Sustainability- a recent farm magazine cover defined sustainability: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. I embrace this concept and strive to incorporate it into the operation of our family farm. I often cringe when I hear the word sustainability used, or misused as it often is in our culture. It seems that sustainability is often claimed to sell any product or idea that is over-priced or otherwise ill-conceived which cannot stand on its own merit. I think sustainability, stewardship, solvency, and succession all have interlocking meanings.
On our farm, stewardship is demonstrated by doing our best to protect the soil, preserve precious moisture, a sensible grazing plan, controlling noxious weeds, using farming or cropping practices that are beneficial to the long term productivity of the land. On the personal relationship basis, stewardship extends to treating your family, neighbors, and employees with common decency, honesty and respect. I don’t think any operation is sustainable (as defined above) unless good stewardship in all these areas is practiced.
Solvency is a financial term that describes long term financial health of a business. Can any entity be sustainable if it isn’t solvent? I think not. Can any entity be solvent if they don’t practice good stewardship? Certainly not in the long term. Financial performance is one of the keys to a sustainable operation.
Succession is another of the dreaded “S” words that depends on all of the above concepts. An operation isn’t truly sustainable if there isn’t a sound succession plan in place. Succession might mean sale of the business if a suitable successor/operator for the business is not found. Then finding a buyer with the same sustainability values might be a consideration. Who would want to be a successor in an operation unless good stewardship had been practiced? Lack of long term stewardship might mean overseeing a depleted resource base or an operation with resentful family members, employees, or neighbors. And any commercial operation would not be attractive to a successor if it were not solvent. All of these “S” words go hand in hand and we need to strive to find the proper balance for our operation.