Creating a change: Dukart talks sustainable agriculture and how to make it work
January 26, 2014
More than 120 area ranchers gathered for the 35th Annual Ranchers' Workshop in Mission, S.D, on Jan. 14. Kicking off the event was Joshua Dukart, a holistic management certified instructor from Bismark, N.D. His presentation was entitled, "Sustainable Agriculture & How To Make It Work," and discussed how ranchers can be more sustainable using holistic methods to manage their landscape.
"Wanting to leave the land better than when we found it is a respectable goal ranchers often have," he said. "Even though it's our goal, is it always being achieved? If we truly want to be sustainable, our considerations and actions have to extend beyond our own ranches because it can have both negative and positive effects in the future."
"If you want to make small changes, change how do you do things," he added. "If you want to make big changes, change how you see things. It's not shifting things a little bit, it's changing how you look at the big picture. It's not just about individual ranches; it's about future generations; it's about communities."
Dukart started his workshop by looking at the big picture, where the model is more important than the details. He shared an example of an aging rancher who changed his calving model from calving in late winter to calving in early summer, and the adjustments he had to make in order to feel comfortable with that decision. Ultimately, he experienced fewer problems with calving season and was able to adjust his grazing system and marketing plan to fit his new calf crop.
"Instead of thinking in the same paradigm that things are just the way they are, and you have to accept it, think outside the box and get creative," he said. "The thing to understand when we are thinking about nature holistically is that nature functions in wholes. Nature is more complex than we can understand. Nature is all about balance and complexity, which equals resiliency."
Dukart noted that in addition to keeping balance with nature, family and business can be another challenge ranchers face.
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"Family businesses are a lot like a three-legged stool," he explained. "You have one leg, which is your resources; another leg, which is your finances; and the third leg, which is people. All three of these legs are important for the success of the business."
He said one of his favorite parts of the job is getting outside and understanding the psychology of the land.
"When we look at a pasture, we need to look at the baggage that land carries – how has it been managed, what is the situation? When you go out to your pastures, do you ever take a shovel with you? I don't mean a shovel for digging a fence post hole; I mean taking a shovel, so you can dig a sample of the soil. How do you know what you're dealing with if you don't? It's not enough to just drive by the pasture and see grass and call it good."
Dukart explained the importance of every living creature in a landscape.
"If you create a good environment, the ecosystem will thrive," he explained. "Even if you don't own a single cow, but you own land, you have a herd that needs to eat – from the bugs, to the bees, to the larger wildlife, they need to eat, and it's up to you to manage your land, so they have the ability to do so."
If a rancher's pure focus is on financial, other areas might suffer, he said.
"If you have focused only on one aspect of your operation – the financial side – I can guarantee that other things might have slipped in your business," he said. "If you have a ranching operation, what's the first thing you need to produce? Grass or feed, right? Then, you need that feed to give to something, like livestock, so you can create an end product like beef, to market. If you don't have adequate grass or feed, you can't raise as much beef. This is the financial chain of production."
Dukart's closing message was, "The key to generating wealth is not in the things you sell, but in how you reinvest the money earned."
Taking care of the land will make ranchers more sustainable in the future, he concluded. It starts with the basics, but yet, he said more than half of the ranches he visits need an objective outside party to show them where to invest their money in.
"Addressing your weakest link is often the best place to invest your money in next," he concluded.
For more information from Dukart, check out http://www.ndglc.com.