Marketing J Bar L Ranch Grassfed Beef to Members of Conservation Organizations

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $13,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Bryan Ulring
J Bar L Ranches, LLC


  • Animals: bovine


  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities

    Proposal summary:

    The J Bar L Ranch grazes beef on about 20,000 acres in southwest Montana, including Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acreage and lands adjacent to Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. Over the past two years, the J Bar L Ranch has investigated the potential to finish our yearlings on grass in Montana, instead of selling them for finishing elsewhere. We have achieved modest success in marketing live, finished cattle as natural grassfed beef to various natural beef programs, including Tall Grass Natural Beef. However, we would like to continue moving up the value chain by selling processed beef to appropriate markets. We have done test marketing of this concept under the brand "Centennial Natural Beef by the J Bar L."

    The land resources that we manage provide vital habitat for both migrating and resident mammals and birds. The J Bar L is committed to using environmentally-sound grazing practices (based on Holistic Management) that promote bio-diversity on the lands that we manage. This is particularly important because we have implemented rotational grazing practices that support the growth and reproduction of the Sage Grouse, a bird being considered for inclusion on the National Endangered Species list, and the Trumpeter Swan. We have been recognized for our practices by several organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and the Bureau of Land Management.

    As a result of our conservation-friendly practices, and our relationship with the Western Sustainability Exchange (Livingston MT), we have been offered a unique opportunity to market Centennial Natural Beef to the 4,000 members of the Montana chapter of the National Audubon Society. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that the membership list of a major environmental organization has been made available to a sustainable agricultural producer for marketing purposes. This opportunity is available because the Audubon Society is interested in testing the hypothesis that higher value, non-commodity markets can be supported by their members, resulting in greater acreage under sustainable management, better habitat for birds and wildlife, and more economically sustainable agricultural producers.

    In this project, we will conduct two market tests where J Bar L Beef will be offered (by email and mail) for direct marketing to randomly selected subsets of the MT Audubon Society membership. We propose to monitor the response rate, order patterns, and purchase volumes in order to determine if this approach can yield superior and sustainable markets for ranchers that use sustainable production practices. This project will be supported by several organizations. Our technical advisor, Kevin Edberg, has substantial experience in marketing the products of sustainable agriculture. We will also be supported by Lill Erickson of WSE, and Steve Hoffman, the Executive Director of the MT Audubon Society.

    We will be pleased to share the results of our work with other producers, as we also desire to grow the number of acres under sustainable management. Our results will be shared through presentations at the Commerce Day that WSE hosts in south central MT every spring, results shared on the websites of both WSE and Cooperative Development Services, and a field day on the J Bar L Ranch in the Centennial Valley in summer/fall 2011 where we will demonstrate our grazing practices in addition to the results of our test marketing.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall purpose of this grant is to determine if consumers who are members of conservation and environmental organizations respond more positively to opportunities to purchase food products that are produced in environmentally-sustainable ways. We propose two objectives for this project, to be conducted in an 18-month period between June 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011.

    Objective 1: To estimate the direct customer response rate to direct contact.

    During two different beef-buying periods, we will contact a subset of Montana Audubon Society members by direct mail. The subset size will be large enough to ensure statistical validity that would predict response to larger subsequent mailings, but we anticipate making 500 mailings in each of the two test periods. The mail contact will contain specially developed information about the J Bar L, our bird-friendly grazing practices, and the opportunity to order various combinations of frozen Centennial Natural Beef by the J Bar L.

    Following the two trial periods, we will compute overall customer response percentages. These numbers can be easily compared to standard response percentages for other direct-order food products to determine if members of conservation organizations respond more favorably than the general public.

    Objective 2: Analyze the nature and volume of purchases of J Bar L beef made by consumers in the test.

    This information is important because we want to get an estimate of how many consumers are needed in order to sell a full beef animal. This information will determine how large future mailings need to be in order to support a given number of marketed animals, and project the supply required for any given market venture. This analysis will be done at the same time as that in Objective 1.

    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.