To be current, to be caring, to be resourceful, you must be sustainable. Sustainability is good. If sustainability is good, they argue, we must embrace sustainability.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

We throw the word around like it contains the lightning promise of modernity and progress. Yet we also hear critics of agriculture using the same rhetoric to eviscerate agricultural methods and producers. “Your methods are not sustainable,” critics contend. “Your ranch is not sustainable. The planet is not sustainable.”

It’s enough for the common rancher to throw up his or her hands, and mutter “sustainability ... who needs it?”

Sure, sustainability may be a double-edged sword. But if we don’t help define it, it will be used against beef producers and all of agriculture to their detriment and downfall. So let’s get down to brass tacks in making it more than a label. To many on the front lines of ag, sustainability has three key definitions: environmental, economic and ethical.

Environmental sustainability requires a longevity for the planet and its resources. Agriculture is the production of goods made possible by the soil, sun, water and plant life.


Cattle producers worth their salt will thrive if the resources they rely on are equally strong, preserved and protected. Conservation of resources leads to thrift, longevity and healthy production.

Then there’s economic sustainability. This requires profitable returns enabling future production. A farm or ranch is a business. Politicians can deny it, but a business is a living and growing entity.

It must withstand the pressures, expenses and regulations of the market and government. When a ranch is built on sound business principles and savvy, it lasts generations. That’s clearly sustainability.

Finally, there’s the ethical perspective. To endure, ranchers, farmers, their crops, their animals, their equipment and their employees must do the right thing – and have the right thing done to them.

Practically every religion in the world follows some essence of what we call the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. An ag operation and those working for it must work to follow the same standard.

All of those pursuits are worthy of the sustainability label. But somehow – it’s the word that is problematic.

The simplest definition of sustainability means the ability to sustain or exist for a long time. What a droll and stale idea. Surely we can strive for more than just waiting out the clock to retire, hand off the operation and wait for sunset.

We have to go beyond sustainable and strive for extreme, bold and revolutionary. That’s what today’s ranchers truly are in the long-term journey of success – far more than just sustainable.  end mark

David Cooper