By Ken Klemm
I think I can, I think I can. I think I can, I think I can. I know I can, I know I can! So goes the signature lines from the classic children’s storybook, The Little Engine That Could.
We in the bison industry are a LOT like that Little Engine. We are ridiculously small compared to our ginormous peers. For instance, each business day in the U.S. about 125,000 cattle are processed under USDA inspection, whereas the bison industry processes only about 220 head per day. That’s .00176% as much as the beef business!
Our little industry, unlike the beef industry, has no mandatory check-off program that brings in tens of millions of dollars for marketing, yet has somehow managed to get our product into virtually every major grocery chain and thousands of small chains and independent stores in every State in the Union, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Yet, in the face of an economy-crushing pandemic that has decimated the restaurant industry, where the lions share of our high-end steak cuts were marketed, we have somehow managed to still process and market about the same number of animals on a monthly basis. Sure, prices are much lower than pre-pandemic, but we are making it happen. Somehow, this Little Engine just keeps chugging along and making progress, whereas other industries of much, much larger size have pulled off to the side-tracks and are in need of major repairs.
Somehow our coalition of wildly disparate types of people, in starkly different climates and communities, have been able to make the Bison Industry into “The Little Industry That Could”.
Just like any motorhead would wonder what that Little Engine in the storybook had for a motor, so one might rightly wonder about what makes our bison industry the “Little Industry That Could”?
When you pop the hood on our industry, you’ll notice that, just like the bison we raise, we’re chockfull of determined, creative, tenacious, brave, fair-minded, cooperative, yet fiercely independent and just all-around generous people. We want this industry to work and we are not afraid to go out, put the sweat into it, and make it happen.
So, when the hill gets a little steep, and the load is big, don’t underestimate “The Little Industry That Could”. There are too many smart, hard-working folks under her hood to think that only the big, flashy, shiny industries are the only ones that will succeed.