Out East where bison still roam, nearly 7,000 of the hulking, hairy beasts snort and thunder across the plains from Maine to Maryland – until they reach the bison-proof fence lines on 307 farms. So says the 2007 ag census.
Gunpowder Bison Ranch, a 70-acre spread out where the country begins north of Baltimore, Md., is the headquarters of Gunpowder Bison and Trading Company. Owner Trey Lewis recently spoke to the North American Agricultural Journalists at their annual convention in Washington, D.C.
His company harvests about 450 animals a year, supplying steaks, roasts, bison burgers and more to 10 area farmers' markets plus high-end restaurants. And, he merchandises meat online.
"We walk a fine line between knowing how to meet demand for our product, yet hold back heifers for herd expansion and replacement," Lewis told the group. With market prices at record levels, that's the quandary all bison ranches are in.
The value of bison meat sold in grocery stores, restaurants and farmers' markets topped $278 million in 2011, according to an economic analysis released this week from the National Bison Association. The 2011 retail and restaurant sales represent a 15.8% jump over 2010, despite a 16% drop in the number of animals processed commercially compared to 2010.
"The economic data underscores the great connection that bison producers have made with customers across the country," declares Dave Carter, executive director of Colorado-based National Bison Association. According to the association's analysis, retail and foodservice sales of bison reached $278.9 million in 2011, compared to $241.1 million in 2010.
However, the 53,680 bison processed under USDA and state-level inspection in 2011 was 16% below the 63,900 harvested in 2010. Bison producers are holding back animals to build their herds to keep pace with increasing consumer demand.Learn more about Gunpowder Bison and Trading Company at www.gunpowderbison.com. Learn more about the National Bison Association at www.bisoncentral.com