Sustainable Beef

December, 2015
Ashley Fluke, Livestock/Forage Extension Agent - Osceola County

The term “sustainable” is quite a popular one these days. Various industries use it to define their efforts toward innovation and efficiency and to convey a message of awareness and responsibility. So when we hear the term “sustainable beef” what does it mean? It’s a catch term for sure but there are reasons behind using the word “sustainable” in order to define the future goals of the commercial beef industry and to effectively communicate with society. Population is booming and studies show that by 2050 in order to meet the nutritional needs of the society we will need to produce 70% more food. Knowing we face this challenge, it only seems appropriate that we adopt management methods that will conserve agricultural resources and also reach out to society to explain what we do.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainable as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” Using a resource without exhausting it, that’s what agriculture is and does. By responsibly utilizing the environment the agricultural industry is sustained and will continue to produce the needs of the population. Beef cattle producers have long been taking care of the land that is their livelihood and understand the importance in its preservation. A great task comes with feeding more people with decreasing resources and that poses a threat to the future of agriculture. To address these challenges there are programs and practices producers adopt and they have shown to have an environmental benefit and support sustaining the cattle industry. Due to actions like switching from diesel to natural gas at packing plants, improved grazing systems, higher crop yields from more efficient practices, use of distillers grains, and other innovative management methods the beef industry has decreased its environmental impact. A study done by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also shows a land use decrease of 4%, keeping more available for wildlife and native plant varieties.

It is important that the rancher educate the consumer about the cattle industry and its vital role in our food systems. The beef industry has been very transparent and made strong efforts to provide a look into each stage of the system. The use of social media as an ag awareness tool has given consumers a way to be involved with the beef cattle industry and to better understand it. Talking to youth in schools or hosting ag tours have great impacts on knowledge of the industry. Extension Agents also take an initiative to inform citizens on issues facing agriculture and on how the food we eat actually gets to the table. Along with educating the consumer, policy makers also are unaware of the effects some regulation has on agriculture and subsequently on the availability and price of agricultural commodities. It is vital that farmers and ranchers take an active role in providing feedback to local, state, and federal leaders in order for them to make informed decisions. By educating the people and helping them relate to our food systems and the agricultural industry, perhaps they will be more likely to support its preservation and continuance.

Being used without being destroyed, that is what producing beef cattle is based on. The land and resources that provide the opportunity to produce a quality product is essential for the future of the industry. Ranchers have known this for generations upon generations. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that the people in agriculture tell their story. It’s a fact that the population is growing at a fast rate so it is of great importance to innovate and educate. The beef industry is a sustainable one. Responsible land management, economic efficiency, herd health, and consumer awareness are key elements in its sustainability. By respecting tradition and embracing the future the industry will continue to have a major global impact and will remain strong.

Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattleman’s Beef Association