Our Traveling Tent Revival

Working on behalf of the nation’s bison ranchers sometimes seems a bit like being a tent revival preacher.

I returned home on Sunday after joining members of the Kansas Buffalo Association for their annual consignment sale and membership meeting. Meanwhile, NBA Assistant Director Jim Matheson was in Ogden, UT last weekend to provide an update to the members attending the Western Bison Association annual meeting.

The last few months have been a whirlwind…with activities ranging from our annual policy roundup in Washington, D.C. in mid-September to the meetings in Salina and Ogden last weekend.

My travels have included participating in a USDA marketing conference in Chicago, huddling with South Dakota State University officials about the emerging Center of Excellence in Bison Studies in Brookings, representing the NBA at the American Bison Society Conference in Santa Fe, briefing Nationwide Agribusiness insurance underwriters in Des Moines, joining NBA President Dick Gehring in Kansas City for a day of radio and TV interviews with the journalists at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention, and heading to Regina, Saskatchewan to participate in the annual convention of the Canadian Bison Association.

Jim Matheson wasn’t exactly idle this fall either. He, along with NBA members Peter and Erica Cook, helped spread the NBA message to 60,000 attendees at the annual FFA convention in Indianapolis, then flew to Dallas to encourage participants at the American Agricultural Lenders Conference to take a serious look at the bison business. He also headed westward in October to represent us at the InterTribal Buffalo Council meeting, and then back to Washington, D.C. in November. to speak at the annual Capitol Hill event honoring our national mammal. 

Our presence at all of these forums is vital. After all, our business relies on increased access to financing and risk management tools. We need to make sure that our friends in the conservation community recognize the positive role that bison are playing in restoration of the species. Reaching out to the next generation of producers and their teachers is important for our future. And our partnership with our fellow producers and marketers north of the 49th Parallel is crucial to the growth of our business.

Connecting with consumers has got to be a top priority for us these days. We are evangelizing heavily there as well.

In October, NBA Communications Director Karen Conley and I were joined by members Mimi Hillenbrand of South Dakota and Carrie Bennett of Colorado to provide a keynote luncheon presentation at ShiftCon, the nation’s largest conference of “Eco-Wellness Social Influencers,” otherwise known as “Mommy Bloggers.”

The more than 300 attendees at this event were primarily young women who have developed blog sites focused on food, family, health and the environment. Some of these bloggers have more than 50,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. The experiences Mimi and Carrie shared with the attendees helped recruit new allies and develop new partnerships in the bison business.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to provide a “Ted Talk” type presentation to the Pet Sustainability Coalition, a gathering of major pet food brands and retailers committed to responsible ingredient sourcing and product manufacturing. Participation in that forum opened conversations with several key industry players regarding the potential to increase consumer education regarding the role that eating bison plays in improving grassland ecosystems and rural community health.

Many of these activities are underwritten in large part by the National Bison Association’s Growth Fund, the voluntary program that encourages processors and ranchers to contribute at least $1 per head to increase our ability to promote bison.

At a time when our business faces increasing challenges, it’s crucial that we continue to take our message wherever possible whenever possible. As our resources allow, we’ll take our tent to any corner where the good word of bison needs to be spread.