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Look for Solutions Outside of the B’s

Written by Dallas Mount

Most of your neighbors look for their solutions to come out of a bag, bottle, bale or block. Sure, there are times these things are useful, but the major competitive advantages come from things that take effort on your part. Rarely can a solution to a complex problem or a breakthrough for your business be purchased.

As an Extension agent, most of the questions I get on a day-to-day basis start with the phrase, “What do I spray it with?” or “What do I plant?” The answer to these questions only addresses a symptom and not the underlying problem.

Let’s take a “What do I plant?” question and dive in deeper.

The rancher’s problem is a pasture had become overgrown with sagebrush and cheatgrass, and he wants to rehabilitate the pasture to a more productive forage specie. In its current state, the pasture produces about 600 pounds per acre of forage for a stocking rate of 0.2 animal unit months (AUMs) per acre, for a gross value of $4.50 per acre in grazing. If he rehabs it, he thinks it could grow 1,200 pounds per acre with stocking rate close to 0.4 AUMs per acre for a gross value of nine dollars per acre.

Rehabbing the pasture will cost around $100 per acre, fail 25 percent of the time and take three years before production reaches the expected levels. It doesn’t take very long to see that the economics of this “solution” stink. The bigger issue is that if the management of the pasture that caused the sagebrush and cheatgrass to increase doesn’t change the long-term result won’t likely change either.

We need to change the question. Rather than asking “what do I plant, spray, inject, pour, etc.,” we need to ask deeper questions about how we can change management to address the problem rather than symptoms. Often, we find that the change in management requires us to challenge the way we do things, learn a new way of doing what we need to do and take actions that require a new way of thinking. These are much more difficult actions than simply looking for the next thing to buy.

I’m not saying that any of these inputs are wrong or that your ranch shouldn’t use them. I am saying that the cost and returns of each input and the associated costs of providing that input need to be carefully evaluated. I’m also strongly encouraging you to ask deeper-level questions to see if the use of the input is addressing a symptom or the underlying problem.

So, what do you think the rancher said after I gave a long-winded answer about addressing the underlying management? Yep. “So, what do I plant?” I gave him a species list that would work for the site.

If you want the short answer or the long answer, UW Extension is here to help, but fair warning, sometimes you might get the long answer.