A Brief History
The bison industry is growing rapidly today, spurred by increased consumer demand for the deliciously healthy meat products and its byproducts.
This consumer-driven market surge marks a significant step forward in the development of the bison business as a strong, sustainable opportunity for ranchers/farmers and marketers alike.
Today's commercial bison business began in the late 1960's, but didn't gain significant momentum until the late 1980's. At that time, many new producers began to enter the business. The prices of animals began to climb rapidly as these new entrants competed for breeding stock to build their herds.
Meanwhile, some of the leading chefs across the country began to discover the wonderful flavor that bison meat added to their recipes. However, these gourmet chefs primarily sought the high-end cuts of meat, such as tenderloins and strip steaks.
By 1998, the price of live animals exceeded the ability of many producers to purchase new stock. At the same time, the industry suffered from being overstocked with some of the lower-end cuts of meat, such as roasts and burger meat. In 1999, the industry entered a four-year slump, with the prices of live animals falling dramatically. The difficulties ranchers and farmers faced were compounded by a significant and sustained drought that affected the heart of the North American bison production areas.
In early 2003, however, the business was beginning to show signs of turning around. The resurgence began in earnest in late 2003, and today, the industry is once again entering a period of growth and profitability, now with six straight years of double digit growth in consumer demand for bison meat.
Several factors are contributing to the demand for deliciously healthy buffalo:
- Growing numbers of consumers are discovering the direct connection between diet and health, and are actively seeking flavorful meats produced without the use of growth hormones or low-levels of antibiotics.
- A growing legion of restaurants are adding a variety of recipes featuring all types of bison cuts, everything from brisket to short ribs.
- Active promotion by the National Bison Association and independent marketers is spreading the word that buffalo is delicious, and healthy.
Today, bison producers can be found in all 50 states, every Canadian province, and in several countries overseas. The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported that approximately 4,400 private ranches and farms today raise 198,000 head of bison across the United States. Approximately 25,000 additional animals are kept in public herds. And, the Canadian herd is estimated at 220,000 head.
This is an amazing comeback for a species that hovered on the brink of extinction only a century ago.