Pasture to Packer Program teaches youth about agriculture

J. Michael Ross michael.ross@empiretribune.com
President of Lone Star Ag Credit in Stephenville, Gerrit Schouten, sat down with staff writer Michael Ross to talk about the Pasture to Packer program.

Many are concerned that as people involved in agriculture age and die, fewer young people are taking over and the family farm is an endangered species.

One way that challenge is being met is through the Erath County 4-H Pasture to Packer program that involves kids from ages 9 to 18 in hands-on ownership and management of their own cattle business.

The program was the creation of Whit Weems, former Erath County agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

In an interview with Angus Journal last September, Weems said, “Our goal was to create a true program from start to finish that incorporates everything a producer deals with, from the financial side to selecting and feeding the cattle to the marketing process.”

Participants are selected through an essay and interview process with members of a program committee. That process lets the kids know what’s involved, that it requires dedication and effort, as well as what they’ll gain by participating.

This is the real deal. So real it even includes applying for a loan from Lone Star Ag Credit, and just like any potential borrower, they have to have a game plan for managing the money and paying it back.

President of Lone Star Ag Credit in Stephenville, Gerrit Schouten, said, “Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is really the entity that handles the project; we just come in and help sponsor it. But these youth get to come in and see how it all works through a real-life project.

“They buy stocker animals weighing somewhere around 750 pounds and they take it all the way through the feeding process and feed it out for 180 days. Through that process they get to learn such things as health, nutrition, the marketing aspect of it, and a whole lot more. 

“Recently we ran a workshop with Dr. Randy Harp from Tarleton [Animal Sciences] who taught the kids that when a feedlot comes here to evaluate pens, they’re looking at certain characteristics on the animal like yield grades and quality and how that impacts your bottom line.”

He adds that Tarleton is involved in the program as well, providing the processing when the animals are ready for slaughter and packing. That is all just starting to take place this week.