Turning on a Dime

One aspect of bison that never ceases to amaze me is their ability to turn on a dime.

A bison running full speed will plant a front hoof in the ground, spin, and run full speed in another direction. Mother Nature perfected that ability to equip them to escape threats when able, and to face danger head-on when necessary.

Mother Nature instilled some of that same ability into bison ranchers and marketers.  

At least, that’s what occurred to me on Monday as I listened to the opening day of our Week of Virtual Learning, the on-line webinars scheduled as a replacement for our cancelled Summer Conference.

We’ve been severely rattled by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic during the past three months. As noted in the comments that the National Bison Association submitted to USDA urging that bison producers be provided with access to federal support on par with our neighbors in the cattle business, bison ranchers, finishers and marketers alike have been hit hard since March. Live bison prices have dropped, scheduling animals for processing is a nightmare, the farmers’ markets opening this season are doing so on a limited basis, and agritourism…let’s not even get into that one.  

On Monday, though, six NBA member-marketers shared how they have pivoted during the past 90 days to face the market disruption head-on. Three commercial marketer panelists shared how they transitioned business to focus more on retail or direct-to-consumer markets when restaurants shut down in March. One — Western Buffalo Co.– even processed hogs for a brief time to weather the storm.

The three farm-direct marketers have initiated call-ahead ordering with curbside pickup to offset the loss of their farmers’ market business, and are expanding their on-line stores.  And all noted that customers are becoming more interested in knowing where food comes from, and how it was produced.

Growing interest in transparency and accountability is not an isolated phenomenon.

Carlotta Mast of New Hope Network and Nick McCoy of Whipstitch Capital unveiled results of new consumer research they conducted for the National Bison Association. That research indicates that the interwoven story of bison’s role in regenerating healthy ecosystems may resonate with our potential customers more than our longstanding emphasis on low-fat/high-iron meat content. 

I ended Monday’s session with a big smile on my face. Once again, unforeseen forces threaten our business and our ability to restore herds across North America. Yet, once again, we demonstrate the ability to firmly plant that hoof, pivot, and charge toward a sustainable future.