By Megan Webb, Ph.D. Contributing Editor
A sustainable beef supply is comprised of three intersecting pillars – social responsibility, economic viability and environmental stewardship. Sustainability is achieved when we aim to balance these aspects on our operation. In the current cattle market, we are experiencing record-high inflation, cattle prices and drought conditions that continue to reduce our cattle supply. For our own mental health, we should try to remember that making the best management practices to remain sustainable does not have to be a drastic decision. By having a written, logical plan in place, we can help to reduce “knee jerk” decisions and have formulated objectives to help us achieve our goals. By assessing our progress on an annual basis, it helps us to reflect and remain accountable. Time doing this strategic planning allows us to give ourselves credit for remaining sustainable and surviving the turbulence of our national economy and post-pandemic recovery.
Through small steps or simple objectives, we can remain diligent and accountable to our operation and our customers’ sustainability goals. Small annual improvements can lead to long-term positive net effects that help us, especially on the environmental side of our business by implementing “climate-smart” beef production practices. The American beef producer is no stranger to managing their operation to be best adapted to mother nature, but outlining our practices and monitoring data will help us remain diligent. Climate-smart beef production practices have been an evolving discussion topic. The cow-calf sector has been a focal point to help accelerate beef’s sustainable food system. This sector accounts for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in beef production. This segment of the industry may seem like a challenge, but in fact it holds the greatest opportunity.
Tyson, for example, has started a Climate-Smart Beef Program to help drive adoption of climate-smart agricultural management practices with the goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2030. This goal will also help create more producer value opportunities and by supporting producers who adopt environmentally sustainable practices centered around improving water quality; preventing water runoff; increasing biodiversity; minimizing soil erosion; and conserving habitats. Using data to help pinpoint areas of improvement, Tyson will be able to reward producers for climate-smart beef production practices and incentivize scalability.
From a consumer lens, these practices promote transparency and the option to invest discretional spending on beef raised from operations supporting practices that are better for the environment. Artificial intelligence and advanced technology will be a part of the collaborative journey of improving beef-raising practices into the future. Resources are becoming more available for producers to help them implement practices on their operations.
Merck Animal Health’s Livestock Technical Services offers monitoring support metrics from their “Whisper on Arrival” technology to enable real-time decision making such as more selective antibiotic utilization, which can aid in a reduction of antibiotic use by 10 to 15 percent. Additionally, their SenseHub technology tag can be used to help producers identify cattle that need evaluation for treatment.
Other non-animal health technologies that aid in climate-smart beef production can include feedstuff selection that offers more ruminant efficiency. Syngenta Seeds Enogen corn variety offers producers a choice to improve water savings, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality by the reduction in methane emissions. These technologies help reduce stress on operators, veterinarians and persons in the supply chain. Producing a crop or purchasing corn that is a better feed product is a small and achievable step that farmers and ranchers can make to help achieve their climate-smart beef goals. Is there one thing that could be improved on your operation?
We know that the consumer loves the beef product, but a small step in improvement shows that cattlemen continue to care. This diligence helps to keep the consumer assured that beef production is good for the environment and that producers are utilizing renewable resources wisely. Cattlemen have a lot of positivity to share in regard to their management practices and should share their operation’s sustainable story. Using cattle to reduce the carbon footprint is a great sustainable message.