Questioning the sustainability of beef? You don’t know ranchers.

Written by Damon Palmer 
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A line of black cattle walking in a line

If you read the headlines recently, you’d think we’ve finally found the solution to the country’s sustainability problems: beef.

From claims about it being the main contributor to increased carbon emissions and the key culprit behind deforestation, there have been numerous headlines touting beef as bad for people and worse for the planet. The solution, according to these sources, is to eliminate beef from the dinner table.

The issue with this argument is that it plays into the fact that consumers don’t understand beef production. According to research cited by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, only 24% of consumers say they are knowledgeable about how cattle are raised for food. Not only that, but this argument doesn’t take into account the strides the industry has achieved. Consider that, between 1975 and 2017, the beef industry has reduced emissions from beef cattle by 30% while producing more beef.

This lack of knowledge has allowed unreliable narrators to spread misinformation and position beef as the scapegoat of agricultural carbon emitters. But what consumers don’t know is that for a cattle rancher’s business to survive, it has to be sustainable.

Cattle producers have focused on sustainability and stewardship for generations. Day in and day out, this is the focus of cattle producers across this country. Their mantra is to leave the land better than they found it. Taking care of the Earth is as inherent in their operations as it is in their DNA. Because if it wasn’t, their operations wouldn’t be able to survive. Employing unsustainable practices are bad for the health of their animals and detrimental to the success of their businesses.

From where I stand, the actions ranchers are taking with respect to responsible land management is their biggest opportunity to change the narrative around beef as a sustainable food source. Over the next few months, I will share stories of ranchers across the country and how they are caring for their land, the environment and their animals.  

Many of the same consumers who idly watch as millions of acres a year get paved over to support urban sprawl think that rangeland could be better used for other agricultural pursuits. What they don’t know is, this land isn’t suitable for other forms of agriculture. In the United States, 29% of the land is pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep or arid to support growing food crops. Often, the best way to manage this land is for cattle to turn grass, native plants and forage that humans aren’t able to eat into nutrient-dense, high-quality protein.

When done properly, grazed land is a sustainability win-win for ranchers. Consider how it is good for:

  • Their herd. The benefits gleaned from grazing nutrient-rich pastures affects everything from their cattle’s ability to reproduce and support healthy calves to cost-efficient gains and overall herd health.
  • Their land. The management practices of ranchers are positively enhancing ecosystems and supporting endangered species. As caretakers of the land, beef producers work to manage invasive species, which promotes ecosystem diversity, ensuring native plant communities and habitat where pollinators can thrive.
  • Their profitability. Sick cattle don’t perform well, require extra care and labor, and have a negative effect on a rancher’s bottom line. It’s in the producer’s best interest to ensure their operation’s success, which is done through maximizing the health benefits attained through grazing.
  • Their legacy. Cattlemen and women often come from long lines of ranchers. Passing their operation in better condition to the next generation often is the ultimate goal. And that can only be done if they’ve taken care of their land and their livestock.

At Corteva Agriscience, we are committed to solutions that promote the sustainable use of grazing lands while keeping herds healthy, productive and able to feed the world. We’re so committed, in fact, that land stewardship is one of our core sustainability goals. Because of that, we’re making sure we’re working in a way that benefits people and the planet for generations to come. This focus also is informing what we do as a company in the future.

Our research and development efforts are continually looking at how to boost production and maximize the land that’s already used for beef production in a lasting, sustainable way. We are the industry leader in researching, developing and bringing to market solutions specifically designed for rangeland and pasture — products that help farmers, ranchers and land managers better steward the land.

Not only that, but we continue to support industry groups and organizations that put stewardship first. As the longest-tenured sponsor of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP), we proudly support this important opportunity for the beef industry to acknowledge producers who go the extra mile when it comes to preserving and enhancing the resources on their land. These are great stories that deserve recognition and are worthy of sharing.

I’m excited to see that the industry is stepping up to educate consumers about where their beef comes from and showcase the men and women who work tirelessly to ensure their production efforts are done in a way that supports our planet. As stewards, we need to tell the story of sustainability and how we can work together to ensure our growing populations are fed for generations to come. 



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