Kansas Ranch and Range Management Internship Phase II

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $22,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Calvin Adams
Adams Ranch

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, mineral supplements, pasture fertility, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, stocking rate, watering systems, feed/forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: eradication, field monitoring/scouting, flame, physical control, prevention, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, new business opportunities, partnerships, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    This is a continuation of our previous SARE Grant (FNC10-798) which matches the next generation of interns/ranchers/resource managers with qualified mentors who have been recognized by their peers within the ranching community. The interns will learn the nuts and bolts of range and ranch management in a one-on-one relationship with their mentors.

    Collaborators are three Kansas ranchers: Calvin Adams, Ted Alexander, and Cade Rensink.

    Calvin Adams. My Wife Sue and I operate a 450 acre grass farm in SE Mitchell County, Kansas (North Central KS). Generally we use the management intensive grazing system on all of our grass which I learned from two Management Intensive Grazing schools taught by Jim Gerrish at the Missouri Forage Systems Research Center. We have custom grazed cattle for some time now, taking one group from green-up in spring to mid-July and a second group from mid-September to December each year. The last 12 years I have collected data to evaluate annual forage production, species composition and range and pasture trend and health. Analysis of this data provides the basis for many of our management decisions. I am a co-founder of our local Smoky Hills Graziers Association and am on the board of directors of the Kansas Graziers Association and Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition. Lastly, I sit on the NRCS Kansas Technical Committee with active participation in the EQIP subcommittee. In 2009 the Kansas Chapter of Society for Range Management awarded me their Excellence in Rangeland Management Award.

    Ted Alexander. The Alexander Ranch is comprised of 7,000 acres in the Red Hills of South Central Kansas. Different types of grazing systems have been implemented on the ranch over the years to increase production of desirable forage species and control rest periods and the degree of forage use by cattle while at the same time harvesting more beef per acre than reported by other area ranches. The Alexander Ranch management team has been recognized by:
    • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association - Region VII Environmental Stewardship Award, 2007
    • Kansas Chapter of The National Wildlife Federation – Farmer/Rancher Conservationist Award, 2001
    • Kansas Chapter Society for Range Management - Excellence in Grazing Management Award
    • Kansas Grazing Land Coalition – First Chairman and Advisory Board Member
    • Comanche Pool Prairie Resource Foundation - Board of Trustees and Founding Member

    Cade Rensink. I operate a sixth-generation family ranch along with my father in western Ottawa County, KS. Our commercial cowherd is managed primarily on native grassland. We also run a small backgrounding yard and stocker operation. I have a B.S. in Animal Science and an M.S. in Range Science from Kansas State University. I have 10+ years of ranch consultation experience in eastern and central Kansas assisting producers with production strategies for grazing livestock and integrated resource management. I am the immediate Past President of the Kansas Section of the Society for Range Management and sit on the Board of Directors of the Kansas Forage & Grassland Council, Ranchland Trust of Kansas, Ottawa County Farm Bureau Association.

    This proposal will fund the continuation and enhancement of the training activities we began under our previously funded SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant (FNC10-798 Kansas Ranch and Range Management Internship Program).

    In our original proposal we described in detail how we planned to develop a summer internship program where qualified young people would be paired with experienced rancher/mentors so they could learn the nuts-and-bolts of ranch management in a one-on-one relationship. According to our exit interview and questionnaire over the past two years, all of the interns we have placed and all of the rancher/ mentors who have hosted interns have indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the program. We have a program model that is working. Our data clearly establishes that the internship model is the correct method to successfully transfer experience and wisdom from one generation to the next within the ranching industry.

    We have also been successful in recruiting a small cadre of highly qualified ranchers to serve as mentors. Geographically they range from the sand hills of Nebraska and across Kansas. In size their businesses range from a few hundred acres to 43,000 acres. We continue to add new mentors slowly as we find highly qualified ranchers who are also willing to commit the added time and effort required to be a dedicated mentor.

    Our success has been limited in recruiting desired numbers of potential interns. In our initial application we were a bit naïve and underestimated how complex and entrenched the industrial/production agriculture training model is within our colleges and universities. There is also a large amount of pressure and expectation of the student to return to the family farm during the summer. Both of these issues limit the participation opportunities from traditional agricultural students.

    Needless to say the need to attract young people back into the ranching industry still exists. Over a decade ago the USDA-ERS researchers predicted that only 250,000 farm entrants will replace the approximately 500,000 farmers who will retire between 1992 and 2002. “That so few young people are going into farming is one of the most critical problems of American culture” - W. Berry, 1997.

    We feel that there are three ways of recruiting more traditional students into the program. The first is by creating a unique, quality educational product which will occur with time and through the commitment of the mentor’s efforts. We will further the effort by contacting select FFA Chapters throughout the state that have shown proficiencies in environmental stewardship contests. Finally, we are exploring an educational partnership with both the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau. These organizations can help with the recruiting, brand recognition, and possibly scholarships for the interns.

    Our efforts over the last two years demonstrate that we have an effective working methodology. Our procedures appear to be well accepted and are providing significant information and education to the interns as well as the mentors. We, therefore, do not propose changing those procedures. This grant is intended to widen the net and extend the base for dealing with the major problem in agriculture which is replacing retiring ranchers with new, well-trained ranch entrepreneurs rather than large, absentee corporations.

    Based on discussions with Joan Benjamin and subsequently participating in the Transcending Sustainability Conference in Fairfield, Iowa in May of 2012, we found that the next generation of ranch business owners may come from non-traditional agriculture backgrounds and indicates that our recruiting efforts could and should be expanded into different areas. We propose to address the intern recruiting problem in two ways;
    1) by expanding our recruiting efforts through personal contacts with leaders in at least four of the under-served audiences within the state, and
    2) using existing internship websites that successfully advertise and recruit in urban communities nationwide.

    Through personal contacts we have contacted the Director of Educational Services of the Pottawatomie Nation and are listed on their placement bulletin board. We are also approaching the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. We have recently entered into discussions with Vicki Hebb concerning tribal high school and college student internship opportunities in South Dakota. We anticipate contact with North Dakota State University to explore their Native American programs. The Latino community will be contacted through the FHSU Outreach Coordinator located in Garden City. We will also work closely with Greg Stephens, Casas y tierras familiars Project Coordinator, Kansas State University of Salina to identify other community contacts. We are currently working with the Kansas Farmers Union and the State Adjutant General to identify veterans interested in beginning their ranch career by participating in our training program for a summer. The Nicodemus Agriculture Day Coordinator, Angela Bates, will provide contact information and insight into recruiting interns from the African American community statewide. Internship websites such as Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) and World Opportunities in Organic Farming (WOOF) will be utilized to expand our recruiting efforts to the urban communities. Furthermore, we successfully added our internship applications to Oklahoma State University and Colorado State University Agriculture Departments and through their Diversity Placement Department as well as Berea College in Kentucky.

    For our recruiting efforts we originally designed a pamphlet which was effective and very important to distribute during our college classroom visits and personal contacts and a website for electronic advertisement and additional information. Experience has shown us that both forms of advertisement are necessary but the website has become our most important medium of communication with today’s generation as our recruiting efforts expand. We have plans to elaborate and refine our website to become a better representation of our program as well as add an internship blog and a facebook page for more direct access to the interns and mentors.

    The internship program is only one phase of a larger more complex issue. Smooth ranch ownership transitions are complicated by generational needs, tax issues, social attitudes, and recreational landowner competition. As we have developed the internship program it has become glaringly apparent that there is a serious disconnect between generations and within communities on the importance and commitment of bringing new, young business owners back to the ranch. Solving these difficult social issues will take more time and require additional efforts from communities, government, and universities; however, we feel that the internship program is an important effort in reversing a trend that has been going on for decades. We view the internship program as a starting point.

    This year we formed the Kansas Ranch Institute with the intent of meeting the practical educational needs of ranchers within the state. Based on the analysis of 208 surveys distributed at five educational/training meetings last winter, we have a better understanding of what information the ranching community is requesting and how to package and deliver that material across the state. In short, we are committed to the rancher education business for the long haul. We hope you choose to join us in this endeavor.

    The Annual Schedule:
    • October (Fall Semester) – Personally visit participating schools and disseminate announcements and application forms to nine schools, websites, and other entities.
    • Early February – Applications are screened and 8 to 10 interns are selected for an interview.
    • Late February – A selection committee of program staff and at least four mentors will conduct applicant interviews and select the best intern candidates for the program.
    • March – Each mentor will invite 2-3 potential interns to visit their respective ranch for an additional interview and finalize their selection.
    • May – A training day will be held with successful interns and their mentors on issues such as safety, progress reporting, selecting enrichment workshop topics, etc. Mentors, staff, coordinator, and interns will develop an individual training plan to meet the initial goals and objectives of each intern and mentor during the summer.
    • May - August – Interns are placed with mentors with monthly enrichment workshops rotated through participating mentor ranches on topics of interest. The coordinator will make two site visits to each ranch and evaluate how the intern and mentor are achieving their goals or mediating any adjustments necessary to be successful.
    • August – Program staff and the coordinator will hold wrap-up interviews with interns and mentors and complete a final written report from each.
    • September - Interns will make at least one oral presentation describing their internship experience to a college class or professional organization meeting.

    For our previous proposal (FNC10-798) we did an extensive literature review that included all of the SARE databases, and a search by the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) at the National Agriculture Library (NAL) of the AGRICOLA and CAB Abstracts data bases. For this application we simply searched the last two years (we updated our search). We found nothing new that was relevant to our project. We found many projects that had summer internship programs in agriculture, but very few that dealt with grass/range management. Only two were directly relevant: Northeast SARE FNEO6-568 and North Central SARE FNC04-545. FNEO6-568 was a project in upstate New York to create a livestock internship program devoted to pasture-based agriculture. We utilized a number of their procedures in developing our project. The project leader, Carol Clement, has been most helpful. FNC04-545 was a Nebraska project to develop rancher-to–rancher interaction group (now called “Cowboy Logic”) and also a summer internship program in ranch management for college students. The project leader was rancher Lynn Myers. We met Lynn Myers at a drought mitigation conference at the University of Nebraska in the fall of 2009. This conversation and Lynn’s subsequent encouragement lead to this proposal.

    In summary, we gleaned two major points from our literature review:
    1) the most accepted internship models were ones where interns learned the nuts-and-bolts of farming in a one-on-one relationship with an experienced mentor;
    2) only one of these projects focused on teaching grass/range management on the high plains where traditions are strong and distances are great.

    Presentations, to agriculture groups, that will convey:
    1) what the intern experienced during the summer and how that experience has helped reshape their future and
    2) what the mentor experienced during the summer and how the experience will change and benefit their ranching business.

    Interns will be required to give at least one presentation to their respective colleges or universities and encouraged to assist a mentor with a presentation at a professional meeting. In 2011-12 we presented our internship program accomplishments to eight agriculture groups. The topic is timely and well received and we have been requested to present the material at several venues in 2012-13 conference season. We understand the importance of outreach efforts and will continue to work diligently in this area.

    In the previous grant we evaluated the results of the project by comparing the goals and objectives of the intern and mentor at the beginning of the summer with an exit matrix to determine if those initial goals and objectives were successfully accomplished. Since the project has a very capable training coordinator position that assists with these evaluations at the beginning, at the mid-point, and at the end of the internship, the process has been very effective. However, we also want to expand our evaluation process to include the effectiveness of our recruiting program by comparing the number of valid applications received each year with the number of applications received the previous year. A successful recruiting effort would include an annual increase in valid applications that result in at least five quality intern placements. While our ultimate goal is to move an intern into an ownership position all of our previous interns are still completing their formal education but remain in contact with our training coordinator. We anticipate being involved in their future accomplishments following graduation.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.