Do you often think about how often you see the word sustainability as you read business, industry, and investing articles? It’s been on my mind for quite a while, but I decided that to keep bringing this topic up was perhaps “beating a dead horse.” But as I was reading about a food conference in China, there were the words “healthier and more sustainable alternatives to animal proteins.” This is an important topic to the livestock and meat industry and needs to be further discussed.
Sustainability today goes beyond business success. We know the alternatives to animal proteins are plant-based or those produced in a laboratory - fake meat is what we call the latter. When this conversation first began, I thought it’s all about technological progress. It won’t be a big deal and so why be a naysayer? If someone wants to eat plant-based or lab-produced protein instead of animal protein, that’s their prerogative. Those consumers will never represent more than a very small share of total consumers anyway.
However, aside from the labeling which is important, I do have to question if there isn’t a hidden agenda that may be underlying this word – sustainability. So here is a problem, at least from my viewpoint.
As a rancher, have you ever tried to explain to someone why your business is sustainable? Your simple response might be – "well of course we are sustainable. Our family has been raising cattle on this ranch for 100 years." I would submit that answer may not satisfy the question. Sustainability includes many aspects of ranching and cattle production. I know it has been described as economic, social, and environmental, but I tend to think the average person on the street who might ask if you have a sustainable ranch is more concerned about the environment with little comprehension of how sound grazing management is a tool for sustainability – both for the environment and your ranch.
Unfortunately, the economic aspect of your ranching operation may never enter into discussion, albeit economics probably best captures sustainability. When you manage a renewable resource business for long term profitability, you have a sustainable business. In other words, that’s why your family has been able to make a living raising cattle on the same ranch for 100 years, 50 years, or however long. Every generation has managed so the next generation would be able to continue. If you didn’t manage for long term profitability or sustainability, this entire issue is probably mute.
I am a long-time member of the Idaho Cattle Association and I just attended their convention in Sun Valley, Idaho. ICA has their convention at Sun Valley nearly every year. I think the image of 450 Idaho family ranchers meeting in one of America’s premier destination resorts discussing important issues that impact their lives every day is a pretty good picture of how ranching fits into this all-encompassing idea we call sustainability!