Ag tour encourages diversifying operations
Thirty people from across Wyoming clambered on a bus headed for Gillette, Wyoming, this past Tuesday to glean information from several producers during the Wyoming Women in Ag tour, the fourteenth of its kind. The tour focused on producers who have found a different or unique way to diversify their agricultural operations, including Joanne Engelhaupt of the Rusty Bucket, Frank Wallace of Downtown Gillette Farmers Market, Erin Galloway of Our Wyoming Life Farm Store, Bob Jordan of High Plains Grower, and Jason Walker of Walker Land and Livestock.
“There was a good diversity from vegetable production to meat production, including goats, chickens, and beef. We tried to incorporate enough variety that everyone was able to get something out of it,” said tour coordinator Cindy Garrettson-Weibel. “The thing I appreciate about the presenters is they were open about the things they did right and the things they would have done differently. I appreciate their openness.”
Jason and Jenna Walker share their story of reluctance to give up their position in ranching when her family’s ranch, south of Lusk, Wyoming, was sold off. They strove to find roots in agriculture and ranching in 2009, and partnered with Jason’s parents and sister and their ranch near Ardmore, South Dakota, to create a vertically-integrated beef source with a percentage of the cattle they were producing.
“My sister and parents raise the cattle and manage the ranch on a day-to-day basis. We participate on the ranch for specialty projects. We haul those cows to Sturgis, then we sell them in package,” Jason said. “The people at the USDA-inspected plant in Sturgis are the professionals at that end of the business, so we hire them to do it. We know they have a very good protocol for quality assurance.”
Jason and Jenna, who both work full-time, use word-of-mouth as their biggest business driver, offering delivery and pickup in the Gillette area, as well as sale of their grass-fed beef at the Downtown Gillette Farmer’s Market, sale of jerky, made at Sturgis Meats, at local gas stations and truck stops.
“The truck stops especially have been a key component we’ve learned to appreciate. People who traveled here and through here as tourists, we’re seeing a big drive for them to take local produce home,” Jason said.
Social media supplies the least business for the Walkers, though they do use it for some of their sales. Part of the reason the other two formats of selling succeeds over social media sales is the interaction that can be exist in farmer’s markets or through direct delivery.
“You’ve got to be willing to build relationships. I believe this is happening nationally. Most consumers want a face and a name for who’s behind what they’re putting in their bodies,” he said. “They want accountability and know you stand behind your product.”
While some producers with similar business formats choose to cover quite a bit of ground providing beef, the Walkers have decided it isn’t necessary to go much beyond northeastern Wyoming, including Gillette and Casper, deeming that the market is greatly untapped, leaving room to grow. Regardless, travel is required for their business.
“We have no aspirations of going outside our region, though we do a small amount of shipping,” Jason said. “But we do have to be willing to travel. There are so many opportunities out there, but you have to seek them out, understand then, then stand behind your product.”
Jason has a good grasp of the finances from the very ground up, starting at the ranch, moving through the meat processing, and into sales and delivery. The Walkers transitioned to a different meat processing route early on in their business venture. Utilizing a USDA inspected-plant has given them more opportunities.
Jason and Jenna view education as a massive part of their business model, whether that is the nutrition portion of the business to repeat or future customers at farmer’s markets or the finance or production side to other producers such as through the Wyoming Women in Ag tour.
“What we learned from doing this business, there is such a craving for education. For us the consumer drives the market, and the education we provide has really become a staple in our market,” Jason said. “As long as we provide good, quality meat and focus on education, we’ll continue to have that family as a repeat buyer.”
Wyoming Women in Ag is hosted its 26th annual ag symposium this fall in Casper, Wyoming, with keynote speaker Peggy DesEnfants, of Lusk, discussing “Looking for Diamonds”. Other breakout topics at the Nov. 14 and 15 event include Elder Family Financial Exploitation, soil health, BQA certification, beef chain, ranch first aid, weed management, and more. To register for this event, visit http://www.wywomeninag.org.