By Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Kansas rancher
“Leave the land better than it was when you got it!”
I’m pretty sure every farmer or rancher has heard that comment more than once, so when people start asking questions about what we do on the ranch and talking about “sustainability” of our business and our ranch, we often get a bit testy. We have always been concerned with sustainability; we just haven’t used that exact term! Instead we talk about productivity, longevity, heritage and even efficiency. While none of those terms exactly describes sustainability, they each play an important part in the definition.
Three years ago, a group of farmers and ranchers saw that the consumer and retailer discussion about sustainability was gaining traction and realized that without their involvement, the definition and implementation of any sustainability measures could get out of hand. So they got involved, with the goal to show that the US beef industry has always been focused on sustainability and has already made strides in that arena. I joined the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) as a Founding Member and today a majority of members are producers and producer organizations, while the other members are from the other segments of the beef value chain. The entire list of members is available on the website USRSB.org.
After three years of hard work, the USRSB is presenting their cumulative work for public comment. The document (referred to as a “framework”) is the beginning of a self-assessment tool that will allow anyone involved in the beef value chain to learn about sustainability and evaluate their own ability to be sustainable. Instead of trying to push down measures and ideals, the framework provides information about six key areas to evaluate sustainability at each segment along the value chain.
The first six key areas that were identified to measure sustainability each have major impacts on the discussion. Those have been labeled “High Priority Indicators” and the USRSB spent most of their time working on how to measure each Indicator at every level of the beef value chain. The High Priority Indicators are listed fully in the framework and I encourage you to take the time to research these indicators.
It is important to note that while each tndicator has ways to be measured at a ranch level, they also have ways to be measured and evaluated at each level along the value chain. For example, we can discuss water quality and quantity at a ranch and feedyard level, but there are also important water resource discussions at the packer, processor and retail level. This is reflected in the framework.
This is the time for public comment! Remember, this is a draft before the framework can be put into use, but it is about the twenty-third draft—or so it seems! Those of us involved in the work of creating a way to measure sustainability have many hours into this document. The people involved have been a varied group of ranchers, feedyards, packers, processors and retailers.
In addition, there are interested organizations and entities also involved as members and they have been an important part of the conversation. I believe that the framework we have put together so far is a good way to evaluate sustainability on an individual level. I plan to use it for further discussions within our family about our ranch and where we are headed in the next 50 years.
Along with the framework, the USRSB utilizes information from the Beef Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate the success of the efforts of individuals towards sustainability. The LCA measures every input and output along the beef value chain and allows comparison over a number of years. The last LCA that was completed showed that beef showed an overall improvement in sustainability of approximately 5 percent from 2005 to 2011. If you are interested in the report and the full explanation, please click or tap here.
We are asking for your help. Anyone interested in this work is encouraged to take the time to go to the framework online and make any comments—positive or constructively critical—to help make the work of the USRSB better.
The buzzword may be new, but the goal of passing on a better ranch to the next generation has always been important. Today is it not enough to say, “Trust me, I’m sustainable.” We have to have some proof for today’s consumer. Let’s work together to provide facts to back up our claims. Go to http://www.usrsbframework.org and provide your feedback on the work of the USRSB.
Debbie and her husband Duane Blythe, along with their family own Blythe Family Farms, LLC that sits in the Flint Hills of Kansas. They raise registered Angus cattle, and have a commercial heifer development program to supply seedstock across the country. Debbie is a member of the Kansas Livestock Association and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and has served in leadership roles in each organization.