“Help pull the wagon” as a mentor in WY
January 7, 2013
The Wyoming Agriculture Ownership Program (WAGON) has just completed its first year, and the founders of the program are confident it will be a success. WAGON was formed by several agriculture industries and professional people in Wyoming to help young people interested in ranching have an opportunity in the career as more than just a hired man.
During the first year of taking applications, Scott Keith, who is the coordinator for the program, said 16 were received. "We basically ended up with three different levels of candidates," Keith explained after a committee reviewed the applications. The first group were people who had some cattle ownership, and some operational and management experience. "They were a little older and wiser, with families," Keith explained. "They were able to move automatically into a transitional situation – they just needed an opportunity."
The second group were what Keith called "incubating candidates". "They had been working on a ranch for awhile, had some ranch experience, and possibly owned some livestock of their own. They had some capability, but just need more experience," he said.
The third group were fresh out of college, and had farm or ranch backgrounds or an interest in agriculture, but were not yet ready for a transitional or management opportunity. They were just looking for the opportunity to learn, Keith said.
While the committee was pleased with the number of applications they received, they were disappointed that only three operations applied to be mentors. "We later realized that when we first started, some ranchers seemed to have the perception that if they signed up to be a mentor, they had to immediately sign over the deed to their place," Keith explained. "That wasn't the intention of this program, but it certainly seemed to be the perception they had," he added. "What we are looking for is mentors. We want ranchers who have the ability to mentor younger people by teaching, guiding, and directing them. Maybe help them run some cattle, or in some situations, lead to a generational transition program," he noted.
As a result, the committee carefully spelled out the responsibilities of a ranching mentor for each group of candidates:
Intern Mentor – A mentor who is willing to take qualified candidates, and through time and experience allow a candidate to participate in some of the decision-making processes of daily ranch management. This mentor would not likely be involved in a future ownership transition, but would likely be an educator.
Incubating Mentor – A mentor who is interested in finding qualified candidates who are capable of beginning to make management decisions, and ownership of some livestock jointly with the mentor. This mentor would allow the candidate to make decisions or participate in the management of the operation.
Transitioning Mentor – A mentor who is interested in finding top quality, qualified candidates with the ultimate end result of an agreement which eventually allows the candidate to become involved in a transition of ownership, either livestock, equipment or the land resources owned by the mentor.
Keith said many ranchers don't have family coming back, and don't have a plan in place of what will happen to their property other than they want to see it stay in agriculture production. Despite that, it is really hard for them to consider transitioning their operation, Keith said. "It is hard to bring someone in to the operation with the initial intent to transfer the operation," he explained.
However, by serving as a mentor to younger producers, Keith said older, more experienced ranchers may have an opportunity to fill some voids in their own operations. "In Wyoming, we seem to have a hard time getting good help," Keith explained. "Ranchers are always saying they need someone they can rely on. Through this program, they can teach and mentor a young producer. Eventually, they could give them a little responsibility to make some management decisions. It doesn't mean you are transitioning them into the operation, but you are giving them a start. It is giving them an opportunity they may not have otherwise to stay in agriculture, and keep them from moving on into a gas or energy field in another state," he said.
Candidate applications for all levels are being accepted for the upcoming year. For more information about the WAGON program, see their website at: wyowagon.com. Keith can be reached at 307-259-3274.