Mike Hogue, whose ranch near Steamboat Springs was named a Colorado Centennial farm last year, took over as president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association in June with prior leadership experience but still humbled by his new role.
“It’s one of those things you’re never really ready for. But it’s here, so deal with it,” he said from his ranch after a long day of fixing equipment and checking on irrigation systems.
Hogue heads up a new slate of officers that includes president-elect Steve Wooten, of Kim; first vice president Janie VanWinkle, of Fruita, and treasurer Brett Datteri, of Greeley. Moving up into the officer chairs for the first time is second vice president Troy Marshall, a seedstock producer from Burlington, who said during the convention his kids were finally old enough he felt he could take on a more active leadership role.
While the challenges facing ranchers are considerable, Hogue managed to end a discussion of virtually any topic on an optimistic note.
Along with many others, his list of concerns begins with the severe drought conditions afflicting much of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and beyond.
The vital Yampa River that supplies his ranch is flowing at a fraction of normal, he said.
“It’s normally running at 1,100 to 1,200 cubic feet per second, but in the last report it was at a 5 and today it’s probably down around 3,” he said. “I was at the headgate this morning, and it was just below the intake, which means we’re getting just a trickle in our irrigation ditches.”
He was preparing to cut his grass hay early as a result, he said. He also expects to get just a single cutting of dryland alfalfa this year.
As the owner of a commercial cow-calf operation, Hogue has been involved with CCA for many years. In addition, he formerly served in leadership roles with both the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers and the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee.
Roughly a decade ago, however, he transitioned all of his wheat acreage into organic alfalfa production.
“That’s been working well for us,” he said. “We can grow organic here because the season’s so short we don’t have a lot of insect problems. Most of what we grow goes to the Aurora Dairy over by Greeley.”
Another benefit of the location is the opportunity to diversify into tourism and recreation-related enterprises.
“We license the river to fishing clubs, which provides some revenue, and my wife (Maureen) runs our gun club, which includes a golf driving range,” he said.
Ending up near Steamboat Springs was a quirk of fate. His paternal great-grandfather, who was Irish, and his maternal great-grandfather, who came from England, both homesteaded there.
“I think this is where they ran out of steam,” he joked. “I always say they must have arrived here in the summer. If they had gotten here in the wintertime, they would have kept on going.”
As it turns out, the past winter was mild, but it was also dry, which is now a big worry for the entire region.
“There’s quite a bit of concern that Lake Powell could be at 40 percent of capacity by the end of the summer and that’s pretty close to the generating level where they would have to turn the turbines off. Most of the desert Southwest gets its power from there, so they won’t let that happen,” he said. “There will be calls on the river and no diversions allowed.”
The Yampa basin started out at 80 percent of normal snowpack this spring, which was better than most rivers in Colorado.
“Fortunately our pastures are still in good shape and we’ll be close to a normal crop of irrigated hay,” he said.
Desperate as the situation has become, ranchers who gathered for the CCA convention in Loveland were hopeful their luck would turn, especially since several prominent agricultural forecasters are predicting a break by August.
“They expect the summer monsoon to return sooner than normal, and it would be a real boon for us if it did,” Hogue said. The monsoon typically arrives in late July.
Hogue’s hopeful outlook extends to other issues and concerns. He said he came away from the annual convention feeling upbeat.
“It went very well,” he said. “I really liked the panel we had on generational transfer. I thought that was really well done, and we had some great speakers. That’s a big concern to a lot of our members.”
“I was also glad to hear we are finally making some progress on a new building and working diligently on that,” he said. “It’s too early to talk about the details, but it sounds like it’s coming together.”
He remains “fairly confident” CCA will have some type of presence at the new National Western Center complex, a massive redevelopment project that is still in the early stages. Initial demolition work began this summer.
One goal Hogue has set for his presidency is to create more depth within the leadership ranks by filling any open committee seats, an ongoing emphasis he credits to immediate past president Todd Inglee, of Arvada.
“I want to build a back row, so-to-speak, rather than having to go out and beat the bushes to find someone to serve,” he explained.
Despite consolidation and attrition in the industry, Hogue said the association has a deep bench.
“We had a pretty big list of young guns at this convention who are eager to serve in some capacity, so I definitely plan on getting them involved,” he said.
Another thing on his plate is helping to develop a new membership structure that will move from what he called a “per head” fee to one that is a la carte, allowing individual members to purchase the services they want or need.
“That’s still under development as a result of the strategic plan we did a year and a half ago,” he said. “But it should be finalized and implemented over the next year.”
Following the convention, Hogue is now preparing to represent CCA at the summer meeting of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which will be held in Denver August 1-4. Traditionally the president, along with the past president and immediate past president, serve as CCA’s official delegates.
Hogue said he expected the farm bill to be the association’s biggest priority at the meeting.
“Hopefully it will contain some language about FMD (which stands for foot and mouth disease.) We’re just not ready for major outbreak,” he said. “Definitely there’s a lack of vaccine, and we need to address that.”
While the Senate’s bill included permanent authorization for a vaccine bank, it failed to attach the necessary funding.
Another priority item, according to Hogue, will be international trade.
“We don’t know what the administration’s strategy is, so it’s been hard for us to take a position on it,” he said. “Unfortunately, ag always seems to get hurt in these things. It’s always been one of the levers they use.”
Even so, he was reassured by remarks shared by Gregg Doud, a former NCBA chief economist who is now the administration’s chief agricultural trade negotiator. Doud addressed CCA’s live cattle marketing committee via Skype at the convention.
“I thought he did a good job of explaining the administration’s reasoning and what China’s been doing that most people aren’t aware of,” Hogue reflected. “It sounded pretty positive to me. Maybe there will be some pain in the near-term but in the long term we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.”