Ranching: Not Your Average Startup

Ranching: Not Your Average Startup

The Millennial generation has been stuck with the stereotype of being lazy and addicted to technology. Contrary to popular belief, young members of the work force aren’t unwilling to work, they’re just changing the rules of the game.

According to a 2014 survey done by the University of Berkley, only 13 percent of young professionals had the desire to climb the traditional corporate ladder and become a CEO. Rather, 66 percent expressed the desire to start their own business. Multiple successful companies such as the social media platform Snapchat and clothing boutique Ivory Ella were ventures started by millennials. Young professionals are also utilizing the wealth of information available through the internet and are teaching themselves skills previously only available through school or certificate programs.

However, drive out of the city and into the country, the business rules are a little different.

The agricultural industry is deeply rooted in heritage and tradition. While a spirit of entrepreneurship is a trait prized amongst farmers and ranchers, you won’t find many millennial-backed startups in farm country.

A major take away from the USDA’s 2012 census of agriculture was that only 17 percent of beginning farm operators were under the age of 35. The lack of “new blood” becomes a more urgent issue when it is considered that 37 percent of agriculturalists are over the age of 65. If the grandkids don’t want to take over the family farm, that leaves the challenge of finding new people to carry on the tradition of farm and ranch life.

The capital required to begin farming is difficult to acquire and you can’t teach yourself the nuances of ranching by watching a YouTube video. Yet, there are a few young individuals with the grit and spirit necessary to begin an agricultural venture.

 Tate and Calli Williams of Letcher, South Dakota

Tate and Calli Williams of Letcher, South Dakota

Tate and Calli Williams of Letcher, South Dakota are a young couple who have taken on the task of starting a cattle operation from the ground up.

Tate Williams’s first exposure to the industry came not through his family, but through working on a friend’s family farm. After several summers, Williams decided that cattle were something he wanted to turn into a livelihood. He spent a few years working on a family friend’s ranch learning the basics of the business from breeding to calving.

Williams’s wife shared the dream of owning their own operation. While both maintaining full-time jobs, they began building what would become TW Angus.  

However, the couple’s journey was not without obstacle.

“The hardest thing we have dealt with,” Tate Williams said, “is financially being able to support our dream.”

While the Williams’ were fortunate to acquire land from a family friend who was moving into town, another struggle they encountered was that first-generation producers often lack the infrastructure or equipment needed for operation.

“There are numerous days we don’t have the proper equipment or fences to run our operation as efficiently as we would like,” said Williams. “We are fortune to have friends, family and neighbors who lend us equipment and help work cattle when 2 bodies just aren’t enough.”

The young Williams family is not unique in the struggles they face as beginning producers.

A 2011 survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition identified that the top 2 issues faced by those wanting to begin a life in agriculture were access to capital and access to land.

There are feasible solutions for both issues.

The United States Department of Agriculture established a loan program specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers, offering a variety of loan types as well as access to educational resources.

Acquisition of land is also a challenge. On family operations, land is often passed down from generation to generation. But, just as Millennials are breaking the tradition of home ownership, land ownership is also being rejected in favor of renting. Long term leases are a favorable option among young farmers as it leaves more capital to be invested in equipment and livestock.

Additionally, the internet age brings with it a wealth of resources. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as well as state and local Extension Services offer resources across a variety of topics a first-time producer would be interested in.

Like any intrepid millennial entrepreneurs, the Williams’ feel the rewards of being first-generation ranchers outweigh the challenges.

“Although we have our work cut out for us, one of the best feelings in the world is knowing what we accomplished,” Williams said. “Our best advice is not to give up."

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