Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fifth Generation Sustainable Beef

Recently McDonalds came out with a plan to start buying verified sustainable beef in 2016. Yes, this would be the same McDonalds that employs Ronald McDonald as a spokesperson and peddles Happy Meals to little kids. The McDonalds of plastic playgrounds, cookie cutter restaurants and cheap predictable food and they want to tell me about being sustainable.
I am the fifth generation on our farm and I would think that makes us pretty sustainable. It is my understanding that being sustainable means that you can continue on into the future. I don’t know of any farmer or rancher who operates their farm or ranch in a manner where they are only worried about getting through this year and don’t care about the future. We all want to leave our farms and ranches in better shape for the generations to follow. The term of sustainable agriculture is one that has gotten under my skin for a long time. Many times I think the term has gotten hijacked by environmentalists and others on the fringe of agriculture.
I can only really speak for myself, but I hope that I am caring for my land and my animals in a manner that will perpetuate our farm for the years to come. We all hope that five generations from now, they will look back as proudly as we do today. The greatest compliment I can think of is for whoever is farming my land years after I am gone to acknowledge that I left behind a legacy of sustainability.
So back to the matter at hand, McDonalds, is going to tell me what sustainable is. On their website they refer to concerns about the environmental impact of overgrazing grasslands. They also talk about animal welfare and the quality of life for those working in the beef supply chain. However, what got my attention the fastest was when they started talking about their greenhouse emissions. It is their contention that 70% of their greenhouse gasses came from their supply chain and 40% of those came from beef.
Let me get this right. McDonalds wants to verify that I, the beef producer, am not overgrazing my land, protecting the environment, treating my animals right and caring for others who make a living somewhere in the beef supply chain. Oh and all the while lowering my greenhouse gas emissions. OK, I work hard to preserve and improve the land I have, I care for the well-being and comfort of the animals in my care and it is my hope that all of us in the supply chain are well compensated and safe. As for the greenhouse gases, that is another topic for another day. On the surface, it looks like we want the same things.
I am always a little concerned when someone from outside of agriculture wants to get involved with how we produce food. It is a point where some of the special interest groups who are not so ag friendly could slip in and have a detrimental effect on those of us who farm and ranch. I also recognize that we are in business and the opinions of customers are important and we must do a better job of communicating with them. This may be a golden chance to show the rest of the world just how sustainable we really are.
I hope that McDonalds will take the time to find good, hard working farmers and ranchers to serve as consultants to this process. I also hope that they will take the time to look at good, credible sources to determine what sustainable really is and they are not swayed by outside interests who have hidden agendas. In other words, I hope that commons sense will prevail in this quest to certify beef as sustainable.
Maybe this exercise will verify something those of us involved in agriculture have known for a long time. The farmers and ranchers of the United States have always been on the cutting edge of technology and advanced food production methods. This has allowed us to protect the environment, our animals and everyone else associated with agriculture while feeding a growing world population and ultimately allow us to pass our farms and ranches to the next generations. Now that is sustainable in my books and something I hope to share with my great-grandchildren over a Happy Meal.

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