The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Cattle Farmer

Cattle Farmer

From the Farmer's Tractor

July 25, 2010

Valerie Wagner, 33, raises cattle with her husband, Mark, on their family farm in Monango, North Dakota. Their farming operation includes 175 commercial Red Angus Simmental cross beef cows with an additional 200 cows on Mark’s brother’s farm in South Dakota. Wagner Farms also grows corn, soybeans, wheat and dairy quality alfalfa on 2,000 acres of cropland.

How did you get into cattle farming?

I grew up on a farm less than 20 miles from where we live now. In fact, my husband and I have bought what was the original land where my grandfather had established our homestead. When I was growing up, we had a bit of everything. My dad loved working with animals and also worked for another neighboring farm. We raised chickens, pigs, cows, ducks, geese, rabbits, horses and sheep.

I went to Jamestown College and studied history and political science and was planning to go to law school. Then fate stepped in, and I met my husband, Mark. And as the story goes, the rest is history.

For 50 years the Wagner family has been working hard to build up their closed herd of cattle. Mark and my brother-in-law, Bryan, feed and market calves together and own some equipment jointly.

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?

Our work ethic has stayed very much the same. It’s just the method that has changed. We take advantage of technology where we can, utilizing artificial insemination to make calving easier on our cows that are calving for the first time (heifers), using GPS technology to save on fuel and chemical expenses and overages in the field, using crop consultants to test our soil to make recommendations of what is needed where, and at what rates, and so on. All in all, our goal is to maintain the integrity of our product and our farm while using our inputs wisely and where needed.

How will cattle farming evolve in the next five years?

The basics of raising livestock are the same now as they were decades ago: Take care of the herd and the herd will take care of you. The changes in the industry occur more in the marketing of your product. As the consumer demand for locally grown food becomes higher, I foresee personal sales becoming a great niche market for those producers that are able to sell their product locally.

What is your greatest challenge as a cattle farmer?

At the farm, our greatest challenge is maintaining the health and well being of our herd. We spend countless hours and resources making sure that our cattle are taken care of and have all of their needs met. We are constantly reviewing the health of our herd and adjusting their feed to meet all of their dietary needs. In the spring of the year, when we turn our cattle out to pasture, we check on them frequently for injuries, illness and any other issues that may come up.

How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

The consumer and retailer will be a constant changing force in the cattle market. Predicting what the consumer will want a year from now is like predicting what next month’s weather will be like. All we can do is put forth the time and effort to make sure the product we market is the best that we have to offer.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

Not to sound cliché, but farmers truly are the original conservationists. If we don’t treat the land correctly, our chance of staying competitive and being able to make ends meet while farming is low. On our farm, we have moved to a no-till system on our crop acres, and we utilize alfalfa in our crop rotations. We are also working on improving our grazing rotations to utilize our grasses to their highest potential while making sure our pasture is not over-grazed and stressed. And we use the manure that our cows produce during the calving season to enhance our cropland and off set the cost of fertilizer.

Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?

We have sold very little of our beef locally. However, when someone contacts us wanting to buy beef from the farm, we contact our local butcher shop and make arrangements through them. That way the consumer can directly decide what they want.

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?

Many times, when I meet consumers, I have my children with me, so they’re surprised to see someone with four young boys being so active in agriculture. But it’s a GREAT way to raise my family, and I feel blessed every morning that we wake up on the farm. I’m extremely active in agriculture advocacy so that my children will be given the same great opportunities that we’ve had in our industry.