Dietrich Ranch exemplifies value of local producers

Grass-fed beef is key to herd health and the environment

Dan Dietrich is a fourth generation farmer on his family’s land north of Mt. Morris.

But he doesn’t raise livestock the way the generations before him did. And he doesn’t do it the way other area farmers do, either.

Dietrich Ranch offers grass fed, pasture-raised products from animals without hormones and antibiotics. Eighty percent of sales goes to wholesale customers and 20 percent is sold to individuals in larger portions and different cuts. 

“I wanted to be more holistic,” Dan Dietrich said. “It helped me get a relationship with the customers. It’s a market for beef that’s clean in nature. There’s a premium for our beef. It’s not a huge difference. We still have a good local product. It’s a different marketing system.”

The meat industry has been impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some meat processing plants were closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Restaurants being closed changed what products were in demand in markets. Many farmers were stuck with low prices or had nowhere to take their livestock. 

Because Dietrich Ranch is direct-to-market, it didn’t have those problems. Dietrich booked processing dates a year and a half in advance. 

“This has been a problem in agriculture for a long time,” Dietrich said. “We have only so many markets we can sell to. When you are a price taker, you’re selling at whatever. I can be a price maker. That attracted me.”

Over the past few years, Dietrich has finished about 100 head of cattle a year. This year, he’s looking at 250-300 because of an increase in interest and people looking to shop local with the pandemic going on.

Dietrich would like to see the meat industry swing back in the direction of local producers. He believes COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the problems in the industry and has acted as a catalyst in ways that could keep money local and help small communities thrive again. 

“People are becoming aware of how valuable local meat can be,” Dietrich said. “COVID-19 just woke people that maybe didn’t see the advantage of that. If something disruptive happens with the grocery store, where will we go? That’s here. Back in the 1950s, that’s how everyone did it. They knew a farmer and bought it directly. Now it’s a natural reaction.”

Growing up in the mid to late 90s, the Dietrich family had several operations. Dan’s dad had hogs and his grandfather had cattle. His uncle milked cows. 

And then the older generation retired. Dan wanted to keep going. The infrastructure on the family farm was old. Grass fed beef was gaining popularity. 

In 2009, Dietrich seeded grass and turned cattle out in the pasture and started implementing more holistic practices. The health of the land is important to him. 

“People are out here seeing the landscape and the health of the cattle and cleanliness,” Dietrich said. “There’s little erosion from water and rain. The soil is improving. Once they see that, it’s cool. The great tasting beef is just a bonus.”

The farm has three parcels. Dietrich rents the 200 acres that livestock graze over from the family and runs it mostly alone. He always had an interest in continuing the operation and wants to be viable for future generations. He has an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. 

“When you’re fourth generation, you don’t want to be the one that lost it,” Dietrich said. “I have a love and interest for it. It keeps me motivated to continue to learn and figure out a way. I want it to be there for them and set examples for other farms and people just starting out.”

Dietrich Ranch also offers pork. lamb, and chicken.

For more information, visit https://www.dietrichranch.com or call 815-973-6879.

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