Who knew one word could have so many meanings?
As we look over the past decade, a word that has progressively made its way into the agriculture industry is the word “sustainable.” It describes a way of thinking, a way of production and applies to many areas in the industry. However, due to the fact that it is applicable in so many ways, it has also caused some confusion between producers and consumers.
According to Merriam-webster.com, the word is defined as:
adjective sus·tain·able \sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl\
: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
: involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
: able to last or continue for a long time
This one set of descriptions doesn’t even touch what it means to many cattle producers in the state as well as nationwide. It is not only a way to ensure producer’s farms and ranches last longer and are more efficient, but it is also a way to put better products on the market and conserve the environment and natural resources around us.
Cattlemen and women have been incorporating more and more sustainable practices to help the beef industry keep growing and developing for years to come. This effort is not only for cattle producers and their farms, but to make sure the consumer will always have a quality product.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has started a significant research effort with the Beef Checkoff that is looking more into the amount of sustainability that has increased in farms and ranches over the past few years.
The first phase of the Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment has been completed using data from the Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. The results were recently certified by NSF International, lending credible, third-party verification to the study, helping to prove that beef is sustainable. The results of phase one can be found here: http://beefresearch.org/beefsustainabilityresearch.aspx.
In phase two of the assessment, the work is being expanded to include data from individual cattle-producing regions across the country. By looking at regional practices and incorporating that information into the study, the research will be more representative and we will be better able to tell the beef story through sound science.
Cow-calf producers, stockers and feedyard operators are being surveyed to see how the way they produce beef has changed over time. The Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment is not an attempt to force a change in practices or advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to beef production. There are few things less sustainable than a one-size-fits-all approach. So visiting these operations first-hand is allowing the program to do in depth research on what is working for producers and what is not.
MBIC’s own Davin Althoff has been visiting producers in the state and looks forward to reporting the results of how Missouri cattle producers are improving their operations through sustainable practices.
“In response to large food service and food retail companies interested in purchasing verified sustainable beef, NCBA launched a life cycle analysis from coast-to-coast. They are partnering with the USDA to conduct this analysis,” says Althoff. “Missouri is the first state in the Midwest region to schedule visits with various beef producers.”
This week, Althoff met with backgrounders, seedstock producers and cow/calf producers along with attending the Southwest Missouri Forage Conference in Springfield to see how sustainability is changing farms and ranches around the state.
“What we hope this program will do is to provide a baseline study for the industry to utilize in discussions with food service and retailers that is scientifically proven that shows over time that we have continues to improve how our beef is produced,” Althoff says.
Kim Stackhouse, Director of Sustainability Research for the NCBA attended and spoke at the Southwest Missouri Forage Conference. She highlighted that not all definitions of sustainability are similar. However, she felt that the best definition that could apply to many issues would be described as “continuous improvement.”
“If we can improve what we do and prove it is done sustainably, that’s what we hope this study does at the end of the day,” Althoff says.