Look under the cowboy hats at a typical meeting of ranchers and you'll see a lot of grey hair and balding heads.
Ranching in B.C. remains a family owned industry, but there are looming questions about whether the next generation will be able to grab hold of the reins.
Cole Bailey, a 27-year-old rancher from the Pritchard area, acknowledges he has considered his future, uncertain economics and land prices that are based on values other than agriculture.
But Bailey's involvement as a leader in a national program has given him the knowledge and inspiration to take a chance on the future of ranching.
Bailey is one of 16 young people chosen to be part of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association's young leaders program - a year-long process of mentorship and fellowship with other ranchers across the country.
The beef industry is a political one, particularly because ranchers depend upon use of Crown land and are affected by government regulation. The national association is training ranchers like Bailey to be its leaders of the future, whether meeting with politicians or heads of multinational corporations involved in the processing side.
Bailey isn't the only regional voice in this year's program, which winds up this month. Erika Strande, a rancher in the Nicola Valley, was also chosen for the program in 2012.
Like Bailey, she credits the program for boosting her knowledge and networks within ranching. She is paired with a rancher in Rock Creek for the duration of the program, while Bailey's mentor is a former CCA president from Brooks, Alta.
"I talk with her (Erika Fossen) regularly, for questions and ideas," Strande said.
Through that contact she's expanding her niche marketing of Heritage Mountain Meats, based partly on Fossen's marketing of beef at the Big White ski resort.
In addition to her involvement in ranching, Strande has an education degree and has done both teaching and ranching in her young career.
Ultimately, desire and economics will decide whether the next generation of B.C. ranchers continues the tradition. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of agriculturalists in this province is nearly 56 years, 1.5 years older than the national average.
"We're getting older and not seeing that young influence come in," said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association.
Both have witnessed, as teens and then young adults, the industry's dire fortunes after the 2003 BSE crisis and then gradual improvement in prices during the past two years.
Strande is sitting on the fence with regard to her future and her ability to take on the 250-head operation in the Nicola Valley from her parents.
"I hope to. There's a lot of obstacles, for sure."
The biggest obstacle is the ability to pay back the debts incurred to take over operations - a price that bankrolls parents' retirement.
Bailey has already taken the leap, buying a ranch share from his grandmother.
"You have to love it if you want to do it," he said. "I do have confidence in the future with cattle numbers as low as they are in North America. I think we'll see stable prices."
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