A Few Thoughts by John Nalivka: Sustainability – let’s give credit where credit is due
The term sustainability has become the new buzz word of the food industry. Sustainability is not a new concept that came about because of the environmental movement. Sustainability is a common goal of any business. Ranchers and farmers are no exception. Webster defines sustainability as “characterized by a practice that sustains a given condition such as economic growth or human population without depleting natural resources.”
So, now, U.S. agriculture has come under the microscope and there is a rush to define a set of standard operating practices to guide the industry toward “sustainability.” This begs the question – are we assuming that much of the industry is not sustainable under current practices? I hope not, but in this politically correct world, I think it is a fair question.
Before we head out of the starting gate to build a sustainable ranching industry, I think we need to strongly and passionately emphasize the history of the many ranches and farms in the U.S. that have been in existence for 50 years or even 100 years with many of these operations in the same family since they began. These ranches have one thing in common. They are by definition sustainable and over the long haul, they are profitable. If they had not been profitable over the long term, they would not still be in business and one stipulation for ranch profitability is sound management of all aspects of the ranching operation. These ranches didn’t just start doing the right thing because sustainability is the new industry goal. Someone in the family has been doing the right thing for decades or in some cases, for a century. They are sustainable and they didn’t need an SOP.
While the cattle industry had a great year during 2014 in terms of prices and profitability, the external pressures will continue to be increasingly challenging. Ironically, the greatest challenge to sustainability will be environmental and tax laws and regulations and a growing bureaucracy to enforce those regulations. Now is the time for the beef industry to adamantly stand up and give itself credit in the strongest way possible when it comes to “sustainability” and not concede that it needs a set of SOPs.