Carmen White, 15, of Claresholm was the junior winner in the Alberta Young Speakers for Agriculture competition at the Calgary Stampede. Her topic was: What is sustainability and why does it matter to Canadian agriculture?
Canadian agriculture is constantly evolving to meet the needs of society. Beef producers, like myself and my family, have a lot to consider when planning for the future.
We have a mostly urban customer base, a more health-conscious consumer, and a closely examined beef industry.
As the world’s population continues to grow, sustainability is more than just a buzzword. Many would consider it a requirement.
So what is sustainability in regards to Canadian agriculture?
There are a variety of opinions and definitions, but according to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, it is the creation of a socially responsible, economically viable, and environmentally sound product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals, and progress. Worldwide sustainable beef production would suggest that we could continue to meet the needs of a growing population for many generations to come.
This same definition can be applied to other sectors of agriculture as well, including sheep, chickens, dairy, and crops, to name a few.
A sustainable farming operation might include low- or no-till farming, crop rotations, cover crops, and modern farming technology, such as drones, to ensure that each acre of land is producing maximum output while causing minimum harm to the land and environment.
I’d like to present a more in-depth look at what sustainability looks like to a beef producer, as that is where my passion, experience, and future reside.
There are five key sustainability goals for modern beef producers:
First, beef must continue to satisfy human food needs. If consumers don’t want or enjoy the end product, then any changes in production would be pointless.
The second goal is to ensure that animals are being raised humanely with a total focus on health and well-being of the herd.
The third priority is to sustain the economic viability of agriculture. If producers lose money raising beef cattle, then they’ll have to find another way to make a living!
Fourthly, the environment is a top priority, as 30 per cent of the Earth is used to raise beef. That’s 12 million acres. (Did you know that beef production requires more acres than any other type of agriculture?) Taking good care of our grazing land and water sources is a top priority when it comes to sustainability.
Finally, we need to make quality of life for farmers, workers, and society even better.
So what are the criteria for becoming an approved producer of sustainable beef?
In regards to natural resources a producer would need to implement a responsible water usage plan that minimizes contamination. For example, rather than allowing cattle to wade into a dugout to drink, the rancher would fence off that water source and pump to a trough. Not only is this better water management, but it also eliminates the possibility of the cows getting their legs and udders covered in mud.
A grazing management plan would also be implemented and monitored every year, focusing especially on soil quality, stocking rates, the phases of plant growth, and what to do in times of too much or too little moisture.
Producers would also need to report on employee working conditions and treatment, ensuring all workers are safe and treated fairly.
In order for beef to be considered sustainable, a very important factor is meeting the nutritional needs of the herd. Producers would need to report on feeding practices, physical condition, reproductive health, shelter, protection from harsh weather, and more.
The final piece to the puzzle is overall health and wellness practices. Sustainable beef results from proper health management, a good relationship with a veterinarian, and using appropriate medications and vaccinations when needed. The intent is to guarantee that the end product in a grocery store or restaurant was properly and responsibly raised.
As a 4-H’er, I fill out the Creed of the 4-H Stock Keeper in my record book every year. In signing the creed, we members promise to take proper care of our animals.
This includes comfortable and sufficient quarters for living, adequate feed, clean water, freedom from parasites, and overall good and kind care. I see this as the first step to becoming a producer of ‘sustainable beef.’
Many of our ancestors and parents have had to find ways to produce quality beef with enough profit to support a family. This hasn’t always been easy. As we look to the future I think that the guidelines for producing sustainable beef will become the new standard for producers worldwide.
Today’s beef customer is more health conscious, environmentally concerned, and ‘socially and politically’ aware.
A well-implemented sustainable beef plan prioritizes planet, people, animals, and progress, thus meeting the demands of the customer.
If we continue to meet these needs with a quality, humanely raised and tasty product, then I think the future of the beef industry is incredibly bright!