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Now who is the expert in sustainability?

By Trent Loos

It will be 20 years ago in April that Kelli and I got married in Loup City, Neb. I only tell you that to give some breadth to the number of times I have driven through our community of 1,012 people.

By driving I mean driving at the speed limit through town in my pickup. In the last five years I have opted to drive a team of horse pulling a wagon or buggy at least once a year. The first time I did that I could not believe the number of things I observed that I have never in all those passes through town in my pickup.

For that same very reason, I ride my pastures on a horse as often as possible throughout the year because you see things that you will never see in a pickup. Without question, observation is vital and the most important trait when it comes to stewardship whether it be animal husbandry or land sustainability. I would think it should be hard for anyone to argue that concept.

With that in mind, why are so many of us in food production willing to sit down at the table and listen to rhetoric from people who are so far removed from the land as they try to tell us what we need to do to be sustainable?

At the recent Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa, I did not sit in on the "Freedom to Operate" committee meeting but I certainly heard plenty about what happened.

You see, the men and women closest to the land need to clearly define what the word "sustainable" means. However, at this point we have given it to those who would rather control what and how we do it as opposed to continuing true "bio-diversity."

Let's look at just a couple of examples of the works of two entities who have been showing up to give us direction in how to be sustainable.

This is taken directly from press release in July 2010 by Jason Clay, senior vice president of markets at World Wildlife Fund. "By carrying out a dialogue with broad representation of all stakeholders in the global beef system, we can make great strides in expanding best practices and developing strong global standards for sustainable beef production."

A similar press release came from Jessica Droste Yagan, director of Sustainable Supply for McDonald's: "We recognize that beef production has significant impacts on the environment, people, and animals--positive and negative, and believe that all beef production systems can make important contributions towards improved sustainability. We want to help highlight and promote the better management practices that could drive those contributions more quickly."

Hello? American farmers and ranchers have made huge strides in sustainability in the past 150 years without any assistance, financial, legal or scientific from the WWF, McDonald's or some misguided U.N. Global plan.

In January of this year, Dr. Gary Smith from Colorado State University spoke to the International Livestock Congress in Denver, Colo. He reported that in the 18th century, it took five acres of land to produce enough food for one person for a year. Today, through technology and increased sustainability, it takes only 1/2 an acre to feed one person for a year. Additionally, we know that we have the same number of beef animals that we had 70 years ago yet we produce twice as much beef.

So, yes, sustainability is important and we have let the people in cubicles hijack this important term and define it. Now is the time to regain how the term is defined and remind people that many of our farmers and ranchers have been "sustainable" for four or more generations spanning over 100 years on the same land.

Who is the real expert in sustainability?

Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at

Date: 2/18/2013


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