More Than An Heirloom

October 31, 2018 01:38 PM
 
Wyoming farmer shifts to business focus to grow operation and ROI

Ron Rabou chose to step away from his family farm in the wake of his father’s death. Thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance and faith that everything will be OK, today he farms nearly 8,000 acres in southeastern Wyoming.  

On Nov. 4, 1999, Rabou’s father collapsed and died while they were working cattle. His father was 58 years old.

“My dad was the hub that made the wheel turn, so to speak, in the operation,” Rabou explains. “He primarily made all the business decisions and kept everyone lined out.”

The family ranch hadn’t grown for decades, though more people were added, leaving families little to live on. Rabou bought his father’s shares of the company, but it was clear the business model wasn’t sustainable.

Growing up, Rabou had watched his father deal with family spats, but after his death, the division reached a new level. Something had to change.

After four years of weighing his next step, Rabou committed what he calls the ultimate sin in agriculture. “I broke up the family ranch,” he says.

It was a difficult decision but one that aligned with his priorities and allowed the remaining family members to retain more than their share of the operation. It was time for Rabou and his wife to create their own business and legacy.

Rabou left the ranch knowing he would take a financial hit because of an estate planning glitch and buy-sell agreements. He ended up settling on his grandparent’s homestead. With little knowledge of modern production ag, few facilities, inadequate equipment and a small land base, he set out to start over. He struggled to find his footing until he saw his operation as a business rather than an heirloom.

In the past 14 years, Rabou Farms has grown from 800 acres to nearly 8,000, the majority of which is organic wheat and other grains.   

Rabou encourages other farmers and ranchers to take the risk and evolve their operations to become price makers rather than price takers.

“We have to get creative. We have to get innovative,” he says. “For us, the organic industry was a great fit because it allowed us to create our own niche. There is no doubt it is substantially more work, requires tighter management controls and was initially more financially intensive, but the long-term economics made sense. We felt it was an opportunity that would allow us to grow and prosper, all while raising healthy food.”

Those economics have proven successful, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been without challenges.

“I found myself in a position where I really didn’t know what I was doing or the end result,” Rabou says. “But when you get in that position, because we’re all human beings, and we’re more alike than different, you figure out a way to make it work. And that’s really all we’ve done.” 


To learn more about how Ron Rabou has grown his farm to fit a niche, visit bit.ly/Ron-Rabou

 

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