Strategic Planning For The Ranch

Whose Definition Of Sustainability Should We Abide By?

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We as farmers and ranchers should do all we can to understand sound ecology and manage to make our operations economically and ecologically sustainable. Hopefully this will demonstrate to consumers that we care, we are competent and we can produce an abundance of safe food while caring for the environment. 

Over 20 years ago, I began to interact with other ranchers who were questioning their practices. We began to ask such questions as:

• Are our ranches sustainable if we continue to use the current practices?

• How far into the future can we go with this method of operation before it will no longer work?

• Is this going to improve our soils and rangelands or degrade them?

• Can this be profitable long-term?”

In hindsight, I think these questions truly dealt with “sustainability.”

About this same time, I spent several years serving as vice chair and then chair of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Environmental Committee. This committee had a lot of interaction between environmental groups, regulatory agencies and cattlemen. We did this intentionally to learn and understand the mindset of those we often deemed to be “the enemy.”

From this experience, I learned that actually we had common objectives –among them were a shared desire for clean water, clean air and safe food. We usually also could agree on wildlife habitat and biodiversity, as long as regulations did not prevent us from being profitable as cattle producers.

I also learned that many in the environmental camp had well-intended, serious and legitimate concerns for the environment, and that they were willing to donate money for environmental protection. Another revelation was that these folks generally knew very little of ecological principles and were easily led to positions that would do little or no good for the environment. Some of these positions, in fact, could be disastrous to the financial well-being of the ranchers.

Simultaneously, I learned that many cattlemen had a genuine love for the land and their way of life. They wanted to leave the land better than they received it, and assumed their practices were protecting the environment. However, as a whole, producers also knew very little of ecological principles.

The result was that both sides tended to argue over the appropriate methods for achieving the objectives they shared, but with little understanding of what actually could be economically and ecologically sustainable.

In those day, I used and liked the words “sustainable” and “sustainability.” In fact, I was fond of saying, “If it’s not ecologically sustainable, it’s not economically sustainable and vice versa,” with emphasis on the vice versa. Today, “sustainable” has become a buzzword that is defined as whatever someone’s agenda or opinion wants the world to be.

I believe sustainable ought to have something to do with durability or the ability to persist or last well into the future – even hundreds of years or millennia. A large part of the earth is occupied by farmers and ranchers who produce food and provide for their families. That’s been my reason for saying that we must be sustainable both economically and ecologically, and I still subscribe to that 100%. If a rancher can’t expect a reasonable profit from making operational changes that may be environmentally friendly, he has little incentive to make that investment – especially if he already has financial difficulties. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on May 2, 2014

While at one time the words "sustainable" and "sustainability" had real meaning. Now those words have been hijacked and their meaning abused until now the only true meaning when those words are used is…..

"We want to tell you what to do and how to do it".

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 8, 2014

Remember the parable of the mustard seed. A social movement that superficially professes its sublime intent has grown into a monstrous global "tree" that has demons (fowls of the air) lodging in its overgrown branches that darken the entire planet. That exactly describes environmentalism. There are billionaire-funded organizations who redefine buzz words like, "sustainability" with the intent to drive the middle class out of business.

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What's Strategic Planning For The Ranch?

Burke Teichert provides readers with his practical take on efficient and cost-effective livestock production and ranch management.


Burke Teichert

Burke Teichert was born and raised on a family ranch in western Wyoming and earned a B.S. in ag business from Brigham Young University and M.S. in ag economics from University of Wyoming. His work...

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