Ranchers and farmers play a key role in sustainable production, shares cattlewoman
The Beltway Beef podcast welcomed National Cattlemen’s Beef Association member Kim Brackett to discuss sustainability in agriculture on Feb. 19. Brackett and her husband Ira own and operate Brackett Ranches, a cow/calf operation in Idaho.
As president-elect of the Idaho Cattle Association, Brackett strives to be an advocate for agriculture. She testified about sustainability in agriculture in front of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture on Feb. 3.
Brackett mentions there is an evident gap between ranchers, the general public and politicians when it comes to understanding sustainable ranching. She feels it was necessary to do her part in bridging this divide by testifying about her personal experience with sustainability and conservation on the ranch.
“We have such a divide between rural America and urban decision makers,” she says. “I looked at this as another chance for me to reach across, bridge this gap and talk about what we do on our ranch and what sustainability is for me personally and for the industry at large. I think having a rancher’s perspective was beneficial during the committee meeting.”
Brackett finds it important to remind those removed from agriculture, sustainability is a number one concern for farmers and ranchers.
“There is a lot of sustainability work already being done on America’s farms and ranches,” she notes.
Brackett explains they utilize targeted grazing on their ranch as a tool to reduce fuel loads.
“We want to avoid those massive wildfires,” she adds. “And, be able to reduce fuel loads through grazing and combat invasive annual grasses in the Great Basin area.”
Brackett notes, cattle grazing contributes to carbon sequestration in the U.S., and farmers and ranchers play a key role in protecting U.S. carbon sinks. She finds many people “underscore the importance of keeping farms and ranches intact.”
Brackett attributes much of the safeguarding of wildlife habitats to ranchers and farmers being stewards of the land. She acknowledges the pipeline system her ranch utilizes which brings water down from the mountains and across the more desert country areas.
“We are able to run cattle in areas we couldn’t before,” Brackett says. “This leads to increased wildlife populations and larger big game habitat in these areas as well.”
Brackett explains there is an enormous amount of new, cutting-edge technology in the agriculture industry.
“There’re so many innovative technologies going on right now,” she adds. “I wish some of those would get traction in mainstream media.”
She acknowledges technology improvements in feed efficiency at the feedlot level saying, “They’ve done such tremendous work in this area pertaining to sustainability and the footprint the cattle industry has. I feel like they get a bad rap.”
She also mentions the cow/calf technologies being utilized, including geofencing, GPS collars and targeted grazing.
“We don’t have to go and fence our pastures into small paddocks or use electric fencing anymore,” Brackett says. “This is really exciting – it allows us to move the cattle into specific areas and helps us stop invasive annual grass from growing.”
She adds, producers are able to monitor cattle on the land while using Google Earth technology and drones.
“Using drones to locate cattle in the wilderness area is a fun way to get the kids engaged and bring them back to the ranch.”
Brackett feels technology in agriculture is going to keep advancing as kids go off to college, learn new ideas and bring them back home.
“I can hardly wait for some of these kids to go to college and bring exciting innovation back to the ranch,” Brackett adds.
Ag policy regulations
Brackett, like many other producers, is concerned about the regulations coming from Congress making it difficult to ranch. She explains her family runs cattle in Idaho and Nevada on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land.
“We deal with a lot of regulations on a daily basis,” she says. “We deal with four different agencies, two in each state, plus federal agencies.”
She notes they often times find themselves making management decisions based on regulations.
“It gets very overwhelming and expensive, we have constant litigation from environmental groups in this area,” Brackett says. “The climate battle needs cattle and not regulations.”
Bridging the gap
Brackett reminds producers of the divide between rural and urban areas.
“So many people don’t understand animal agriculture and livestock production,” she says. “They don’t understand if ranchers were making poor management decisions about the health of their ecosystem, they’d lose the ranch.”
Brackett finds mainstream media representations of agriculture to be part of the problem by increasing the gap between producers and consumers.
“I am always talking about the fact this sustainability narrative is being written and driven by people who don’t understand the cattle industry or livestock production,” she says.
Brackett encourages farmers and ranchers to not shy away from uncomfortable discussions about sustainability in agriculture. She says facing the mainstream sustainable narrative head on is the only successful option for cattle ranchers.
“Continue to engage in discussion and make sure people understand what we are doing is sustainable, both environmentally and economically,” she adds. “There are so many opportunities for us to collaborate – we have the same goals – we want to improve the environment.”
Brackett urges producers to reach out to “friendly conservation groups” to discuss opinions and broaden the sustainability effort.
She suggests farmers and ranchers “come out of their shell a bit and have those conversations.”
“All of these people need to understand the positive contributions cattle make to our ecosystem and climate discussion at large,” says Brackett.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.