At a recent Farmers’ co-op meeting an anonymous farmer joked, “there are two words I strongly dislike, sustainability and retains.”
The second word is irrelevant for this blog, but the mentioning of the first in that tone brings to light an interesting point. Sometimes, we as farmers have a negative opinion when it comes to the word sustainability.
Perhaps the reason for this is that it's a buzzword thrown at us. We are all expected to be it. Yet no one really knows what it is and how it applies to us.
The dictionary definition of sustainability is, ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level or the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
So when I think about the word sustainability and how it applies to our farm, it’s essentially applying management practices that allow for these things to occur. It is both economic and environmental. Farmers and ranchers have known for a long time that what is good for the environment is good for their bottom line.
In my definition of sustainability, farms and ranches that have been going for several generations are pretty darn sustainable. But it doesn't stop there. It’s the ability to implement and manage the kinds of practices that will allow them to go on for future generations.
We can have extensive, detailed conversations around this word about what it means to all of us. And I would encourage farmers and ranchers to do that very thing. In fact I would challenge Farm Bureau members to come up with their own definition of what sustainability means to them.
It is no secret that our customers are asking for it. Retailers are buying ‘sustainably grown’ sugar. McDonalds is demanding ‘sustainably grown’ beef etc.
It doesn't seem to matter what the definition is, only that we have one. And the really scary part is that if we don't define it, those who don't understand our business will do it for us.