What Does Sustainability Mean to You?
It seems like certain words get coined these days in the media or politics in an attempt to sound some type of deep-seeded alarm in your conscious. Before long these terms trickle down to your everyday conversations at the feedstore or local coffee shop. A clear example of this is oft-used expression “sustainability”, something we can all agree is likely a good thing, but are likely a little vague on the definition of. I suppose it depends on the context of the word and the ideals of the person using it.
To be honest with you, the term sustainability has a different meaning to me depending on my mood. Some days, I would argue that modern agriculture needs to make some major adjustments to sustain itself and the natural resources it depends upon. Others days, I would argue that agriculture is one the most sustainable of all industries. Maybe, both statements are true.
What I don’t waiver on is that agriculture seems to be disproportionally accused of being unsustainable when it comes to climate change or green house gas emissions. I suspect that it is because farmers only represent 2% of the population and can’t fund a wide-reaching “sustainability marketing campaign” to inform people of their environmentally friendly efforts. Too use another buzzword – we take a more “grass roots” approach. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of outspoken farmers/ranchers on social media sharing their daily life and how their enterprises are built to last for generations. I‘ll give extra kudos to the sheep and goat producers leading this effort. Often I see something on social media that alludes to the fact that small ruminants, who’ve existed as we know them for thousands of years, should hardly be public enemy #1 for a present day climate issue. I just hope the right people are seeing these messages. Keep up the good work!
I am fortunate to have been asked to serve on the Sustainability Task Force for the American Lamb Board. This taskforce is working to create a sustainability strategy for the US sheep industry, including but certainly not limited climate related points. For me it has been helpful to hear others views on the positive and negative sustainability aspects of the US sheep industry. This task force will outline this strategy at the ASI annual convention, which will be Jan. 19-21, 2023 in Forth Worth, TX. I encourage you all to make plans to be there.
In the meantime, I hope you begin thinking about the sustainability of your sheep and/or goat operations. Maybe the best definition that I’ve heard of sustainable agriculture is production practices that satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality, efficiently use natural resources, are profitable, and enhance farmer quality of life. While this definition can be a wordful, it is important that we don’t just focus on one aspect, such as climate change. Maybe just ask yourself an honest question– if I keep what I’m doing now, will my operation still exist in 50 years?
From my perspective, sheep and goat operations greatest strength is our history. So many of the ranches that support sheep and goat production have been operated by the same families for decades. Things that stand the test of time are “sustainable”. In contrast, our greatest weakness is the relatively low return on investment. I’m not saying that sheep and goats aren’t profitable. Rather, the investments required such as land, fencing, facilities, and equipment are extremely high compared to even a few decades ago. These costs are largely beyond the control of most ranchers, but the trend is a serious concern, nonetheless.
However, this can be used as a positive message to consumers and environmentalists. “Ranchers produce food and fiber for the world because they have a calling to care for the land, livestock, and environment. Most ranchers would see a higher rate of return, if they sold their land and invested elsewhere. Therefore, profit is not the focus, rather a means to sustain themselves and continue their ranching legacy for generations to come.”
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at email@example.com or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.