Ranch ownership transitions can be complex, involving issues such as generational needs, tax issues, social attitudes, and recreational landowner competition. In an effort to help simplify the process, Calvin Adams of Beloit, KS, Cade Rensink of Ada, KS, and Ted Alexander of Medicine Lodge, KS, and the Kansas Ranch and Range Management Internship Program are working to get experienced and well-trained young ranchers back on the ranch through a summer internship program.
These ranchers believe that successful ranches are vital in Kansas, and see internships as a good method for passing along the knowledge and information ranchers gain through experience to future managers and owners.
The Kansas Ranch and Range Management Internship Program gives interns an opportunity to learn about range and ranch management in one-on-one relationship from a ranch mentor. Originally funded through a 2010 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, the program recently a second grant from NCR-SARE in 2013 to continue this work, which pairs qualified young people with experienced rancher/mentors.
The mentors who work with the program come from multiple locations, ranging from the sand hills of Nebraska to the eastern part of Kansas to the northwestern part of Missouri. In size, their businesses range from a few hundred acres to more than 40,000 acres. The program continues to add new mentors as they find ranchers who are willing to commit the added time and effort required to be a dedicated mentor.
“Mentors are a special kind of people, they are more than just good ranchers,” said Cade Rensink. “Mentors are willing to spend the time and energy, answer questions and challenge these students to become better managers. They see these students as we do, an investment into the future.”
The program was designed to be a stepping stone experience to help interns become ranch owners/operators, not just hired hands, which has been a specific attraction for new interns who have enrolled.
“The Ranch and Range Management Internship was truly the opportunity of a life time,” said Travis Panek, a 2011 intern. “I learned a vast amount of valuable information that will help me for the rest of my life, not only while working on the ranch, but also at the enrichment activities. I also made many valuable contacts, which may be very important in the future. All aspects of management were the focus of the internship including the grass, cattle, and overall long term management of the ranch and how to keep it profitable.”
Planned monthly enrichment activities for the interns and the mentors provide intensive, structured training. Interns and mentors complete a goals-and-skills contract to guide each intern’s individualized summer training program. Interns and mentors also complete an exit evaluation at the end of the internship to assist in determining the relative success of the program.
“From our first two years of experience the internship program has provided encouraging results which confirm the value of a practical training experience that young, potential ranchers need,” said Calvin Adams. “Pairing them with mentors recognized by their peers for their management expertise is the best way to teach those aspects of management that can’t be captured inside the classroom.”
Building on the initial 2010 NCR-SARE grant project, the 2013 project will expand recruiting efforts. They plan to work with social media tools like facebook as well as existing internship websites that successfully advertise and recruit in urban communities.