Cattlemen are ‘green’ pioneers

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dear Editor,

As we reach another Earth Day celebration in this country and so many messages about “the green movement” will surely abound, I think it prudent for us to stop and say ‘thank you’ to a group of people who’ve been caring for our natural resources for well over 100 years — cattlemen. The very nature of raising cattle in Alabama embraces everything for which the green movement stands. We use an abundant renewable resource (grass) that cattle can convert into one of the most healthy and nutrient dense foods available (beef). On top of this, cattlemen have a few other claims that make their case as the original “stewards of the land”.

Grazing cattle can minimize the invasion of non-native plant species and minimize the risk of wildfires by decreasing the amount of flammable material on the land. Approximately 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. Grazing animals on this land more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food.

Other animals besides our cattle benefit from our grazing lands. A combination of livestock and wildlife management on grazing lands has resulted in better species survival than when these activities are practiced separately. In the Eastern and Central United States, wildlife is almost entirely dependent on ranch, farm, and other private lands; so, we play an important role in the survival of native species.

Because nearly 90 percent of cattle operations in this country are family owned, we have a stake in preserving our land for our children and grandchildren. Many cattlemen practice natural resource management activities including soil tests, brush and weed control programs, grazing management plans, minimum or no-till systems, and range quality and grass utilization monitoring. As a matter of fact, Alabama’s own Dee River Ranch from Aliceville was recognized last year by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with the 2008 Excellence in Conservation Award. This nation-wide award serves to honor those outside the Federal government for their work in conservation.

Cattlemen are also responsible stewards of the air and atmosphere. Their livelihood is closely connected to preserving a healthy, safe and clean environment for food production. Therefore, controlling dust has been a priority land-management practice in America for generations. In addition, animal agriculture contributes minimally to the production of total greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA, the entire U.S. agricultural sector accounts for only 6.4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production is only a portion of that total.

Along with soil, air, plants, and wildlife, cattlemen also take steps to protect the water in their ecosystem. Can you guess the #1 nutrient requirement of a beef cow? It’s water; so you can understand our need to keep it clean and healthy. Cattlemen’s everyday water conservation efforts include conducting water quality tests, fencing off streams to protect the fish and waterways, and creating man-made irrigation ponds.

You see, cattle production and the environment go hand in hand to the benefit of each other. So, the next time you see a commercial on TV advertising the efforts of some chemical company running its plant using garbage from a local landfill or a snack company running their factory with solar power, remember the cattlemen who’ve been caring about the environment since day one.

Steve McDonald, President

Alabama Cattlemen’s Association