By Lilly Platts
The beef industry is changing, and for Rocky Forseth, there is great opportunity for producers to keep up with these changes and thrive. Forseth works for Allied Genetic Resources (AGR), which is an all-encompassing service for seedstock producers, focused on customer service and adding value to the cattle that ultimately become the beef on American consumers’ plates. Crossbreeding, heterosis, and SimAngus™ genetics are at the heart of the business, and also something Forseth fully believes in himself. The success of seedstock producers relies on the success of their commercial customers, and for Forseth, this relationship is one that can only be strengthened in the future.
Teamwork is Number One
“Everyone helps each other, and Allied is very unique in that way,” Forseth says. One of his main responsibilities is to manage everything related to sires and semen sales. The yearly semen directory, finding new sires to add to the selection, working with the catalog designer, and making sure all of the other details related to semen sales are in order all fall under Forseth’s main duties. He also manages sales that are in his area and works as a Superior representative in conjunction with AGR.
Forseth explains that while seedstock producers are more than capable of managing all of the details of their sale, working with a company like AGR allows them to focus on the larger picture details, like reaching out to customers. “It’s not hard to video bulls and organize pictures and manage all of those details, but what should be getting done by the seedstock producer is calling customers, and selling the bulls, and we will manage the details and keep the sale organized in such a way that allows the producer to do that,” Forseth says.
Management details are a major part of AGR, but as Forseth explains, that facet of the business is foundational and serves to put seedstock producers in a position to get their genetics into the commercial herds where the true impact will happen. The larger focus of AGR is on adding value to the commercial herds, and subsequently feeder calves. “There are two pieces to Allied — obviously there is the advertising and promotion piece that we help seedstock producers with — but seedstock breeders don’t have a business unless the commercial customers they are serving are successful,” Forseth explains. “The best way we can create demand for bulls is to create demand for the feeder calves that they sire.”
“What we want to do is create pull-through demand for that product,” Forseth continues. “Our theory is, if the commercial guy can be more successful because of the bulls he buys, and because of the decisions he makes from a genetic standpoint, then we will create more demand for our ownership’s product. In other words, we create more demand for the bulls we help market.”
Forseth sells calves for AGR customers through the Superior Livestock partnership, and explains that by knowing the genetic potential of a group of calves, they are able to ensure that producers get a premium. Allied Feeding Partners takes this relationship a step further, by closing the gap in communication between seedstock business, commercial producers, and feeders. Unless a commercial producer retains ownership and willingly collects and returns data to the seedstock operation, it is quite difficult to directly tie data to performance. The same is true in the relationship between commercial producers and feeders. There is a history of not sharing this data because there is no incentive, especially since the commercial producer is more likely to ask a higher price in the future if they know how well their cattle are performing. AGR serves as this communication tool, by partnering with feeders, keeping track of this data, and ultimately sharing it to create long-term relationships.
Putting the Pieces Together
The individual, often isolated nature of the beef industry can make it seem like seedstock producers are in competition with one another, but Forseth believes this shouldn’t be the case. Everyone in the industry knows that the future viability of beef as a protein source is constantly being challenged by a variety of factors, including misinformation, environmental groups, competition from other protein sources, expense, and more. Coming together and focusing on the factors that will affect this future viability are at AGR’s core. “Allied’s philosophy in general is a team approach. We want to work together whether that’s with independent seedstock producers, or whatever we are talking about. We want everything to be team-based, as opposed to one guy being in competition with the other. We have enough other enemies — we don’t need to be in competition with one another,” Forseth explains.
Proteins, like chicken and pork, have moved into a system almost entirely composed of vertically integrated corporations, which allows for close tracking of genetics, performance, and quick adjustments in the system that maximize profit. There have been arguments for a system like this in the beef industry, but Forseth believes that the solution lies somewhere in the middle and that a business model like AGR can help make this happen.
An improvement in communication between different entities in the beef industry is one of the biggest changes Forseth wants to see. “I don’t believe that vertical integration is best, I believe that good communication is best. I want independent ownership to continue in all sectors of the beef business just like it is today,” he says. “What I believe needs to happen is better communication up and down that chain. A good example of that is why we started Allied Feeding Partners. We find cattle that are good, and if they sell just above or at average prices, we can say we know they are better and want more. In the beef business you have to put your money where your mouth is. So our intent is to feed them, find out how good they are, and then tell America with data how good they are.”
Forseth also encourages a more open-minded approach moving into the future. He believes that many of the conversations happening today, like phenotype versus EPDs, are going to get pushed aside as the beef industry keeps up with future challenges. Agriculture is evolving rapidly, and for Forseth, keeping up and surviving will require a team effort throughout the beef industry.
Evolving with Simmental
The Simmental breed may have been the foundation of AGR somewhat by default due to founder Marty Ropp’s own background, but Forseth explains that the cattle speak for themselves, and continue to meet the challenge for commercial producers. Forseth himself is a believer in SimAngus genetics. He grew up with his family running polled Hereford cattle between Choteau and Fairfield, Montana. They eventually brought in Angus bulls, transitioning to black baldy cattle for some time, and eventually had a mostly Angus cow herd. Forseth talked his dad into buying a Simmental bull, which he was extremely hesitant about because of the breed’s reputation at the time, but eventually saw the benefit of using Simmental.
Today, Forseth runs SimAngus bulls on his own cow herd, and believes that the two breeds bring the best traits available together in one package. “The bottom line is we think the SimAngus bull is what is best for the commercial customer. So do the producers,” he says. “The Angus breed does a nice job from a marbling and maternal standpoint — if you look at the MARC data they are the best British breed at almost every facet. Then if you think about continental breeds, there really isn’t another continental breed that is close to Simmental, in my opinion as far as ribeye, growth, and maternal traits. The two breeds on their own do enough right that when put together, you can’t beat it.”
The Beef Industry and Beyond
Forseth is also an active participant in the agricultural community and has remained involved in various ways throughout his career. He attended Montana State University, studying Livestock Management. At the time, he wanted to pursue a career in reproduction, and did an internship with Jeanne Reyher, with Reyher Embryonics. During school, he met his now wife, Anna, and after graduation moved to Colorado so she could attend veterinary school. In Colorado, Forseth worked for a large seedstock operation, where he managed sale preparation, organizing videos and photos, the development of bulls, and eventually, some private treaty sales. Anna was offered a job in Iowa, which was a stretch for Forseth, but during that time, a friend encouraged him to try and work for AGR. Forseth drafted an email, and soon after was contacted by AGR and eventually offered a job. Soon after, Anna accepted a job as a veterinarian with the Montana Department of Livestock, and they were able to move to Helena, Montana.
Moving home allowed Forseth to get back into the cattle business himself, which as a young person living in an expensive area, has taken some creativity. They run their own herd of SimAngus cows, and Forseth has also ventured into the hay business, putting up hay on leased ground in trade for a percentage of the final yield. “You have to think outside of the box,” Forseth says. “Last weekend, I was plowing some ground that I’m going to seed into forage winter wheat, and I was plowing it with a borrowed tractor, and a plow that I dug out of the weeds that hasn’t operated for at least 20 years. The tractor has no door, no air conditioning and no radio, but it does the job. It takes some out-of-the-box thinking, but you can get a lot done if you just put your head down and do it.”
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