This week’s column is one I have been contemplating for several months.  It seems like every time I turn around I hear the word “sustainability” in agricultural circles.  Most conventions or meetings I attend, many articles and opinion pieces, and multiple speakers all center around sustainability and how it pertains to the U.S. agricultural industry.

The definition of sustainability, according to my iPhone, reads:


The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

  • Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

Environmental activist groups have taken that definition and ran with it.  As such, we are constantly defending ourselves and our way of life.  Most of these groups want to take shots at the cattle business, talking about how “cow farts” are ruining the environment and contributing to climate change.  All of these arguments are based on, let’s just say, less than exact science.

In response, many industry spokespeople discuss sustainability in regard to the environment alone.  I believe we need to quit playing defense and focus more on offense.

Ranchers are the original and true environmentalists.  Growing up in ranch families, we all heard from our elders, “take good care of the land and your animals and they will take care of you.”  It’s amazing how our practices have progressed over the years.  Today, we are raising more beef and crops on fewer acres and with less labor.

I agree that we must focus on the environmental concerns associated with sustainability, but that is not the true definition of sustainability in my opinion.  Reference back to the first line under NOUN in the definition I provided – “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.”

Take into consideration the average age of agriculturists, last I checked it was well into the 60’s.  Farmers and ranchers are getting older and fewer young people are returning to the operations.  Even fewer young folks are able to start their own outfit in today’s economy.  That doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it?

When it comes down to it, the true definition of sustainability as it pertains to agriculture is simply PROFIT.  It’s the only way we are able to encourage younger generations to return, stay or attempt to start their own operations.  The average age of the farmer and rancher needs to start moving in the other direction.  The only way this will happen is if our industry is profitable.

How do we do this, you ask?  First and foremost, the monopoly in our packing industry must be addressed and divided.  How we make that happen is the million-, or should I say billion-, dollar question.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the huge problems in our packing industry.

I would like to challenge our national beef organizations to bring this issue to the forefront.  Some groups have already tackled it, and some haven’t.  Regardless, I do know that they all need to get on the same page on this issue.  I have not talked to a single producer who doesn’t believe we have a problem here.  It’s high time the organizations claiming to represent these producers take action.  If this does not happen, those groups will have fewer and fewer producers to represent.  We all need to be on the same page and come together as industry to address the packer monopoly.

On a lighter note, there are good things happening in our industry right now.  Fall production sales around the country have been quite good so far.  I like the fact that most people I run into at these sales have been keeping a positive and hopeful attitude.  Positivity is critical in our industry.


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