Helena rancher Rocky Forseth is on his way to Texas this week to compete at the National Farm Bureau’s annual convention.
Forseth won the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion last November. The win garnered him a new Polaris Ranger along with the trip to Texas to compete against winners from across the country Jan. 17-22 and the chance to win a new Ford truck.
“As far as the Farm Bureau, I’m not sure there’s any organization that does a better job of getting involved in writing agricultural policy at the grassroots level,” he said. “When it comes to politics, the best policy comes from the people it affects the most.”
Forseth is a third-generation rancher – his grandparents homesteaded the property between Augusta and Fairfield – but wears many hats in the ranching world. His dad works the day-to-day operations while Forseth, who lives in Helena with his wife and two children, makes most of the operational decisions such as when to sell cattle, and returns on the weekends to work the ranch. He also works in marketing cattle and in genetics for Allied Genetics Resources.
“My passion is the genetics,” he said. “But you can have the best genetics in the world, but if you don’t do everything else right, it won’t mean anything.”
When his grandparents ranched there was a big emphasis on purebred cattle, but today the industry has shifted to see value in crossbred animals. Breeders select animals to emphasize quality on the table, particularly when it comes to marbling.
“It has no value to produce one animal that’s high marbling,” Forseth said. “What actually has value is to produce thousands and thousands of animals that are quite good at it because that translates to a higher end positive eating experience. (Consumers) want a positive experience and a consistently positive eating experience.”
Ranchers also breed for “stayability,” meaning the ability for the animal to stay in the herd due to disposition, reproductive traits and health, he added.
The competition simulates a committee, and the contestants tackled issues at county, state and national levels with a focus on how the Farm Bureau can assist its membership. Topics included differentiating new crops, such as hemp, which is labor intensive but has potential for trade and domestic sale, as well as trade deals and emerging markets.
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“The new (China) trade deal opens that up from a tax and tariff standpoint and puts America’s commodities on a level playing field with other countries,” he said. “We’re happy about that because we know we can compete from a quality standpoint.”
Another question focused on new “cell-based” or plant-based proteins offering a substitute for meat. While new products such as Burger King’s Ultimate Burger may be seen as competition for cattle producers, Forseth believes competition never hurt anyone.
“I believe competition drives healthy markets and I’m not worried about competition,” he said. “You can’t replace what a beef cow does – you can’t replace the taste. But when we talk about a new protein that could potentially feed the world, it’s good.”
As a young rancher, Forseth sees some challenges ahead for people wanting to break into the industry as well as some creative solutions.
“I don’t think my generation is going to be able to buy enough land to make a living,” he said. “So when you’re 30 looking down the barrel of a massive industry with a huge capital challenge in terms of entry into the business, to me that offers a pretty nice opportunity.
“Younger people who make the decision to get involved in the business will have to get creative. There’ll be a lot of leasing, a lot of investor-based ownership, but importantly this is a relationship business and the people who foster the best relationships will be the most successful.”
In addition to offering a great way of life, ultimately Forseth believes ranching is better for the environment and ecosystems, and that is often not mentioned enough.
“There’s other ways to make money and there’s other things we can do with the assets we have to make more money, but we’re doing a lot of things,” Forseth said. “In my opinion we make the environment better. We feed the world. And we don’t have to work in town every day.”