Beef: Rethinking the Ranch?

May 10, 2021

Beef its what’s for

It is often an untold story, but ranching families have led conservation efforts across the United States for generations. Today’s farmers and ranchers are strong examples of true conservationists. They have a deep love and appreciation for the land because it in turn supports their families. These hard-working people are dedicated to caring for the resources entrusted to them, and they also know first-hand that caring for the environment protects their way of life for future generations.

Conservation principles are used at every point in the beef lifecycle, starting with pasture-based cow-calf farms and ranches, to the cattlemen and women who feed cattle at feedyards. The practices look different based on geography, but collectively, these efforts help maintain and improve the environment.

Let’s explore the ways that the beef community cares for the environment with examples from across the country.


Farmers and ranchers are dependent on the land and fully appreciate the importance of conserving the resources and benefits these areas offer all of us.

Their commitment to the land is highlighted by the fact that 91% of beef cattle operations are family-owned, and 78% of beef farmers and ranchers intend to pass their operation on to future generations. This longstanding commitment brings with it a strong sense of pride in the lifestyle, the animals and the land.1

Range and pasture lands are located in all 50 states. Livestock grazing is the primary use of approximately 29 percent of all U.S. land including grassland, pasture and rangeland. Often, the land cattle graze on is not suitable for growing other food products, as it is too rocky, arid, or steep. While some argue that cattle use too much land, these arguments do not consider the countless, invaluable ecosystem services, that cattle on grazing lands provide. Ecosystem services are the benefits that society receives from an ecosystem. In particular, managed grazing can support biodiversity, provide wildlife habitat, enhance carbon sequestration, and contribute to nutrient cycling.

While it’s true that properly grazed cattle can improve soil, conserve water, and sequester carbon, and there are some good farmers working on this across the country, the future of the cattle industry is in some doubt. Obviously, the ongoing shakeout in Dairy has been brutal, particularly for smaller operators.
Below, an NBC News examination of the interactions of increasingly critical climate change and big cattle operations the southwest.

In addition, as I’ve posted recently, the meat industry in general is facing possible disruption by Precision Fermentation of proteins, like Impossible Burgers, and Beyond Beef, but also the prospect of “lab grown” meat becoming economically and environmentally competitive in the coming decade.

12 Responses to “Beef: Rethinking the Ranch?”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    If ranchers and farmers are so appreciative, such leaders and conservationists, one has to wonder why we’ve lost more than 3 tons of topsoil per person, why billions of tons of pesticides have been applied to croplands and rangelands, why soil is so compacted, why soil communities are so threatened and declining?

    The amount of denial involved in bright-siding by industry utterances is quite astounding, isn’t it? Seems like it’s the money involved–paid people will do anything they’re told. We need to arrange for more of those for our side.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      I love how you deliberately conflate ranchers and farmers here. Ranchers are not harrowing soils, leading to soil depletion. They are not treating rangeland with pesticides.

      Grasslands have the potential to be a carbon sink up to 5 times greater than a forest on the same property. But that sequestration depends on grazing, otherwise the grass goes dormant.

      How easy it is to sit in your armchair railing at farmers, who are working their asses off to bring food to your supermarket. Good f**king grief, man.

      • Mark Mev Says:

        A quick google search and pesticides are used on rangelands and pastures, more so on pastures to help feed livestock. Probably much less than for farmland, but not zero like you state.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          If you are talking pastures, that is mainly dairy farming and is likely mainly herbicides, not pesticides. But lactating cows shouldn’t be near that stuff, so while Google has articles on it, I can’t imagine this is done frequently.

          The whole point of cattle ranching is that you don’t have to spend dollars on treating crops – the cows eat grass on land that is suited for growing grass. You really think cattle ranchers are going to treat thousands of acres of scraggly grass? It just doesn’t make sense.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    All aquifers are unique – ish. Effectively all have slow recharge including timelines of a million years. Drawing one down faster than the recharge rate is DUH unsustainable and criminal. Suck em dry and the resource is lost for a long, as in geological, times. Watering crops, and GGMS trees, with a depleting aquifer is beyond belief. Also, drawing down is damaging to the quality of the aquifer matrix. This is destroying an otherwise sustainable resource which should belong to ‘all’, not to a corporation ensconced over a small portion of the surface.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A study from 2015 that shows just how bad the aquifer depletion problem has become:

      Of course, we are not paying attention to that any more than so many of the other problems we are facing—-what’s the rush?—-it really makes sense to wait until it’s too late—-that’s the homo sapiens way.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      All aquifers are unique. While drawing down a replenishable aquifer should be a crime that’s very much different from mining water from an aquifer that everybody knows won’t refill.

      I think that the Central Valley aquifers and parts of the Ogallala are being criminally damaged by the overdraw. Other aquifers have government-class management entities (like

      I’m less concerned about water mining from old isolated aquifers as long as it is managed as a single-use resource (i.e., treat it as a mineral right, not something that towns or agriculture can rely on).

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Let’s put that video into perspective. Raising corn in Arizona is insane. Raising cattle in Arizona using irrigation is insane. It’s also an extremely marginal sampling of the entire agricultural and livestock farming picture.

    Here is the EPA data on water use nationally:


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