• Communicate to rural and urban audiences the commitment of Chico Basin Ranch and other agricultural producers to create and maintain healthy plant, animal and human communities
• Explore and document the interest of nearby urban populations to support a producer who produces healthy food, wildlife and a well functioning natural landscape
• Create a direct-marketing network and a working database of people interested in 1) contributing to conservation projects and 2) purchasing a diverse mix of ranch products including meat, vegetables, recreational opportunities and other products
Traditional ranching operations suffer from limited financial security because of volatile market cycles and intense industry competition. The natural resources of ranches are often undervalued and underutilized by traditional agriculture.
Box T. Partners, LLC, the management company of the Chico Basin Ranch, organized this project to find ways to market to people who would financially support a ranch that tried to conserve its natural resources. Because the ranch is large (87,000 acres) and close to an urban area (35 minutes from Colorado Springs), it has an opportunity to show how a ranch can survive economically by diversifying its operations. The ranch raises cattle, but it also grows alternative produce and offers recreational and educational opportunities for people who want to experience a working ranch.
“We believe that there is a strong desire for people living in nearby Front Range cities to become involved and support a real working ranch that has high conservation values,” the group says.
Chico Basin Ranch identified groups it believed had a potential interest in the conservation and direct-marketing relationship it proposed, then created and mailed to them an annual newsletter with 7,600 recipients. The newsletter included a description of the proposed relationship and a survey that asked about the recipient’s perception of ranches, their interest in the proposed relationship and contact information. The ranch also developed a bimonthly newsletter that it sent to those showing an interest in the marketing network as well as those already enrolled in some type of membership at the ranch – fishing, hunting or bird watching.)
Most of the newsletters went to members of the Nature Conservancy of Colorado along the Front Range, with 400 sent to the general ranch mailing list and others handed out to groups that visited the ranch. The visitors included artists, teachers, media, civic organizations, historians and environmentalists.
Of 7,600 surveys sent, 85 were returned. The results showed that, as had been expected, people are concerned about the quality and safety their food – 87% responded they are somewhat or very concerned. Eighty-two percent said they value the opportunity to buy organic produce and grass-fed meat directly from producers. Nearly half said they were at least somewhat willing to volunteer time or labor on a ranch in exchange for food.
An overwhelming percentage of respondents said large open spaces provided by working ranches are important to the persistence of biodiversity and for aesthetic and intrinsic reasons. Most said that working ranches contribute to the quality of life.
About 75% said they were at least somewhat interested in some type of community supported agriculture relationship in which they would receive a share of the year’s harvest in exchange for sharing in the season’s expenses or by contributing time and labor. The willingness to pay varied and would be based on the kinds and amounts of products available.
Few of the respondents expressed any interest in the All-Inclusive Ranch Membership, which includes full access to the ranch’s amenities and recreational opportunities. It appears that this product is appropriate for a small niche of customers who will pay a high price for exclusivity, the project’s final report says.
From the accumulated responses, the project team concludes that the respondents value working ranches, and many are willing to enter into some type of direct relationship with a producer.
“This relationship is the ‘bridge’ between the rural agricultural and urban/suburban community that CBR believes must be created for many producers to remain economically viable,” says the final report.
Chico Basin Ranch sees the benefits of this project as increased profitability and stability for producers through diversification and development of new markets.
“We believe that CBR’s successes at increasing profits through diversification will stand as a model to other producers,” says the report.
The diversification imbedded in this model will make producers less reliant on forage production when drought requires stock removal. With a diverse source of income few producers can afford lower stocking levels.
Further, increasing communication between urban consumers and rural producers will benefit both groups, putting the consumer in touch with a source of healthy food and bringing a committed producer to the market. Tangible benefits to the producer, says the project’s final report, are 1) having a market willing to pay a premium for knowing where and how their food is produced, and 2) an opportunity to create value-adding enterprises as the direct market grows.
Responses from two survey recipients illustrate the perceptions of Chico Basin Ranch’s efforts.
“I received The Long View. It was great. I was inspired that ranchers and conservationists who do have common goals could come together. I’m impressed and excited about the future. Keep up the good work.”
“A good rancher has had to care for the total environment in order to keep the ranch profitable through the years. This whole idea is great – do hope people can be educated and find interest in ‘ownership.’ I am 89 years old; would have loved this much earlier.”
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
Even though Chico Basin Ranch’s diverse enterprises are in the embryonic stages and the findings of the project have yet to be distributed, several ranchers that received CBR’s newsletter – in Colorado, Wyoming and Washington – have expressed interest in direct marketing and management of recreational and guest services.
One rancher from southwestern Colorado, who attended a diversification workshop at CBR, left with a list of ideas including rock climbing, horse packing, bird watching, hunting, steer roping and others.
In addition, neighbors doing limited direct marketing have been encouraged by the results of Chico Basin Ranch’s efforts.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
None was listed for this project.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Educational materials from this project include the annual newsletter, The Long View, seven issues of the Saddlehouse bimonthly newsletter, a CBR bird list and a Web site, www.chicobasinranch.com.
Chico Basin ranch is the only producer formally involved in the project. Many farmers and ranchers attended CBR-sponsored events: 18 at workshops on diversification and range monitoring; 200 at a Holistic Management Whole Land, Healthy People Conference in July 2001; 20 at a grazing and alternative weed management meeting in February 2002; and 50 at the Chico Basin Symposium sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.