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|Articles - February 2011|
|Thursday, January 27, 2011|
BY PETER BELAND // PHOTOS BY RANDY JOHNSON
Mounted firmly on a cowhide sofa in his log cabin home overlooking the rolling hills near Fossil, Mehrten Homer, president of Painted Hills Natural Beef, is watching a late-season Beavers game. The phone rings and he turns down the TV. Dressed in a pressed cowboy shirt and jeans, he picks up the phone and speaks swiftly into the receiver, not wasting a breath as he arranges a money transfer to one of his producers. Never mind that Mehrten oversees an operation with 30,000 head of cattle and more than $30 million in revenue, formal business meetings aren’t needed when a phone call will do. “We trade millions of dollars this way,” the fourth-generation rancher says, not without a satisfied look.
For years Mehrten, 65, and his wife, Glenda, 63, ranched like most ranchers have for decades: They raised cattle and sold them to a broker who then sold them to a processor. Though they raised choice-grade Angus, “When you sell cattle to a broker, they get sent to a feed lot and get mixed up with lower-grade cattle,” says Glenda, who is the general manager.
Governed by a commodity market in which the value of calves had increased little from the 1960s to the 1990s, they were selling their calves at a meager 60 cents a pound when in 1996 the Homers and six other Fossil-area ranchers pooled their resources and started Painted Hills in an effort to shake off the middlemen.
They planned to control all aspects of their business; to raise, process and market their grass-fed, corn-finished cattle raised without antibiotics or hormones. And they would ask a premium price for their beef. With the help of a grant from the governor’s reserve fund, they hired an analyst to identify markets where they could sell their beef. “It was a mess, just a mess,” says Glenda with a weary laugh. After six months, the grant ran out and Mehrten and Glenda hopped in their car and drove across the Northwest to build relationships with market owners and ranchers. Despite their efforts, after four years they were $425,000 in the red. “We told ourselves we’d lose [another] $25,000 and call it good,” Mehrten says.
Painted Hills was processing 10 head of cattle a month in the early years, losing money because it didn’t process enough to make it economical and because it didn’t get money for offal, the non-meat parts of the cow. In 1999 the company approached Washington Beef (now AB Foods) in Toppenish, Wash., to get a better processing deal, but the plant told them they needed to provide at least 60 head of cattle a month to make it work. Once again, Mehrten and Glenda got in their car and drove off, this time to Seattle to convince market chain Associated Grocers to sell their beef. Washington Beef gave them the green light to process more cattle and that month they lost less money. Six months later they were making money.
“We gotta try this again,” Mehrten remembers saying. And so they jumped in the car again and again to convince more ranchers to join. Glenda would drive out to where she could get cell phone service to jot down orders when the office landline was out.
Painted Hills now processes about 2,000 head of cattle a month and is paid for its offal. The increase in production was the result of getting enough ranches — 80 to date —and consumers on board with the idea of natural beef, a task that took years of educating both groups about Painted Hills' natural, all-vegetarian feeding program. Fifteen years later, Painted Hills’ network of small markets and ranchers, forged over handshakes and coffee, is paying off. Now playing the role of producer, broker and marketer, Painted Hills is able to weather changes in the volatile commodity market.
Mehrten and Glenda can relax a bit more while their son, Will (the operations manager), and other family members take over major portions of the company’s management. Those cowhide sofas are comfy.
Yet even with their loyal network of ranchers and buyers and their aggressive drive to find new markets on the East Coast and elsewhere, Mehrten does not entirely rest.
“We’ve gotta hell of a lot of beef and there’s only so many days,” Mehrten says, his booming voice tinged with something that almost sounds like regret.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Oregon's roads are crumbling, and revenues from state and local gas taxes are not sufficient to pay for improvements. We asked readers if the private sector should help fund transportation maintenance and repairs. Research partner CFM Strategic Communications conducted the poll of 366 readers in February.
"I feel private enterprises are capable of operating at a higher efficiency than state government."
"This has been used in Oregon since the mid-1800s. It is not a new financing method. This form of financing may help Oregon close its infrastructure deficit by leveraging funds."
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Fireworks are a booming industry, even if the pyrotechnics have turned July 4th into a day fire marshals, and many residents, love to hate.
Monday, July 13, 2015
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Telemedicine, new partnerships and real estate diversification make health care more accessible in rural Oregon.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
While most categories of commercial real estate have performed well, one of the most robust has been apartment buildings.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER
Dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER
Most of the food Americans consume is trucked in from hundreds of miles away. Eric Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Gro-volution, wants to change that. So this past spring, the Air Force veteran and former greenhouse manager started work on an alternative farming system he claims is more efficient than conventional agriculture, and also shortens the distance between the consumer and the farm.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
There are more than 10 million former military members working in the United States.
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