WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota Bison Association’s annual educational conference is coming to southwest Minnesota this spring.
“Hindsight is 20/20: Lessons from the Past, Present and Future” is the theme for the April 3-5 event, which takes place at Round Lake Vineyards and Winery. This will be the first time the conference, in its 27th year, will be in Jackson County, according to Jessica Spaeth, executive director of the Minnesota Bison Association.
Spaeth, of Halstad in far northwest Minnesota, said she anticipates the conference will draw roughly 125 attendees, and not just from the North Star State. The membership is comprised of bison producers from 16 different states and two Canadian provinces.
“This (conference) is open to everyone,” she said. “We have people coming from Colorado, Indiana — last year, we had folks from Manitoba.
“We do anticipate a lot of Minnesota and Iowa producers, as well as from South Dakota, because of the location,” she added.
The rural Round Lake location was chosen by this year’s conference hosts — Round Lake native Rod Sather, who operates Mosquito Park Enterprises, a bison ranch near Vivian, S.D.; and Karrie Scholtes, event planner at Round Lake Vineyards and Winery.
The Friday evening and all day Saturday conference format features a board of directors meeting in advance of an evening banquet April 3. The trade show will open for the evening, and a pair of speakers are planned to kick off the conference.
Saturday’s events include a membership meeting, an update from the National Bison Association, producer panels and speakers, a presentation and tour of Round Lake Vineyards and Winery by Scott Ellenbecker and an evening banquet.
Board members will then wrap up the conference with a meeting Sunday morning.
“Our motto is helping members successfully raise and promote bison,” Spaeth said, noting the conference brings bison producers together to learn from each other, as well as from the speakers.
“We help all producers — from those who have been doing it a long time to those who are interested in raising them,” she said. “We try to be a resource for the entire aspect of the industry.”
Bringing together producers who raise bison on grass, as well as producers who raise bison on corn, Spaeth said the program has something for everyone.
“Each operation is so unique and each producer has different ways to make their operation successful,” she said.
Aligning with its motto of educating people about bison, Spaeth said FFA chapters and 4-H clubs are encouraged to attend the conference, noting a student package offering.
Last year, when the conference was in Sleepy Eye, FFA members came for the Saturday lunch and stayed to listen to one of the speakers. Any groups who would like to participate are asked to call Spaeth by March 15 at (507) 454-2828 to ensure space is available.
One of the topics of bison production that continues to dominate discussion in the industry is the need for proper product labeling, Spaeth shared. The National Bison Association has done a lot of work on labeling so that consumers know when they see the word “buffalo” on a package of meat, they know they’re getting American bison and not water buffalo.
“There’s been a lot of water buffalo meat that has come into the U.S.,” Spaeth said. Differentiating the difference for consumers is paramount.
The American bison industry has a strong and successful market, but there is a learning curve for individuals who may be considering bison production.
“It’s not the same as (raising) cattle or other animals,” Spaeth said. “(Bison) are very self-sufficient. They don’t require artificial shelter; they do require stronger fencing. Bison are made for the cold weather.”
Spaeth said the bison industry in Minnesota has remained steady, noting that as some producers retire, new producers are cropping up. Having an annual conference helps to deliver information to producers at all levels.
“These conferences, you get a lot of information out of the speakers, but the networking after the speakers has a lot of impact,” Spaeth said. “I think that’s a valuable part of the conference.”
For more information about the Minnesota Bison Association, visit mnbison.org.