Naïve attacks on our industry are hard to swallow. It isn’t easy to have consumers perceive that our beef is unsafe when we strive so hard to produce a safe, healthy product. It’s hard to stay poised when activist groups attack and accuse us of being poor caregivers to the cattle we raise. And it is extremely frustrating to hear an acquaintance pledge to stop eating beef in order to save the environment.

As ranchers, we labor to grow a healthy and nutritious product while efficiently using our resources and providing the finest care possible for our cattle. Our romantic history with the land dates back longer than any anti-agriculture trend or activist group, but while our role in this world is just as important as in the past, our numbers have dramatically shrunk. Less than 2% of the population has a story that the other 98% desperately need to hear.

On April 22, we will celebrate the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, a deserving holiday that recharges and encourages us to focus on sustainable living. As ranchers, Earth Day is not only an opportunity to celebrate the daily tasks we do to protect our “workplace,” but it’s also our chance to showcase how “green” we truly are.

Our industry has an impressive story to convey. Today’s beef require less land, water and energy than ever before to produce. Furthermore, just one American farmer produces enough food for 155 people, compared to feeding just 26 people a few decades ago. Specifically looking at the U.S. beef industry, we fulfill 20% of the world’s beef demand, with just 7% of the cattle.

And while we are increasing our efficiency and decreasing our footprint, we are also focusing on improving the land we call home. In fact, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board states that the average beef producer has 13 practices in place to accomplish environmental goals such as soil nutrient management programs, rotational grazing and monitoring and managing wildlife habitat.

The question is, will you take the steps needed on April 22 to tell that story? And are you prepared to explain all of this to your co-worker over the water cooler, your server at the local café, your representative in Congress or even a stranger online?

In light of the approaching Earth Day, we encourage you to prepare your “elevator speech.” Figure out how to tell your story in the most concise and meaningful way possible and find a reason that consumers should connect with you.

In 2010, BEEF magazine compiled a useful list of facts for ranchers to employ from sources such as www.beefboard.org. We are continuing to develop this resource in 2011 and invite you to stop by our Earth Day section and take some time to commit to memory a few facts like the ones below from the Beef Checkoff and its Masters of Beef Advocacy program.

  • Through science-based improvements in breeding and animal nutrition, beef production per cow has increased from about 400 lbs. in the mid-1960s to 637 lbs. in 2008, according to Cattle-Fax industry statistics.
  • If the beef production practices from 1955 were used today, 165 million more acres of land – an area almost the size of Texas – still could not equal today’s beef production, according to an expert analysis.
  • According to a report released by the Hudson Institute’s Center For Global Food Issues, pound-for-pound, beef produced in a conventional feeding system generates 40% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and uses two-thirds less land than beef produced using organic and grass-fed production systems.
  • EPA studies show that U.S. livestock production accounts for less than 2.4% of total GHG emissions.

Be prepared so that when an occasion presents itself you can correct that unknowing consumer who claims our product is unsafe or not sustainably raised. And then, complement your facts with your own personal story.

But remember, no matter how prepared you are, how much information you know and how excellent of a steward you may be, your story doesn’t get told unless you tell it. Send a letter to the editor, post a message on Facebook, write a blog entry, or talk to the person in front of you in the checkout line. The list of possibilities is endless but it’s really not how you do the action that matters; what matters is that you simply act.

Let’s all take this Earth Day as an opportunity to share our story; if we act together, it will be impossible not to be heard.