Sustainability has become one of today's most important talking points. Protecting our resources, our environment, and our health are certainly noble and necessary causes. Yet I feel like many conversations about sustainability are missing a crucial element...
Sustainable. Sustain. Able.
SustainAbility requires more than just protecting our resources. It requires protecting our ability to use our resources to sustain, nourish, and care for our growing world.
It is a wonderful thing to conserve resources and protect the environment, but we cannot afford to do it at the cost of letting the world down... and we cannot blindly pursue productivity today, ignoring our responsibility to preserve resources for the next generation. #SustainAble agriculture requires a balance of the two.
Let me give you some examples...
GMOs or Non-GMOs?
From the beginning of time, selective breeding has created plants and animals that were better than the ones before them. Since the 1970s, scientists have been studying how to speed the process up with genetic engineering. This technology made it possible for tomatoes to last longer, corn to be sweet, and most recently avocados to be pitless (look it up!). It also made it possible for corn to be more pest resistant (less chemical needed), soybeans to be more drought tolerant (less water needed), and wheat to increase yield (less land needed). Thanks to genetic improvements, the world produces more with less resources every year. As a result more people eat a healthy diet and more of our natural resources are protected for the next generation.
And what about Non-GMOs? These “genetically-natural” plants require more water, more pesticide, and more land to produce the same amount. More labor is required to oversee all of this. While more jobs can be a good thing, increased labor expense means food prices will also increase, pushing healthy food further out of the hands of the world's poorest people. What about organic, non-GMOs? With no chemical and no genetic improvements, these plants have produced 34% less than conventionally raised crops. With no GMOs, no chemical, no fertilizer, and more labor, we would have less food that is more and more expensive. #SustainAble? Able to sustain a growing world? You decide.
Grass-Finished or Grain-Finished?
Grain-finished cattle spend 75% or more of their life in an open field munching on grass with the rest of the herd. For the last three to six months before they are processed, they’ll share a pen with a herd of steers and heifers their same age. The efficient way that feedlot cattle are produced allows farmers to grow a lot of beef in a small area, increasing the efficiency of the beef industry and saving valuable land for other uses. Additionally, cattle that are grain-finished reach their maximum potential sooner and are harvested an average of 14 months before their grass-finished counterparts. This steady, reliable supply of beef keeps grocery stores stocked and food prices down. Additionally, the shorter lifespan of grain-finished cattle can reduce the land, water, and energy required to produce one pound of healthy protein by 50%. Since the bulk of the world's beef is finished on grain, this has an extremely positive impact on our environment and our standard of living.
Let me be very clear: grass-finished beef is not bad, but it is not moving the world forward. It is creating a niche market out of a way of the past. Grass-fed beef is more expensive, but the facts prove that it is no more healthy, ethical, or environmentally friendly. Is it #SustainAble? You decide.
As with all my blog posts, I’m only trying to keep the facts about agriculture, economics, ethics, and a healthy life close to the surface. You are smart enough to draw your own conclusions. As you search for what is best for your family, please focus on the facts and be aware of fear-based marketing. Unfortunately, there are businesses that are willing to share information that is not based on proven facts in order to get their customers to spend an extra dollar on their product. Talk to all kinds of farmers, find science based articles, learn about your food from both sides, and then confidently make your own decisions. You do not have to pay a premium for organic, non-GMO, grass-fed products to feed your family healthy food that was raised ethically. We do not have to produce organic, non-GMO, grass-fed products to love and care for our land and animals.
If I could get people to remember only one thing about modern or “conventional” farmers, it's that we are people too. We love our families, we care for our animals, and our livelihood depends on the health of our natural resources. We do everything we can to protect and preserve all of these things, and by embracing science and technology we can do so without sacrificing the world's food supply.
You see, SustainAbility is not a hippy thing and modern agriculture is not heartless thing. They are both human things. Necessary things. Meant to go together things. No matter what our food preferences are, we should all be united in the common goal of Sustainability.
Why do we choose Conventional Farming?
The honest truth is Derek and I could only feed our cattle only grass. We could stop vaccinating them. We could let their pastures grow up in weeds. We could grow organic, non-GMO crops, pay immigrant labor, and again grow more weeds... and the crazy thing is that people would actually pay us more to be less efficient.
But we don’t. And we won’t, because we are committed to our responsibility to choose SustainAbility. Put simply, we are committed to moving agriculture and the world forward, not backward.
Embracing all that is truly #SustainAble,
I am not a scientist of any kind. I am simply a person determined to seek out and share truth. My family farms according to the most current information we have. As time goes on, we will continue to embrace the newest real research and technology.
These are great resources for scientific facts about the topics mentioned in this post: