Congressman Smith stops in Oregon County for farm tour
As a part of his annual farm tour, Congressman Jason Smith visited the Cabriejo Ranch in Koshkonong, owned and operated by Trent and Rachel Hendricks.
Also joining the tour was Representative Robert Ross, Hendricks’ son, Reuben, and University of Missouri Extension Agronomist Jamie Gundel.
Throughout the tour, Trent described the farm’s operation, which is on the forefront of management intensive grazing and regenerative energy by utilizing sheep.
Trent said many companies are expanding on solar energy, which provides opportunities for farmers.
He stated many of the solar sites are degraded from stripping the soil and packing it, which is impacting erosion and degrading ecology as an outcome. “We baseline the property, evaluate it and give it an ecological health assessment. We do management intensive grazing that increases vegetation but manages it, builds up root mass, can see organic matter growing, which is going to allow water to penetrate and restore instead of run off in the road,” said Hendricks.
The size of the site, and sheep, determine how many sheep are placed at various locations. They are working on the new sites allowing cattle, existing sites only allow only sheep.
Trent explained to Smith that unless a person has inherited land, it is difficult to acquire the funds and land to be a farmer. However, with many companies seeking to join the regenerative energy efforts, it may be the future of agriculture for young people.
Many challenges often accompany operating a farm, which Trent discussed with the congressman including logistics, financing and work ethic.
“Up until last year, we operated an organic goat dairy farm. We were milking a thousand goats and making the cheese here. The logistics of this area and the mess of the dairy industry and consolidation, we’re just not competitive,” said Hendricks. Due to location, it didn’t make financial sense to continue with the production.
Another challenge is growing their numbers in sheep.
“Right now, we are about 2,000 head short of what we need. The local banks will finance cattle all day long, but they don’t understand sheep,” said Hendricks.
Financing sheep is an issue other farms encounter as well. Smith discussed how a farm in Douglas County was having trouble getting financed because they have bison and not cattle.
Trent discussed building the system correctly and the possibility of creating apprenticeship programs for young people to help provide education on negotiating contracts, funding access and equipment. “I think it is a phenomenal opportunity for young people to not only be in agriculture but to have a line of sight to a nice income and opportunity to grow and be independent. It is one of the most exciting opportunities in agriculture today because if you want to be a crop farmer, how are you going to go buy 3,000 acres of crop ground and $5 million worth of equipment? If it wasn’t for government subsidy, we wouldn’t have our modern conventional cropping industry. Here is something, outside of a little mentoring, that doesn’t require taxpayer funded programs to create opportunities,” said Trent.
He discussed advantages of being able to run cattle and have solar power. “I think it is a phenomenal opportunity because it doesn’t take airable ground to build a solar sight. If you can drive a bush hog over it, chances are you can build a solar panel on it and we are working with solar companies to make the solar rays more robust so we can run cattle underneath them. Think about it, you can run the same number of cattle you can right now, but you can get either paid to do it or you can get a lease payment on your land from the solar company. It makes putting a cell tower on your farm look like child’s play.”
This helps alleviate of the farm expenses.
In addition to this practice, the ranch will be launching a new product in the fall with partners in Tulsa that consists of pecan butter (made with Missouri pecans) and beef sticks (made from cattle from the ranch). Lamb will also be available. The product has a 12-month life span. “I travel a lot. If you want to eat well and you travel, you can’t find anything in an airport or the hotel concierge that you can eat and feel good about. So, we started by asking what we want in our diet. This is one of the ways we are offsetting our logistical challenges, but it’s also on trend, it is 100 percent grass fed.”
The product will be launched at University of Pennsylvania, Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MIT and Brown University.
Hendricks is vice president of the American Grassfed Association Board of Directors.
He has also been a food consultant for the last 20 years with Hormel and General Mills.
This was one of many stops in the Eighth Congressional District for Smith, which includes 30 counties that he represents.