5 questions with ... Travis Steele, bison rancher and direct meat sales, New Rockford, N.D.
Q: What is your role in agriculture today?
We grow food for people. It's our responsibility to use production methods that ensure food is safe to eat, natural resources are conserved and not poisoned, animals are treated humanely, and we leave the earth in better shape than we found it.
Q: How did you decide to raise bison and why?
I enjoyed being around bison as a teenager when my dad raised them. Despite my interest, I was discouraged from returning to the farm, and the door always seemed to be closed. My parents' farm was auctioned off. My dad was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Then the door seemed to open. I got a loan 12 years ago and bought 100 acres of that farm I grew up on, including the farmstead and some pasture from the new owner. I spent the next five years building a bison herd and purchasing equipment while I worked for a couple different farmers. I also started renting cropland from my grandparents.
My wife, Amy, and I strive to raise the best quality meat possible. For us, that means no hormones or antibiotics. We provide quality hay and raise our own feed, which is mostly oats and peas. We are not using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or anything not approved under the National Organic Program standards. We are in our first year of transition into organic farming with the goal of obtaining organic certification for the 2019 crop year.
We stopped growing GMO crops a few years ago due to the high seed costs, tight restrictions, ever-evolving weed and pest resistance and questions about safety, which didn't fit with our farming philosophy. In addition to pursuing organic crop production, we are relying on cover crops to build soil fertility and organic matter and to provide weed suppression and soil conservation.
Q: Who are your most common customers and how are you marketing to them?
Our customers are diverse. Most people choose bison for its combination of great taste and nutritional aspects. It's low in fat, cholesterol and calories and high in protein, iron and Omega 3 fatty acids compared to other meats. It's also increasingly important to people to know where their food comes from, how it was produced and who raised it. We offer all of that, and you usually can't get that at the supermarket.
Our marketing and advertising started with a large sign in our pasture that read, "Bison Meat."
Next we started a Facebook page and finally added a website so we could reach more people and allow customers to order online. We also started doing drop-site deliveries to Carrington, Jamestown, Valley City and Fargo, N.D., to make it easier to serve our customers. Repeat customers and word of mouth is the lifeblood of our business.
Q: What is the greatest challenge you face right now in agriculture?
It's tough for a small farm like ours to make it financially, especially when commodity prices are depressed. Our focus is on adding value to what we produce, like direct marketing our bison meat, and by producing high value crops, while lowering input costs.
Q: What are the benefits of raising your family on a farm?
Our kids get to grow up with a big yard to play in and no busy streets nearby. Life on a farm fosters the development of a deeper connection and respect for nature and animals, as well as first-hand knowledge of where food comes from and the work that goes into producing it.
Steele grew up on a farm and has worked in agriculture his entire life. He bought his farm in 2005, started raising bison in 2006, and started crop farming in 2008. Steele and his wife, Amy, are college graduates. They married in 2011 and have three daughters with a fourth child on the way.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/steelefamilybison.