The Business Case for Better Beef
Well-managed ranches have healthy vegetation and soils, including low levels of bare ground.
Improving grazingland management generates economic benefits for ranchers and ranching communities. These include:
- Improved ranch productivity: Better forage production due to improved grazing management fattens cattle faster, which has significant economic benefits. Texas A&M researchers estimate that earning potential is 4 times higher for a ranch in excellent condition than for a poorly managed ranch.
- Keeping cattle out of streams can pay: University of Wyoming scientists found that cattle gained more weight when provided with other water sources. Another study concluded that keeping cattle out of streams improved animal health and productivity, while reducing erosion and improving water quality.
- Reduced (non-feed) input costs: Several studies suggest that well-managed ranches result in lower water, fertilizer, and weed control costs.
- Reduced feed costs: A 2011 USDA report noted that a good grazing management plan allows cattle to graze more of the year on pastures, thereby reducing the amount of feed a rancher has to buy.
- Better drought-resilience: Because good grazing management improves soil's water-holding capacity and forage production, well-managed ranches can be more drought-resilient.
- Access to niche markets: Many consumers are willing to pay more for beef raised in an environmentally-sustainable way, that was grass-fed, or that was raised without hormones or antibiotics. Ranchers who produce this beef are often able to sell to specialty or high-end retail chains, restaurants, and niche brands.
- Opportunities to engage in new markets: Growing demand for ecosystem services produced on ranches is generating public and private schemes that reward landowners by paying them directly for carbon sequestration, water quality, species habitat, wetlands restoration, and other ecosystem services.
- Higher land value for more ecosystem services: Land that offers valuable ecosystem benefits in addition to livestock production—such as scenic views, elk habitat, and sport fishing—has a higher market value than similar land that only produces livestock.
Who's leading the way?
More and more ranches are implementing locally-appropriate better management practices that reduce and reverse pollution and land degradation, generating valuable environmental and economic benefits. They are finding that improving management boosts profits by improving grass productivity and livestock growth rates, cutting input costs (e.g., costs of supplemental feed, fertilizer, and pesticides) and increasing the resilience of their land to the unpredictable consequences of climate change.
Stay tuned for profiles of the supermarkets, restaurants, brands, and producers that are leading the way.