Lynn Meyers, and Ted and Brian Alexander 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.
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 within the Hispanic Community.
Chad Ellis, The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation, and current president, National Grazing Lands Coalition, has been most helpful in facilitating our efforts to expand our program.
Ron Bolze, Coordinator, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, has been instrumental in developing our partnership with Nebraska.
Brent Plugge UNL Educator, Buffalo County Nebraska, has become instrumental in developing the multi-state effort.
- Knowledgeable field staff should be available at least during the last two weeks prior to the grant deadlines.
- Some projects may take more than two years to develop and may need support longer than the grants are currently able to offer.
- Your support was critical to the success of our project and your staff has been very supportive and helpful. We wish to specifically acknowledge Joan Benjamin for her tireless efforts, encouragement, and assistance.
- The regionalization (North Central, South, etc.) of the SARE program is a major detriment to our efforts to develop a regional program that crosses those regional boundries (from the Canadian Border to the Gulf of Mexico).