These days, everyone from celebrities to journalists to politicians has an opinion about the “right” way to raise food. Often, their criticism of farmers and ranchers relates to the environment – people say they aren’t doing their part to protect the planet.
With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day coming up, I’d like to offer some food for thought. While these naysayers talk about minimizing impact on the environment, America’s cattle farmers and ranchers get up every day and do it. They care for the land because it’s their job.
About two-thirds of cattle farms and ranches have been in the same family for two generations or more. Farmers and ranchers do their part to make sure that the next generation receives the land in better condition than when it was passed down to them. Their family walks the same land, breathes the same air and drinks the same water as your family.
Cattle grazing stabilizes the soil and promotes growth of beneficial grasses while protecting against erosion and forest fires. Cattlemen and cattlewomen manage much of this country’s public lands and open spaces, providing important habitat for wildlife.
There are millions of acres of grassland in this country, and grass is important to America’s environmental quality. Grass prevents runoff of rain, helps control flooding and keeps soil from eroding. Grass produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide. Grass filters and cleans rainwater and helps it percolate through the soil and back into streams and aquifers. Grass is the foundation for open space that provides habitat and food for wildlife.
America’s grasslands are mostly too high, too rough, too dry or too wet to grow anything but grass – they are unsuitable for crops. But America’s grass farmers use these lands to double the amount of land in this country that can produce food.
How? By grazing cattle on the grass. Without cattle, America’s ample supply of grass would have little benefit for consumers.
The steps that farmers and ranchers take to improve the environment aren’t new, but they are always evolving. Today’s farmer has to feed about 144 people worldwide. Experts estimate global food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to feed a growing world population.
Today, Colorado’s farmers and ranchers provide families with nutritious beef products using fewer natural resources than in the past. They’re also providing a food that’s rich in nutrition. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, and beef provides the most readily available and easily absorbed source of iron. Just one three-ounce serving of beef supplies 10 nutrients essential for life. There are 29 different beef options that meet the U.S. government guidelines for lean, including some of America’s favorites: filet mignon, strip steak, T-bone steak and top sirloin.
So, celebrate Earth Day with a steak dinner and support America’s farmers and ranchers, everyday environmentalists who get up every day to take care of the land and produce the food we so often take for granted.
So I leave you with one question; What’s your environmental legacy?
Tami Arnold is the director of marketing for the Colorado Beef Council and a fourth-generation Colorado rancher. This column ran in today’s Denver Post online edition.