Sustainability: Easy to Say, Difficult to Define

Sustainability is a topic affecting all of agriculture, beef included.
Cattle grazing in large pastures that have been in the
 same family for generations – that’s verysustainable, in my opinion.

is a buzz-word and news topic that is not going away anytime soon; remember the
green movement? Well, now we’ve surpassed a movement and plowed full steam
ahead into a reformation of the way we think, plan, grow and progress.
Restaurants, NGOs, natural resource companies – entities around the world are
reevaluating their business plans and searching for tactics to become
sustainable and attractive to the millennial mind.

The problem,
however, with throwing the word “sustainable” around so often is that it’s
extremely subjective. My definition of sustainable is polar opposite to that of
McDonald’s, which varies from that of the Environmental Protection Agency,
which varies from the actual definition of sustainable, “Capable of being
sustained; able to last or continue for a long time.” Thanks, Merriam-Webster.
By English
literature standards, there are thousands of farms and ranches that qualify as
sustainable. Take my husband’s family farm for example: they have been farming
and raising cattle on the same piece of land since 1847. That’s more than 165
years of food production on a farm that has weathered the Civil War, the Great
Depression, the farm crisis of the 1980s and annual increases in vital inputs.
If that farm isn’t the picture of sustainability, then I’ll eat an artichoke
(in case you don’t know me, I’m not a big fan of green food!).
underlying issue is that one cannot use a broom to paint a portrait – each farm
and ranch varies from the next and sustainable practices that conserve natural
resources are vastly different between states. What works in northwest Ohio,
where the average annual precipitation is 34 inches, is probably not going to
work in west Texas, where the average annual precipitation is a mere 19 inches.
Instead of
trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all panacea, the beef community needs to
unite and work together internally to implement already proven sustainable
practices rather than waiting for a third-party regulatory body to do it for

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~
 Disclaimer: I wrote this for the Masters of Beef Advocacy newsletter that was distributed a few weeks ago but I had to share it here too. It’s applicable to more than just MBA grads!


7 responses to “Sustainability: Easy to Say, Difficult to Define”

  1. Well said! Although I snorted a little at the 19 inches of average rainfall in West Texas. Is that in Amarillo?

    1. I used this page to find that number – several cities in west Texas between 18 and 25.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    nice to see you follow in Ferguson's foot setps and use a dictionary for the definition. One thing tho. Is your family's farm in the farm program? If so I doubt its sustainable. If you take away the government money it will be hard and maybe impossible to carry on. That is where ferguson makes the connection you cant be sustainable unless you are sovereign first

    1. Not sure whether you're being sarcastic with your comment about a dictionary, although I am guessing you are.

      I am not certain about whether or not the farm is in 'the farm program' – I know that crop insurance is purchased, which is a smart decision. I hardly give credit to our government for the smart management of the farm by my family.

      Is this by chance @mrcattlemaster commenting on my blog? If so, please stop hiding behind the cowardice of anonymity.

    2. FYI Anonymous.
      The farm program was developed and ran as a cheap food policy. It is a simple and well known fact both logically and historically that the wealthiest countries spend the smallest percentage of their income on food. Our Government now as always has had a cheap food policy. So you might say that the subsidies paid to farmers comes right back to the consumer in the form of cheap food. That at least was the plan and we do as a country spend the least percentage of our income on food in the world.
      Our operation a fifth generation farm/ranch has received an average of $18000 dollars per year on farm program payments give or take. In turn we pay upwards of $50,000 a year in property taxes alone not to mention state and federal tax that obviously fluctuate with profitability .
      Keep in mind that there has been zero…I repeat zero perpetual government beef cattle program subsidies in the history of the United States.
      So the authors statement (" Cattle grazing in large pastures that have been in the same family for generations – that's very sustainable, in my opinion.") rings especially true as nearly all farming/ranches are multi-generational and are paying more than their fair share to the Government for the basic needs provided by the Government (education; Infrastructure)…… hence sustainable. Yes it really is that simple.
      In fact government programs like renewable energy, a cheap energy program, worked heavily against livestock producers bottom line.
      Now the irony is ranches/farms definitively are not sovereign as they are regulated and taxed as well as being overseen by private , non for profit and government entities. Despite this the ones that have lasted are SUSTAINABLE. You might even say that cattle grazing in large pastures that have been in the same family for generations is even more than VERY SUSTAINABLE ,in spite of, the lack of sovereignty!

  3. Great post. Each family and each farm needs to voluntarily do what they need to do to make their farm sustainable, because you are right, one size fits all mandatory regulations just don't work for everyone.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Val. I am waiting for more people to realize the 'one size fits all thing' only works for yoga pants.