It took years for Dusty Turner to self-define as an entrepreneur.
“I didn’t even know what that word meant, it’s a label that’s developed over time. I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but I’ve never been afraid of work or meeting and helping people. And that’s what opens doors and provides opportunities.”
For Turner, the opportunities began to show themselves when he was a student at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. Though he first attended NWOSU on a basketball scholarship, he eventually chose to use that time to further his education and career. He played basketball for two years and then chose not to play his last two years so he could instead work and have experience in the cattle industry. One of his jobs as an upperclassman was on the NWOSU farm.
The 320-acre university farm, located seven miles south of Alva, is the home of registered cattle, registered hogs, and registered sheep. The combination of facilities on campus and the farm enables students to apply agricultural theory learned in the classroom and gain practical experience needed in the field.
“I always knew I wanted to work in agriculture. My advisor, Dr. Jim Gilchrist, noticed my curiosity and passion for the field. He gave me the opportunity to go run the university farm. Northwestern puts a lot of trust and confidence in their students. The experience helped me to grow quickly and make the right decisions for the future.”
"Northwestern puts a lot of trust and confidence in their students. The experience helped me to grow quickly and make the right decisions for the future."
Operating Northwestern’s farm offered Turner a leadership role on campus and a place to apply his education. In his spare time, he hauled hay and helped out other farmers and ranchers in the Alva area. After graduation, a mentor encouraged him to take his skills to a commercial feed yard; within 3 years, Turner was promoted to general manager and only continued to grow professionally from there. He managed the feedyards for several large companies in the industry and eventually moved to the fuel industry. As COO of Conestoga Energy for 13 years, his problem solving skills were put to work in ethanol production. Turner’s understanding of business grew in other ways, too. “I learned the importance of developing people. Showing care and interest in those who work for you pays off, from a personal and business point of view.”
In 2014 Turner combined his wealth of experience in ethanol and cattle and founded MasterHand Milling, the first dried distillers grain cube cattle feed made entirely from the byproduct of ethanol production. It was a race to be first to market the product in the industry and Turner’s entrepreneurial spirit won out. “I just added a little cowboy logic to it,” Turner shrugs.
The feed gained national attention and the company can’t keep up with the demand from the cattle industry. Turner and his wife, Amy, a classmate from Northwestern, have around 60 full time employees. When he recruits talent, he looks for some of the same characteristics he learned at NWOSU, a willingness to work hard and the ability to make good decisions.
“From an employer perspective, the graduates that come out of regional universities, those kids stand out and are more prepared for the workforce. They typically work harder, they’re more adaptable and more willing to learn and grow.”