Month: January 2020

Planning With Purpose

Practical Planning

Components of Intentional Management on a Ranch

Updated 

What is intentional management? It might be easier to describe what it is not than to describe what it is. In an attempt at “tongue-in-cheek” humor, let me describe what intentional management is not.

You might not be managing intentionally if:

  • Your record-keeping system is a shoe box or a file folder in which you keep receipts until tax time;
  • Your marketing plan is to sell the largest calves each time you pen the herd, weaning the calves en route to the sale barn;
  • Your winter-feeding program is to provide cubes a couple of times a week to the herd without knowing the quality of the hay or standing forage on offer;
  • Your stocking rate was set by what the neighbor, your granddad or your real estate agent suggested, and you don’t adjust it until drought forces you to; or
  • You don’t routinely test and analyze your pasture soils, yet you routinely apply fertilizer.

I’m sure you can think of other ways of how we as producers too often go about “running” cattle with little forethought and planning. In favorable years, we can get by easily enough, but in unfavorable years (due to weather, markets or other issues), difficulties arise.

These unanticipated surprises can be costly and often difficult to overcome. Hopefully, most of us learn from our mistakes and failures and, if we survive, can laugh at them in hindsight. The secret is to fail early, fail often, but fail cheaply—and adapt our management so that we do not repeat our mistakes.

 

Manage with intent

Intentional management is the active management of the collective components of an operation toward the achievement of realistic, well-defined goals. It is a holistic and forward-focused management approach in which an operational management plan is created and used as a template to plan and prioritize activities, then to monitor and measure progress toward defined production and economic objectives.

Management plans need to be built to complement the resources of the operation—the land, facilities, personnel and production system(s) being operated. Even though there is always some uncertainty within an agricultural operation, with a management plan in place, a producer has a road map to guide him or her toward a predetermined outcome.

When variations in climate or markets or other surprises occur and force a change of course, having the plan in place helps guide a producer to either continue to navigate toward the original outcome or alter the course toward a new, more realistic or attainable goal, given the circumstances.

 

Planning brings clarity of purpose

For intentional management to be more than a concept, it takes forethought, planning and action. The biggest challenge for most producers is getting started. It is much too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a cattle ranch or agricultural operation. It is in the intentionality of developing a management plan where clarity of purpose is achieved.

This is where a manager establishes a vision of a desired future for the ranch, identifies the key management objectives to be accomplished, devises an action plan that addresses the critical aspects of each management component, and integrates these components into the management plan for the ranch that the entire staff will implement.

The management plan for the current year becomes the template for the following year, with continual fine-tuning and adjustments over time while adapting to the changing industry, market conditions and climate variations that will occur.

Through intentional management and use of a management plan, managers are more likely to attain their desired goals, will experience fewer surprises, and are better prepared for the unexpected when it occurs. Then, instead of just laughing at mistakes of the past, we can laugh ourselves all the way to the bank.

 

Components of intentional management

Management plan

First is the management plan itself, which is the compilation and integration of the other six components.

Pasture management

Second is the pasture management plan, which includes the soils, forages and water resources. The management plan is grounded by the pasture management plan, which forms the foundation upon which the other components rest. The pasture management plan is the first component to address in intentional management.

Stocking rate management

Third is the stocking rate management plan, which entails the matching of grazing livestock numbers to forage production as well as managing and adapting livestock numbers as forage production changes within and throughout years.

 

Cattle management

Fourth is the cattle management plan. The cattle management plan includes the breeding, nutrition, health and husbandry aspects of a cattle program, which ideally complements the land resources of the operation.

 

Marketing plan

Fifth is the marketing plan, which leverages the attributes of the cattle and management for optimum economic results. Typically, this means managing the ranch resources so there is an element of flexibility within the stocking rate for retained ownership of calves or other stocker cattle enterprises as well as timing sales with favorable cattle markets and market cycles.

 

Record-keeping system

The sixth component is a good record-keeping system for ranch operations. This is a record-keeping system that allows easy tracking and monitoring of critical production and economic information. It also provides managers the ability to conduct enterprise analyses, prepare financial statements, and develop monthly and annual operational reports.

 

Personnel management plan

Seventh is a personnel management plan, which allows a manager to intentionally develop the skills and knowledge of ranch staff to build competencies and enhance their value to the operation. A personnel management plan addresses the needs of the operation, from onboarding a new employee to rewarding valued and tenured employees. It also includes performance evaluations, goal-setting sessions, training and professional improvement. — Hugh Aljoe,

Noble Research Institute director of producer relations

Don’t be afraid to challenge heifers during development

By MORGAN ROSE The Prairie Star Jan 20, 2020

Research out of Fort Keogh, a former U.S. Army base off the western edge of Miles City, Mont., indicates that pressuring heifers in their earliest stages of development may pay off big in the long-run.

MILES CITY, Mont. – It is no secret that the largest cost endured by cattle producers is their yearly feed bill. It is also no secret that having cows who consistently bring a calf to market every fall is the long-term goal of any producer. For many years, the thinking has always been that in order to have a cow remain in the herd long-term a producer must ensure that heifers are handled with kid gloves and given everything they need from a nutritional and environmental standpoint so they can develop correctly.

Research coming out of Fort Keogh, a former U.S. Army base off the western edge of Miles City, Mont., is turning that line of thinking upside down. Dr. Andrew Roberts, a research scientist at Fort Keogh, is leading a study that is comparing heifers developed in a feedlot to heifers developed on range. The study began in 2012 and it stemmed from previous research where heifers were developed in a feedlot at two different levels.

“The feedlot study pretty much showed that the current recommendations in the industry are probably very excessive for heifer development,” Roberts stated.
Roberts went on to explain that recommendations published in popular press today are often based off of research on heifer development that was conducted in the 1960s through the 1980s. In the mid-part of the 20th century, heifers were never bred until they were two years old, they simply never reached puberty until then. At that time, there was a big push to try and get heifers to reach puberty quicker. Breed genetics where advancing, and at the same time, producers were pouring the coals to the heifers nutritionally.

“Those animals aren’t representative of what we are dealing with now,” he said.

With that in mind, Roberts and his research team decided to go back to the drawing board to try and find a more cost-effective way to develop heifers and to see if where they are developed has any correlation to cow longevity in the herd.

The ongoing research is being done on a composite herd that was developed at Fort Keogh. Heifers are 50 percent Red Angus, 25 percent Charolais and 25 percent Tarentaise. The heifers in the study have been divided into three groups: one group is weaned and developed in a traditional feedlot setting; one group is developed on range and given four pounds of cake as a supplement; and the final group is developed on range, but given free-choice access to a mineral and protein supplement. The range cattle are only fed hay when weather and range conditions made grazing not possible.

It is important to note, the range-developed heifers where fence-lined weaned in a pasture, so the entire development process was conducted in a setting similar to the one the heifers are expected to perform in as running-age cows.

Over the course of the study, more and more pressure has been applied to the range heifers. Not only are they being challenged for feed efficiency, but fertility, as well. When the study started, the heifers entered a 60-day breeding period, which has now been shortened to a period closer to 30-days. Even so, the heifers average 77-78 percent breed up rates, which is outstanding for first calf heifers.

Roberts’ study is showing that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to make young heifers prove themselves. Allowing Mother Nature and natural selection to weed out the weaker heifers is not only more cost effective, but it may lead to better female retention.

“By having more pressure on their first pregnancy as a heifer, we are getting very good rebreeding rates, over 90 percent among our two- and three-year olds. When we did this in the feedlot study, pregnancy rates were closer to 80 percent for those same age groups,” Roberts stated.

In general, it is considered bad to have low pregnancy rates, but Roberts argues it really comes down to efficiency. Don’t waste money propping up the weak ones, he warned.

“If you have a group of cattle and you fed them more to get five percent more bred, then really that five percent is your least efficient bunch you are getting calves from and you will end up over feeding the rest of the group,” he says.

When it comes to heifers, Roberts advises producers to keep the long-term goal in mind: cow longevity. Challenging heifers early on in their development will toughen up your entire cattle herd down the line. There is a greater chance a producer will see better rebreeding rates and the cattle will stand a better chance of being productive for longer.

“You have to make progress in selecting animals that work in the nutritional environment you’re operating in,” Roberts added.

Roberts plans to continue his research and study the heifers more as they turn into cows. The first batch of heifers studied in 2012 will be turning eight-years-old this year, so Roberts looks forward to examining data from those cows as they continue to age.

Heifer development is critical, but if approached correctly, it doesn’t have to be a black hole for money. As the saying goes, “cream always rises to the top,” especially if given the chance to do so naturally.

The Greenlash has begun

Ladies and gentlemen, the Greenlash has begun. All along the urban/rural interface the peasants are revolting.

Those who used to cuss the farmer now flock to farmers’ markets. They cursed cows until the cow pastures were filled with grapes sucking up all the water, so now they want the cows back. They hated fossil fuels, so they bought into the hybrid and electric car craze only to discover that the electricity that powered their car came from coal, natural gas or oil. They wanted all the dams torn down until they realized they were what lit their homes and powered their Prius.

Those who destroyed the ranching, mining, fishing and timber industries now bemoan the shortage of affordable housing and the dearth of gold and silver that make their iPhones work. They complained about the high cost of beef and salmon steaks until they realized they were the ones who over-regulated the cowboys and fishermen to death.

The urbanites want the bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions protected until one eats their kitty cat. Then they want them all annihilated. They believe in man-made climate change until they realize “the cure” will raise their state taxes. Then they seek refuge in Florida, Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, Washington, South Dakota or Alaska where there is no state tax. They love trees until they are fined $100 because their kid got caught climbing one. They want to save water for fairy shrimp, suckers and salmon but not if it means tearing out their lawns or taking shorter showers. If they’re told they can’t cut firewood on public land oh, hear them rave!

The more intelligent urbanites got suspicious when “global warming” got changed to “climate change.” They got mad when they found out that The Inconvenient Truth was that their hero, Al Gore, was a capitalist getting filthy rich off carbon credit trading and solar energy. They didn’t want any forests logged or thinned until the raging fires burned their house down. They grudgingly admit that even those clear cuts acted as fire breaks and the cows and sheep did reduce the fire load. And when the nightly news showed the charred remains of endangered crispy critters killed by raging infernos it made them think that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t know as much as they thought they did.
What really got their goat was when they found that all those recyclables they’d been sorting for the past year got buried in the same dump as the rest of their garbage because China no longer wanted their melted water bottles. When they heard about the floating mass of plastic floating out in the ocean they realized that some of it was theirs.

When Edison and PG & E started turning off people’s electricity during wildfire season the urbanites got a real taste of “living off the grid” and they didn’t like it all that much. When they saw the sprawling mansions of New York Sierra Club eco-lawyers and Nature Conservancy lobbyists in Architectural Digest and on HGTV it seemed just a tad bit hypocritical.

They believed in globalism until they lost their manufacturing job to China or Mexico and now they have to work two jobs waiting tables to make ends meet. When China and India refused to rein in their contribution to “man made climate change” they realized that the big sucker in the room was the American staring back at them in the mirror.

They loved being able to rent out an extra room in their house through Airbnb until the city started making them pay hotel and motel fees. Some of the shine came off Uber when the drivers had to pay for a business license. Silicon Valley nerds bought bare ground for $500,000 per plot on which to build their dream homes someday only to learn they couldn’t build because there was an endangered snail on their land. But they still had to pay property taxes on their lots that were now rendered worthless. The snails could live there but they couldn’t! And, boy oh boy, did they love wolves … until they moved into their neighborhood.

They worshipped Hollywood eco-celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio until they read that his personal jet was spewing more greenhouse gas in one takeoff than they would in their entire life. ❖

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

By Lacey Newlin Jan 7, 2020

“There are some really highly educated people out there who are actively against the beef industry,” said Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think there is going to be anything we can do to change that. I think they will be against everything we do, no matter how we do it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mount a defense or stop educating the consumers about the value we bring to their plates.”

Wickersham spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in a presentation called “Beef’s job title.” He says beef’s job title is to be a protein upcycler, which means to improve the value of protein.

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

 

 

 

 

Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University, spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference about beef’s job title of protein upcycler. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Wickersham says, on average, it takes 770 pounds of corn to get a beef animal ready for slaughter. Corn is the primary source of human edible protein, or HEP, we feed and the main competition for food sources between cattle and humans. HEP does not necessarily mean tasty protein, but it is protein a person could consume. For example, grass is a source of non-HEP. Soybean meal, though we would not want to consume it, is a great source of HEP. Some people challenge agriculture for raising corn-fed cattle and believe we should be feeding all that corn to humans.

“If we didn’t feed corn to cattle, we wouldn’t compete with humans for that much food,” he said. “To justify corn-fed beef, we have to be able to say it is a better use of corn to feed it to cattle instead of children.”

He says children are used in his model because they have high amino acid requirements and they grow rapidly. The 770 pounds of corn we normally feed to one beef animal would meet the indispensable amino acid requirements of three children, according to Wickersham. Indispensable amino acids must be consumed in a diet to meet your protein requirements. If a child does not consume them, growth will be stunted.

“We don’t think a lot about stunting in the United States, but it’s a real problem in the world,” Wickersham said. “The world is not deficient in calories, it’s deficient in protein and other micro-nutrients and beef happens to be a really good source of those things. If you want to be a vegetarian in the United States you can, and you can meet your requirements and not be deficient, but not everyone is in the United States.”

Wickersham says corn is also high in calories, so those children would have to consume a lot more calories to meet their amino acid needs. In fact, it would be essentially impossible for a child to eat enough corn to meet their requirements.

On the other hand, if we feed the corn to cattle, through the value of protein upcycling we could feed 17 children and easily meet their protein requirements by feeding that one beef animal the 770 pounds of corn. Furthermore, ruminants can utilize sources of biomass that other meat-producing animals, such as fish, pigs and chickens, cannot.

“We’re really dependent on ruminal microbes to convert low-quality sources of protein into a more valuable source of indispensable amino acids,” Wickersham said. “Our animals can eat things that those other animals can’t and convert them into steak.”

Balancing the pillars of sustainability

Another method Wickersham uses to measure protein upcycling is net protein contribution or NPC. It estimates how a production system is contributing to meeting human protein requirements. Wickersham says this metric does allow us to address social sustainability. Sustainability is built on three pillars: social, environmental and economic sustainability. Wickersham says producers cannot pick just one pillar to focus on, they must balance them all.

“The beef industry does a really good job of addressing economic sustainability because everyone wants to stay in business,” he said. “We think about environmental sustainability indirectly as a result of improving economics. However, we rarely think about social sustainability of beef cattle production.”

According to Wickersham, methane production and HEP consumption are inversely related. The more HEP we feed cattle, generally methane production goes down. Conversely, if we feed them less HEP, methane goes up.

“We want them to balance each other,” Wickersham said. “We don’t want to go too far down on NPC. We want to have something counter balancing and pushing against NPC, so we are making the best decisions for the environment too.”

Another important figure is protein quality ratio or PQR, which determines if we are improving the protein quality of the product produced. As an example, the input PQR of corn is 36.8 and the output of beef is 112, by the end of the process, the beef animal has improved the protein quality three-fold. Wickersham says corn is about as bad as you can get when it comes to HEP and PQR and beef is at the best. Beef is a fixed biology; we cannot change the amino acid profile for the output. We can, however, change the input.

“We want the protein produced to be better than the protein we fed,” Wickersham explained.

Wickersham says we can determine if beef is competing with humans for HEP if we multiply HEP by PQR which will equal the NPC. If it is one or above, it is contributing to the human protein supply. Beef is usually around three, but at times it rises or falls, depending on phases of the beef cycle.

Wickersham says beef has a really great story to tell, but most of the time we fail to tell that story very well. He says NPC is a useful tool for defining the value of beef production systems.

“It gives us social sustainability and allows us to tell a compelling story that beef cattle are producing improved-value protein,” Wickersham said. “It also gives us an environmental sustainability and efficiency of nutrient utilization and provides us a way of capturing the benefit of having cows grazing our pasture. That brings value to humans. We are taking that grass that we have no way to utilize and turning it into steak.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

Testing New Futures

Testing New Futures

Holistic Ranch Management More Than Grass

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

“No. You missed that,” Scott Johnson says, correcting a caller. He and his wife, Jean, were traversing a part of eastern Colorado on one end of a long-distance struggle with cell service. The caller had entirely missed the point Scott made about holistic management. It is much more than grass.

The template of holistic management laid over the Johnson family’s Flying Diamond Ranch, Scott explains, is a collaboration of moving parts. It considers the harsh seasons of Colorado’s semiarid eastern plains and the sustainability of the ranch’s composite Angus herd. It is management of predatory coyotes, of spring calving and scrutiny of meat markets. Most of all, it is family — this one taking its first steps into a sixth generation with five grandchildren, four born in 11 months.

“Do you follow my way of thinking?” Scott asks. “If our ROI [return on investment] is great, but someone is maimed, we wouldn’t be real proud [of our performance]. We will give up profit for safety or harmony,” he says. “The focus is on the whole. If we’re not getting along as a family, if we’re not safe, then the rest of this really doesn’t matter,” he explains. “It’s its entirety. Its wholeness. Its balance. Not perfection. But, bottom line, [we are] profit-oriented. Business is business.”

The Flying Diamond’s clean and highly viewable website uses six words to articulate holistic management: “Ranching with family. Working with nature.”

BORN ON A CATTLE DRIVE

Flying Diamond is 112 years in the making. Charlie Collins, Scott’s great-grandfather, fell in love with the land when, as a teen in the late 1800s, he trailed cattle near the banks of Big Sandy Creek on a drive from Mexico to Montana. By 1907, Collins had moved his family from Kansas to Kit Carson, where the ranch is still headquartered today.

The ranch is dominated by a shortgrass and sand sage landscape. Thick riparian areas border the Big Sandy and Horse creeks, tributaries of the Arkansas River. Culls are based on a female’s ability to wean a calf every year beginning at age 2 and succeed in 13 inches of precipitation and temperatures running the scale from below zero to above 100ËšF.

The cattle winter on corn circles in Kansas and Nebraska. “We like to rest our pastures during the winter. It’s healthier for our grass to have the cattle off and let it rest, and get a little more growth,” Jean says. Scott adds, “Having cattle on cornstalks, our day-to-day chores slow down a little bit in the winter. We can give family a little breather.”

Flying Diamond is an operation run by a family of type A personalities, Scott allows. “We’re not real chitchatters. We socialize. We have good times. We want to maintain excellent family relations. But, we’re not sitting around drinking a lot of coffee.”

GENERATIONS MANAGE TOGETHER

Scott and Jean anchor the Flying Diamond’s fourth generation. Their four adult children represent its fifth. Ownership is based on a meritocracy. The more a family member contributes, the more they own.

Jen Livsey, married to Jay, is the oldest. She is a Princeton University undergraduate and the first female graduate from the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management. She recently opened Eastco Group, a livestock and drought insurance business. Jen oversees the rotational-grazing plan and analyzes purchase and lease opportunities.

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Will and Lauren Johnson live full-time on the ranch. A Marine Corps veteran, Will is CEO of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc.

Myles Johnson and his wife, Katie, live in Idalia, Colorado, where Myles is the K through 12 superintendent of schools. Myles is the ranch’s administrative officer, managing compliance, meetings and corporate records. Katie is a certified public accountant and manages the ranch books.

Charlie Johnson and his wife, Kaitlin, live in Kit Carson. He is chief operating officer (COO) of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc. He partners with Jen in livestock and drought insurance.

Business is organized around communications—face-to-face, weekly conference calls and a monthly executive committee meeting. Quarterly board meetings are a newer function Kirk Samuelson, Scott’s cousin, brought to the ranch. Samuelson served as COO of Fortune 500 Kiewit Corp., in Omaha, until he retired. He and Scott are cochairmen of the board for Flying Diamond. Quarterly board meetings are formal. “Ten years ago, I was the dictator,” Scott admits. “Now, no one is comfortable with that. When we talk about family harmony, that’s not to suggest there aren’t red faces and pounding on the table.”

The board meetings are to play a role in the ranch’s vitality. “You go to workshops, and you hear horror stories,” Jean says. “Families won’t talk to each other. Ranches divide. That is a threat. How do you keep a 100-year-old ranch together for the next generation?”

The board meetings have a start-stop time and a structured agenda. They often include talks by outside experts. Assignments are given before the meeting—budgets, range management, cattle movements, fertility testing and branding, selling bulls, commodity markets and new market opportunities. “There is an element of accountability brought into the operation that we didn’t have before,” Jean says. “You are held accountable. What did you say you were going to accomplish? Did you do it?”

AGREEMENT IS KEY GOAL

Flying Diamond’s meetings are collaborative. The goal is consensus. “At the end of the day, we want to come up with a compromise we can all live with. This is a new concept for us,” Scott explains.

New is a continuing education standard. Time spent in continuing education is measurable and reported quarterly toward an annual goal of 300 hours. Safety is one component. Jean is the ranch’s safety officer. She has organized horse- and cattle-handling courses. “We specifically do safety training, communicate safety and track safety by hours per year.”

Calving runs from March through May. “We try to mimic nature,” Scott says. “We calve when the deer and the antelope and the elk calve.” Cows graze on spring grasses and not supplemental feed, and the calves generally miss late-season blizzards. Predation is better managed. Calves invite coyotes in the dark of winter. Coyotes have a wider menu in the spring, when the ranch’s wildlife also is giving birth.

“Deer and antelope spend zero dollars, and their offspring have a 50 percent survival rate,” Jen told ColoradoBIZ in a February article about Flying Diamond Ranch. The goal of the ranch, she explained, is to improve the odds of survival among the calf crop but mimic nature to lower production costs.

And here, an example of holistic management: “Our guys aren’t out in blizzards. The weather is better for the calf and better for us,” Scott says.

PATH TO PRODUCTIVITY

Cattle graze only 5% of the ranch’s ground at any one time. Nearly 200 miles of single-strand electric interior fence mark paddocks typically less than 300 acres in size. Cattle graze in some paddocks no more than three days in a growing season. Stocking rates once ran 40 acres per cow/calf unit. Today, it is 30 acres per unit. “We are able to run 30% more animals. Maybe we’ll be able to get to 20 acres per cow/calf unit with more intensive grazing,” he says.

Scott traces his land-management practice to several days spent 35 years ago with Allan Savory, the guru of grazing lands holistic management. Savory’s notion was to move cattle frequently—as bison moved themselves—by way of intensive, human-directed management.

Flying Diamond has laid out 20 miles of water pipeline with the assistance of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Stewardship programs. Seven wells pump water to 23 stock tanks. The family has an eye to tightening its grazing practices—that cattle would graze no more than 1% of the ranch’s acreage at any one time.

Few ranches are as intense, Scott says. “Everything gets more intense the more intense we get. More monitoring, quicker moves. We are not know-it-alls. But, it can be a big benefit to the resource and a big benefit financially.”

ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT

Holistic management is one of many parts. Flying Diamond Ranch has won its share of acclaim for this approach as the recipient of the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award and regional Environmental Stewardship Award, the latter partially sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.

Awards recognize achievement. Flying Diamond Ranch tests new futures. Its organic cuts, for example, are finding customers in San Francisco. As a member of its advisory committee, Jean learns how the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University studies water conservation, sustainability, even urban farming. But also, meatless meat.

“It sounds like science fiction to us, but maybe it’s something that’s coming,” says Jean, not setting aside opportunity perhaps born of a petri dish. The future does not discourage Flying Diamond Ranch. “We’re bullish on agriculture,” Scott says.

The Flying Diamond Ranch evolves and grows and shifts for a time beyond Scott and Jean, and perhaps beyond Jen, Will, Myles and Charles—from today to a time for five grandchildren: Collins, Sofia, Clint, Stella and Henry, growing up among the hills of Colorado’s plain.

One generation builds on another. “We think,” Scott says, “that future is pretty bright.”