Meaning of ‘sustainable’
September 19, 2014
The word "sustainability" has been used with considerable frequency in discussions about agriculture – perhaps for long enough that it is no longer novel. "Beef sustainability" is perhaps a more recently used term and has received considerable attention. While precise definitions are difficult, there may be considerable agreement about the importance of the ideas associated with the term.
We often (perhaps too often?) rely on "experts" to define and explain complex ideas. There may be considerable value in considering the perspectives of those involved in beef production. SDSU Extension and partners are continuing beefSD, a training program for beginning ranchers. At a recent gathering of participants in the program, they responded to the question, "What is a sustainable ranch?"
Among 20 participants (in a clearly nonscientific survey) more than half mentioned profitability or financial success as a component of sustainability. The next most frequent item mentioned was stewardship or care for the land resource, maintaining a healthy landscape. Not surprisingly, among this group of "junior generation" producers, generational transition or operational succession was mentioned by half of the respondents.
Other components that were mentioned frequently included product quality and marketing, operational adaptive capacity and resiliency, self-sufficiency, clear vision and societal concern awareness. Several responses were comprehensive and elegantly simple:
What is a sustainable ranch?
Running livestock in a productive manner that is self-sufficient and eco-friendly to the environment. Being able to use the natural resources that are available to you. Good management, communication and business decisions that will help the next generation down the line.
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A sustainable operation is economically, environmentally and socially sound for the long term (across multiple generations).
A sustainable operation requires a combination of good business practices, environmental stewardship and proactive approach to marketing, expansion and succession planning.
A ranch that can continue indefinitely while keeping environmental and economic integrity.
Ranching in a way that is both profitable and ecologically friendly to the continued future of the ranch.
Clearly, sustainability will remain a prominent topic in the near future. Few land uses are more amenable to natural resource sustainability than careful grazing management of perennial grasslands. Resiliency of the vegetation improves with increased biodiversity. Many livestock producers inherently value landscape stewardship, often described as "leaving the land better than when we started." It's encouraging that this land ethic continues to be expressed by those entering the ranching profession.
While many draw attention to issues of mismanagement of our land resources, ranchers can generally be proud of the record of careful resource use and conservation. It will be incumbent on the industry to draw attention these successes as public scrutiny of land use and resource conservation continues.
Roger Gates is an Extension Rangeland Management Specialist with SDSU