|| Print ||
|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.
Monday, August 03, 2015
BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
You may have noticed the photos of our rural health innovators departed from the typical Oregon Business aesthetic.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Chris Maples, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER
A Power Lunch at Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store and Restaurant.
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.
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.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT
We get the education we deserve.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON
In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.
|Child care challenge|
|Is there life beyond Reed?|
|Back to School|
|Companies offer wearables for your dog|
|Umatilla targets homeless camps|
|Obama has votes for Iran deal|
|A Bouquet of Beer in Bend|
|Obama aims to restore rights for workers|
|Apple's next new product event: Sept. 9|
|Washington meat producer recalls pork|
Yesterday, a divided National Labor Relations Board dropped another hammer on the employer community. In a long-awaited and much debated move, the Board jettisoned the decades old standard for determining when two independent businesses should be considered joint employers of an individual worker for collective bargaining purposes.
Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
The Board dismissed a petition related to efforts to unionize the Northwestern University football team.
The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) is pleased to announce 16 finalists — from over 60 nominees — for the 2015 OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards.
Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.