The U.S. buffalo business is ending 2011 in the strongest economic condition in history, and the growing popularity of naturally-raised bison has ranchers scrambling to build their herds, according to the National Bison Association, which has its main offices in Colorado.
"We are wrapping up one of the best years on record for the bison business," said the association's executive director, Dave Carter. "The connection that ranchers have forged with their customers is creating a strong foundation for continued growth as we look forward to 2012."
A survey conducted by the National Bison Association in mid-2011 found that most commercial marketers are unable supply all of their customers' requests for bison. The higher market prices are encouraging ranchers to increase their herds, but Carter said it will still take time for the production to catch up with demand.
"Because we haven't tinkered with the animals to make them grow faster than Mother Nature intended, we have to be patient in terms of bringing extra supply to the market" Carter said. "In addition, some buffalo that would have gone to the food market in years' past are now being held back to expand the herds. That compounds the shortage in the immediate future."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 42,756 bison were processed under federal inspection through mid-December represented a decline of 16 percent compared to the year-to-date processing in 2010. Female animals account for 39 percent of the bison harvested year-to-date this year, compared to 46 percent in 2010.The association has developed several resources to promote what it calls the Bison Advantage as it works to recruit new producers. Those resources include a comprehensive handbook, workshops, an on-line curriculum, and other tools for new and expanding bison ranchers.