Farmer Profile : Rancher Enjoys Telling Farmers’ Story Through Super Bowl Ad
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
It didn’t occur to Mary Roberts that the photographer tagging along with her on her Montana farm might want to take a picture of her.
Roberts, a 61-year-old rancher who’s worked cattle in Montana and Wyoming most of her life, wasn’t doing anything special that January morning … just chopping through about 5 inches of ice so that the cows could get to their water. It wasn’t even that cold … maybe 5 or 10 degrees F. So, she hurried through her chores, afraid that she was wasting the photographer’s time.
She was a little shocked (and pleased) when she saw her own face in a now famous Chrysler ad that aired during Super Bowl XLVII.
Thirty seconds into the ad (which you can see at www.ramtrucks.com/en/keepplowing), Roberts face appears in black and white; she’s holding the shovel that she just used to clear ice. In the next frame, her husband Frank gazes out over the farm.
“We’d had a lot of sub-zero weather up to that morning, and I told the photographer, ‘Gee, there’s nothing going on.’ When I think of a photographer on the ranch, I figure they want to see you on horseback loping across the field,” Mary said. “I was just chopping ice and Frank was feeding. That’s what the guys were doing.”
But the photographer and producers that put together the Chrysler ad liked the photos that showed just what life is like for the ranching family.
The Robertses run a 24,000-acre cow-calf operation in central Montana, near Great Falls, with about 1,200 head of mother cows. Some of that acreage is owned and some leased.
“It’s got the best grass and water of any land we’ve ever had,” Mary said. “We joke that we sell grass, but it has to go into a cow first.”
Unlike much of the country, central Montana hasn’t had a problem with moisture lately, but that precipitation sometimes comes at a cost.
Early spring snows are a blessing and a curse.
Every few years, a late April storm will dump three or four feet of snow on the ranch, right in the heart of calving season, when as many as 30 cows will give birth in a day.
“It’s tough on the young calves, and we lose some. But we know we will have moisture and feed for those that survive,” she said. “It is a better thing than a bad thing.”
If they see a storm coming, the ranchers will do all they can to get the herd into a sheltered area, usually into a small pasture with willows and plenty of hay. If a calf is born into the harshest weather, he may have to be moved to the barn but that’s more work for the ranchers and can keep the cow from bonding as she should.
And sometimes, big storms blow up with little notice, anyway.
“It’s heart-breaking and there’s nothing you can do about it, because it’s white-out conditions and you can’t even see past the hood of the pickup truck,” Roberts said.
Life on the ranch is hard, but Mary has never wanted anything else. She was offered a barrel-racing scholarship to go to college, and husband Frank could have gone to school for athletics, but they already knew what they wanted to do.
Now, daughter Krystal and son-in-law Kirby share the ranch with their 4-year-old son Gatlin. They eat a big mid-day meal together every day, except for the weeks leading up to calving time, when everyone will be working from dawn until after dusk.
Mary hopes that her grandson will follow in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents.
“Right now, he has a real interest in ranching, and we hope that stays,” she said. “Just this morning, he was out putting salt and range cubes in the field.”
The type of ranching the Robertses do is isolated and rough. They work their cattle from horseback, never on foot and rarely from a motorized vehicle, since the terrain is so rough. They do use five Ram trucks, Mary says, though the people who made the commercial didn’t try to stage any photos with the trucks or script what they did while the photographer was on the farm.
Like farmers across the country, the Robertses are rich in assets, but not in cash, so Mary worries about
the estate tax that could devastate the family when she and Frank are gone.
“The biggest challenge that ranchers have is politics. We can deal with Mother Nature. It deals us hard blows, but that has happened since Day 1 and we have protections for it,” she said. “With politics, you never know from one administration to the next, from one election to the next, what’s going to be put in place.”
In her decades of ranching, Mary hasn’t been active in many farming groups, but her experience since the Chrysler ad aired have led her to talk more about the life of a farmer.
“Cattlemen are stubborn and optimistic. If we have a bad year, we just look to the next year,” she said.
But the rest of America should know when ranchers struggle and why.
She wrote a letter to the president of Chrysler and posted it through the mail – internet service is spotty where they are – thanking the company for telling farmers’ stories on such a huge stage as the Super Bowl.
At 61 years old, Mary has no plans to retire. She’s only been on four vacations in her life, she says, and the best day of the trip was the one she arrived back home.
“This is what we do – we feed America. It’s in my blood; it’s in my grandson’s blood. This is where I want to be,” she said.
Farmers: Frank and Mary Roberts
Place: Geraldine, Montana
Family: Daughter and son-in-law, Krystal and Kirby, 4-year-old grandson, Gatlin