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. 

Today, we hear and read that we must also be “socially sustainable.” I agree, but I’m concerned that what is socially sustainable can be continually redefined and bent to the whim of well-intended, but misinformed people. Much of that agenda has to do with issues of culture, heritage, employment and animal welfare.

While I’m in favor of preserving and promoting these values, I wonder how much they have to do with true sustainability. Misguided regulations could endanger the ability of farmers and ranchers to be profitable. This could, in turn, make it more difficult to use practices that are ecologically sound for the benefit of the environment.

As producers, we’re blessed to farm and ranch at a time when we are learning much about how to do more with less. Grazing management and farming techniques are able to reverse the trend of organic matter loss. We’re learning how to increase water infiltration, reduce evaporation, increase soil moisture holding capability, and improve nutrient cycling and biodiversity. We’re able to get higher yields with less input of fertilizer, fuel, herbicides, pesticides and other inputs.

These practices take more carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil. (Think of it – changing soil organic matter from 4% to 5% is a 25% increase. That constitutes a huge transfer of carbon from atmosphere to soil.) The carbon, along with other elements, improves the soil and its productivity.

I think we as farmers and ranchers should do all we can to understand sound ecology, and manage to make our operations economically and ecologically sustainable. But I also believe there is a risk of well-intended, opinion-led regulations that would keep us from using methods and inputs that can enhance sustainability and help feed a growing population. I hope we can all be open minded and careful to ensure that good science prevails in the formation of our own opinions.

Those who sell our products to a consuming public will try to provide what their customers want – that is their job. Meanwhile,   the consumers who drive demand are concerned for their health and their pocketbooks, and some are concerned about the environment. Too often, however, their opinions are shaped with less-than-good information and understanding.

Therefore, farmers and ranchers should work to better understand sound ecology, and manage to make their operations economically and ecologically sustainable. Hopefully this will demonstrate to the consuming public that we care, that we are competent and that we can produce an abundance of safe food while caring for the environment. That helps us become “socially sustainable” as well.

Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager with AgReserves, Inc., where he was involved in seven major ranch acquisitions in the U.S. and the management of a number of farms and ranches in the U.S. as well as Canada and Argentina. He resides in Orem, UT, and can be reached at burketei@comcast.net.

The opinions of Burke Teichert are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

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

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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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