Farmer Focus: Do we all produce the most sustainable beef?

There isn’t a lot happening on ranches in August.  It’s too hot for cattle work, too early for crops, and vacations are over. 

Industry groups have figured this out, so I have attended several different meetings since my last article. 

If there is a buzzword in the cattle business right now it is “sustainability”. 

See also: Organic mob grazing system cuts £380/livestock unit on estate

About the author

Daniel Mushrush
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Daniel Mushrush is a third-generation Red Angus breeder in the Flint Hills in Kansas, US. The Mushrush family runs 800 pedigree registered Red Angus Cattle and 600 commercials across 4,856ha, selling 200 bulls a year and beef through Mushrush Family Meats.
Read more articles by Daniel Mushrush

The more I learn about it, though, the more problems I have with it. I sat in on a speaker who gave a presentation about how the American model is the most sustainable in the world. 

Facebook must have been listening, because soon after I had a post by a British speaker labelling British beef the most sustainable in the world. 

For kicks I searched for it in Spanish, and sure enough the Argentines have the most sustainable model, too. I’m sure that every other country thinks they do. 

I hate to bring bad news, but half of us fall below average. The move to define sustainability is shaping up to be messier than it should be as each model’s proponents are jockeying for position. 

I hope science wins. I can’t say much until the paperwork is signed, but our ranch is going to be involved in an intensive study to determine exactly how much carbon it is storing. 

Like everyone, I am biased, but I think our high clay soil coupled with high rainfall and perennial rooted plants will give me an advantage. 

Genetics also matter and efficient cattle should be rewarded. It may ultimately be for nothing – the consumer will decide. 

One meeting I sat in had the results of some great market research. Consumers had been asked to define sustainability, and their number one answer was animal handling/animal welfare. 

Claims about welfare and standards must add value to offset the extra costs and checks. Will consumers pay more for a verified claim of sustainability? The research reports that, despite the lip service, they won’t. 

For all the enormous possibilities that sustainability can give the global livestock industry, my prediction is evolving but is becoming more jaded. 

The Brits will stick to their guns and so will JBS, Cargill, the subsistence cattle ranchers of West Africa, the Mushrush family, and everyone else. I’m not sure it was going to pay any extra in the end anyway.

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