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Outstanding Alumni - 2014

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Bradley E. Boner

Progressive efforts help establish lamb cooperative

2014 Outstanding Alumni Award - Brad Boner

Industry involvement runs strong in bloodline

Outstanding Alumni Award recipient Brad Boner makes no bones about it - getting involved in professional organizations is important.

The Outstanding Alumni Award recipient belongs to several producer organizations - and credits his family for being able to do so.

"It was ingrained in me that every person owes blood, sweat, and tears to their livelihood and to the associations that help us so we can have a livelihood," he says.

"I'm blessed to work with my family every day," he notes. "That has allowed me a little latitude. They pick up the slack sometimes. Without them, it probably would be impossible."

Groups include the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (see related story), the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, American Sheep Industry Lamb Council, the Wyoming Angus Association, and the Wyoming Livestock Genetics Association.

That last group is dedicated to the enhancement of marketing and promotion of purebred cattle throughout Wyoming. The association is collaborating with producers in Argentina, with efforts expected to augment U.S. lines.

Such efforts do not aid the competition, he says.

"We're in a worldwide market place," says Boner, the group's vice president. "Our goal is to always improve."

What Boner really wants to talk about is the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program, administered through the genetics association. High school students apply for an opportunity to receive a heifer donated by a purebred cattle breeder. The focus is to have the student involved in cattle production and help them establish their own herds.

The cattle are signed over to the applicants at the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo. Boner is a member of the original group - he and seven others signed over livestock to the students during the fair. He signed his heifer over to Katie Keith of Casper.

The group has a Facebook page. Search Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming. "I think youth in agriculture are our future," he notes. "If we don't bring them along, there won't be a future in ag."

Agriculture is a very capital-intensive industry and young people starting cold turkey and building up enough equity to make a living is next to impossible, he says.

There is opportunity. Absentee landowners seek managers to manage their operations.

If they don't become cattle producers or farm or ranch managers, there is still a knowledge transfer.

"Even if they don't enter agriculture as a career, you have educated them, and they can educate a lot of people about what agriculture all about."

Frustrated by sheep market, agricultural business graduate and others take control of their market destiny

The steep, downward sloping chart showing Wyoming breeding sheep inventory from 1965 to present looks like a side view of an Olympic ski jumping venue.

Sheep ranchers would probably use other, more descriptive words, but the past 50 years has been gruesome. In the 1990s alone, the USDA estimates more than 40 percent left the business.

Brad Boner joined his father on their Glenrock-area ranch after he graduated from UW in 1982 armed with his passion for livestock production. One-third of the stock on the ranch is Angus, and the rest are Rambouillet and Targhee sheep. He is the sixth generation to live in Converse County on his mother's side.

Cooperate for Cooperative

Passion alone doesn't produce profits. He and other producers made a bold move in 2001 - laying the groundwork for the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative.

Boner is one of two Outstanding Alumni Award recipients from the college. One of his nominators, Bob Kidd, says Boner was co-founder of the lamb cooperative group, but Boner is self-deprecating about his involvement.

"Desperate people do desperate things," Boner says now. "We just got to the point in the sheep industry it was becoming apparent if we didn't change, our kids, even if they wanted to, couldn't become sheep producers. There was a core group of us that decided we had to do something. We weren't sure what when we started, but we dived into it. As fate would have it, with perseverance and good luck, it worked."

From meager beginnings - the concept started on a bar napkin - the cooperative now markets 250,000 lambs annually through their processing and marketing company in the Bronx. The co-op has members from 13 western states.

"It wasn't one person but a great core group of us that put in a lot of time and effort," Boner says.

Outside Comfort Zone

The group's first meeting was on the Wyoming state fair grounds before the state ram sale.

Creating the cooperative forced some producers out of their production and personal comfort zones.

All had to buy an equity position.

"We had to do a sales pitch, and we were fortunate enough a lot of people decided to take their hard-earned dollars and try something different," says Boner, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in agricultural business.

Scott Keith, livestock genetics program manager with the Wyoming Business Council, says Boner was one of the original members spearheading the effort.

"Brad exhibited outstanding leadership, and his foresight helped make a significant change in the marketplace for lamb with an impact on the entire sheep industry in the Rocky Mountain region and nationwide."

The WBC provided seedstock money for the project.

Not all producers were in favor. People don't like to do things differently, says Boner, and some are very risk-averse. Venturing into the unknown is difficult.

"The way we did it, we did sort out those most progressive people out there," he says. "That's been a very interesting group to work with. They are very willing to change and to try new things. It was a natural selection process of the most progressive producers."

Process to Establishment

About 124 families from 10 western states were recruited. In 2003, Mountain States bought a half interest in B. Rosen and Sons, a lamb processor and distribution company in the Bronx, New York. The entire company was then bought in 2008. That same year, the company was joined by a veal industry business - Formula One.

The move allowed vertical integration - animals are controlled from birth through the slaughter process.

Some of those producers who initially resisted later joined.

Others did not.

"Most ag producers are pretty independent and humble by nature," says Boner, who works with his two brothers, Rob and Jeff, and their father, Bob. He and his wife, Laurie, have three children - Braden, Meghan, and Ryan.

"Many have a real hard time bragging about what they do. When they grew up, it was just something you were expected to do, and not to get accolades. To get out there and sell yourself is hard for producers to do."

They're getting better, though.

"It is just hard. It's not in our DNA," says Boner.


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