Land management Amanda Radke

Did Grandpa have a better way?

In our effort to produce more, inputs have increased, ranchers have exited the business and rural communities have become ghost towns. Perhaps the secret to success in agriculture is looking at how Grandpa managed the farm and then do more of that.

Last week, Burke Teichert wrote an article titled, “Burke’s challenge: Find a better way to ranch.” In that article, he wrote about how, in our progressive efforts to advance the industry forward to achieve greater efficiencies and produce greater yields and more beef, we haven’t found an increase in profitability at the same rate as our advancements.

Teichert writes, “Yes, with our current model, we are increasing yields, animal size and growth rates; but we aren’t any more profitable. And significantly fewer people live and work in rural America. Our rural communities are dying, schools are closing and our children are leaving agriculture.”

To lower input costs, he urges producers to work more closely with nature to create a system that is less reliant on costly machinery, fossil fuels, pesticides and herbicides.

By doing this, he says, we can then focus on profit per acre instead of yield per acre or profit per cow.

READ: 9 management concepts to improve your ranch

This got me thinking about how agriculture has changed over the years. In our efforts to grow, expand and produce more, we’ve seen a reduction in diversification and a heavier emphasis on specializing on just one or two cash crops with cattle or hogs on the side.

Rewind to two generations before me, and things looked a little bit differently. My grandparents, who purchased the ranch we live on today in the late 1950s, were very diversified with a full rotation of crops, cover crops, hay, hogs, cattle and chickens. This supported their family and allowed them to expand with additional land purchases.

Grandpa was on the right track in many ways, but the farms and ranches of yesteryear were still lacking. When the 1980s farm crisis hit, it wasn’t just Grandpa’s frugality and wise investments that helped him weather the storm.

It was my dad, a fresh college graduate at the time, who introduced purebred Limousin cattle to the ranch. During that time, they transitioned from a commercial Hereford and Angus outfit to a business that merchandised bulls at a premium.

Fast forward another generation, and I’m back on the ranch with my husband Tyler and our three children. Today’s agriculture is so advanced that we now have the opportunity to improve our genetics through DNA technologies faster than ever before.

READ: Profitable ranching necessitates both mental and physical work

There are so many tools at our fingertips today that it’s almost dizzying. In implementing these tools, sometimes I wonder if my children will one day look back and say the decision that our parents made during the early 2000s were a pivotal time for our family ranch.

So that places a lot of pressure on the management practices we employ and the areas of the business we focus our energy and our capital investments on.

Even more scary is there are fewer and fewer millennials getting into the cattle business, or sticking around for very long. Many of us require off-farm income to cash flow the enterprise. This makes me wonder if perhaps Burke is on the right track when it comes to the future of agriculture.

Today’s consumer is more focused than ever before on the sustainability of cattle grazing and beef production. Without question, cattle producers have an amazing story to tell in that regard. By following regenerative agricultural practices, we improve the land and renew the natural resources at our disposal while also producing nourishing beef and life-enriching byproducts.

Will the secret to finding success in the decades to come be determined by who can harness solar energy and native grasslands the most effectively? Perhaps so. And if that’s the case, then I think Grandpa was on the right track with his diversification of lifestyle and his multiple crop rotation.

Maybe it’s time for us to get back to the basics of land management. There will always be innovative tools for us to test out, but I’m cautious of chasing trends, increasing my input costs and ending each year with thinner margins than the year previous.

We can’t turn back the clock. Nor would we want to. However, we may need to embrace what’s made it work for centuries and master that. Thanks, Burke, for the challenge to find a better way. On my ranch, I’m making plans to do just that.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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