Stockmanship is how ranchers interact with their animals with a focus on keeping the stress meter low for both the handler and the animal. Most cattle start their life cycle on ranches in large pastures. Here in Arizona, most cows calve alone and don’t usually need human assistance, but ranchers do interact with their cattle regularly. To raise high-quality beef, cattle must be healthy, and ranchers can help their animals achieve that goal with a vaccination program. Vaccinating, along with branding and other activities, does require ranchers to work closely with their animals and good stockmanship can help make it easier on both the cows and the people.
Ranchers don’t put a leash on their cattle to move them like one might a dog. Rather, cattlemen and women use their bodies (and horses) positioned in certain ways to move cattle where we need them to go. To understand this concept better, we first must know a few things about cows. Cattle are prey animals, meaning they want to gather in herds because that gives them more protection from predators. They also have a flight or fight instinct and tend to run if they are frightened. Some breeds of cattle are more inclined to fight if put into a sticky situation, like if a predator tries to attack a cow’s calf. Secondly, they don’t often move in straight lines, but rather in circular patterns. Knowing these two instincts tells us how we can work with cattle to decrease stress on the animal and to increase productivity.
Think about a large invisible ring around a cow. This is her flight zone. Depending on breed and how much human interaction this cow has had, her flight zone might be small or large. Pressure can be applied by stepping into their circular flight zone, in a certain area to encourage her to move forwards, backwards, away, or even towards you. Also knowing how much pressure to apply, meaning how far and how fast you must walk into the flight zone, is critical. If an animal looks at you or maybe flicks an ear towards you but doesn’t move it probably means you have to step a little closer. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, if an animal jumps and runs away you might have walked too far into her flight zone or approached too quickly.
Working with these natural flight zones and movement patterns help to decrease stress on animals while increasing productivity. The less stress an animal experiences, the better, so they can put their energy toward making healthy beef. It also makes it safer for the human involved to utilize these skills as the animal is less likely to tap into their fight response.
The journey of raising beef is among the most complex of any food. Due in part to their changing nutritional needs throughout their lifetime, beef cattle often times will change hands and ownership up to three or four times, over the course of one and a half to three years, as they move through their various life stages.
Across this process, however, one important thing remains constant – and that’s the beef community’s shared commitment to raising cattle in a safe, humane and environmentally sustainable way. Working together, each segment of the beef lifecycle aims to make the best use of vital natural resources like land, water and energy – not just for today, but also for the future. The result is a delicious and nutritious food you can feel good about serving your family and friends.
Let’s explore how beef gets from pasture to plate in Arizona.
Raising beef begins with ranchers who maintain a herd of cows that give birth to calves once a year. When a calf is born, it typically weighs 60 to 100 pounds. Over the next few months, each calf will live off its mother’s milk and graze on forages from the rangeland. Ranches in Arizona are typically large in land area because of our dry, arid climate. Ranchers are committed to caring for their animals and the land on which they are raised.
Calves are weaned from their mother’s milk at 6 to 10 months of age when they weigh between 450 and 700 pounds. This can be done several ways with one option called fence line weaning. This means the cows are on one side of the fence and the mother cows are on the other side. They aren’t able to nurse but can still be closer to the cow, making it a less stressful situation. These calves continue to graze on pastures and may begin receiving a small amount of supplemental plant-based feed for extra energy and protein to help them grow and thrive.
Stocking and Backgrounders:
After weaning, cattle continue to grow and thrive by grazing on grass, forage and other plants with ranchers providing supplemental feed including vitamins and minerals to meet all of their nutritional needs.
Livestock Auction Markets:
After weaning and/or during the stocker and backgrounder phase, cattle may be sold at livestock auction markets.
Mature cattle are often moved to feedyards. Here cattle typically spend 4 to 6 months. They are free to graze at feed bunks containing a carefully balanced diet made up of roughage (such as hay and grass), grain (such as corn, wheat and soybean meal) and local renewable feed sources. Veterinarians, nutritionists and pen riders work together to provide individual care for each animal.
Once cattle reach market weight (typically 1,200 to 1,400 pounds at 18 to 22 months of age), they are sent to a packing plant (also called a processing facility). United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors oversee the implementation of safety, animal welfare and quality standards from the time animals enter the plant until the final beef products are shipped to grocery stores and restaurants.
Most Arizona ranches cover many, many acres because of our environment here in the southwest. Our climate is arid, meaning relatively dry, so grass and forages, along with plentiful water, is challenging to maintain at times. However, this does not mean high-quality cattle can’t be raised here! By managing the land, we can ensure there are enough resources for the cattle, the wildlife, and the public who also enjoy these open spaces.
Range management is a science which focuses on the study of rangelands and the conservation and sustainable management of these arid spaces for the benefit of current and future generations. It is the goal of the caretakers of these lands to use the resources provided, such as water, grass, and forages, to grow a high-quality product such as beef, while also maintaining a healthy ecosystem in which wildlife, flora and fauna can flourish. Proper management is key as these lands have previously been used for many generations to grow food and it is the goal of the ranchers to see their continued responsible use into the future.
Andrew McGibbon of the Santa Rita Ranch in Green Valley, Arizona (check out the blog we wrote about his family here) explains that on his ranch they work to adapt the cattle to the environment and to rainfall amounts. One method of adaptation that is used on his ranch is called rotational grazing which means cattle are consistently moved through various pastures. In the summertime, the cattle are moved through pastures rather quickly, meaning the herd is gathered and moved to a new pasture every 10-12 days. This is done during the monsoon months of July, August and September, to protect the quickly growing grass. In the wintertime, grasses typically go dormant, which means the cattle can spend a longer amount of time in each pasture. Movement through pastures is also dependent on the amount of rainfall in that area of the ranch.
As with most businesses, things are always done a little differently from ranch to ranch. Dan Bell of the ZZ Cattle Company in Nogales, Arizona (to learn more about Dan and his ranch visit this blog post) explains that range management is used across their entire ranch to ensure that cattle have fresh grass throughout the year. This allows the pastures to rest after cattle have grazed. Pastures are rested on an alternating season of use pattern. This gives the grass more time to rest and set seed, allowing for growth in the next cycle. This is especially helpful through times of drought, ensuring there is grass waiting in other areas, allowing for efficient management and use of the resource.
Range management is also important for the wildlife who cohabitate with cattle on these pasture lands. Ranchers are acutely aware of water sources and how they are used. A large pasture can be grazed more efficiently and effectively by providing water in various areas, encouraging cattle movement and equitable grazing. This allows cattle and wildlife to graze in more remote areas which were not close to a water source before but now are by adding a trough for water and a pipeline to get the water there.
It’s also important to monitor and work to improve the rangeland used by ranchers. This is done by a practice called rangeland monitoring which means we document and measure how conditions of the land are changing in response to the environment and the management practices which are in use. It helps guide ranchers to know if their current range management plan is working and how to adapt to changing circumstances such as drought. Add this tool to the rancher’s toolbox to ensure they reach their goal of seeing the land they currently raise cattle on continue to happen to see the same for generations to come.
Special thanks to the McGibbons, Dan Bell, and Mario Preciado of the Arizona State Land Department for assistance with this blog post.
This blog post was written by our 2019 Senior Arizona Beef Ambassador Savannah Burt. Arizona Beef Ambassadors are passionate youth advocates for the Arizona beef industry. The winners are the official youth representatives of the Arizona State Cowbelles (ASC) and the beef community. The senior winner travels the state sharing the story of beef from pasture to plate with consumers and students. Savannah is a current college student and explains below how an easy-to-cook-and-prepare recipe is a must for her.
As a busy college student who also lives in a dorm, most of my meals must meet certain criteria. First, it has to be easy to make. Second, it must be inexpensive. Finally, it must be portable. Luckily, this recipe meets every single requirement, and it centers around my favorite source of protein: beef! These roast beef potluck rolls were originally featured on BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com, and they’re as nutritious as they are delicious! The recipe makes 12 servings, each with 21 grams of protein, so it’s perfect for storing in the fridge and eating over a few days or bringing to gatherings with friends or family! Without any further ado, here’s the recipe for roast beef potluck rolls, complete with some tips and tricks from the last time I made it.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Cut rolls in half, horizontally.
Place the bottom half of the rolls in the baking dish. Spread horseradish on the cut side, and top with roast beef and cheese. Close the sandwiches with the other half of the rolls.
Use a paring knife to cut the rolls into 12 sandwiches. Use your hands to spread the sandwiches apart.
Mix together butter, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, sugar, and onion powder in a small bowl. Pour the mixture evenly over the sandwiches. Take a spoon and spread the mixture over the top of the rolls.
Make sure they’re all generously coated! Cover the dish and refrigerate 1 hour to overnight.
Bake the sandwiches, uncovered, in the 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the rolls are golden brown.
Once the sandwiches are out of the oven, you can combine them with a nice salad or side dish for a mouthwatering meal! The possibilities are endless, and this savory recipe is at the top of my favorites list!
To learn more about the Arizona Beef Ambassador and the program visit the Arizona State Cowbelles’ website here.
Phoenix temps dropped below 80 so naturally I pull out all the creamy, cozy, fall recipes I have. Beef Stroganoff is my go to! It’s a dinner that has been around for ages but this traditional dish is perfect for the change in season. Tender strips of beef with a creamy seasoned mushroom sauce, finished off over fluffy egg noodles. Hands down I could not think of a better November meal than this cozy dish. I LOVE this recipe. Best part? It’s SO easy. It’s my husband’s favorite dish that I make, so you can usually find it on my fall night weekly rotation! Make this soon and enjoy it…..preferably with extra beef and sauce too. Thanks for stopping by!
-XOXO, Brooke Appetit
½ lb white mushrooms, sliced 1 medium onion, sliced 4 tablespoons butter 2 pounds sirloin steak (sliced in strips ¼ to ½ inch thick) 3 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon garlic salt ½ teaspoon onion salt 1 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon paprika 2 garlic cloves, minced ½ cup sherry 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 can beef consommé ¾ cup sour cream
Sauté mushrooms, onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium – high heat for 4-5 minutes until onions are translucent, remove from skillet.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to skillet and brown meat. (Don’t overcrowd your pan) While meat is browning season with salt, pepper, garlic salt, onion salt and paprika.
Sprinkle flour, cook for 30 seconds
Add tomato paste, cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add sherry, let simmer until reduced by half then add beef consommé.
Simmer for 1 ¼ hours or until the beef is tender.
Add sour cream and combine, add sautéed onions, mushrooms and garlic.
Serve hot over egg noodles and garnish with parsley!
It’s lunch time at Pinal Feeding Co, and outside of an
office window you can hear the quick patter of feet rush towards the door. “Dad, I found an ear tag!” These are the feet of the Aja children, as
they race towards the door to proudly show off their discovery. Bass Aja, the manager of Pinal Feeding Co,
picks up Andy, 5, and Perry, 3, to see the ear tag they found in the feed
yard. Anna Aja follows close behind,
with a smile on her face, bearing lunch for her kids.
I took a trip to Pinal Feeding Co to meet with Bass and Anna
about the feed yard, yes, but also to immerse myself into an agricultural
environment. I grew up in an
urban-suburban environment, and I wanted to get a better understanding of what
it means to grow up in agriculture and the values it instills in kids.
I began my visit with a personal tour by Bass, himself,
across the feed yard. I was amazed by
how vast the yard was. Thousands of cows
were divided by age, size, and health into different pens with room to eat,
play, and grow. Bass explained to me the
process of raising and selling cattle and how hard each employee at the yard
works to ensure optimal health and proper care of each animal. We finished our tour at the mill, where corn
is steamed and blended with the grass, alfalfa, and other nutrients that make
up the feed distributed to the cattle.
“Is it weird to say that it smells good?” I asked Bass as we passed through the mill.
We headed back to the office, where Anna and the kids had
just arrived. Bass took the kids out to
see the cattle, while Anna and I headed inside to discuss life in agriculture
and family values. I wanted to know what
it means to grow up in agriculture and what core values Bass and Anna hope to
instill in their children, through exposure to the yard.
“People in agriculture are salt of the earth people. They are the best kind of people to grow up
around: hardworking and humble.” I certainly found this to be true. The people I had met at Pinal were not only
humble, but they were proud about the work that they do. They care for the animals, and they care about
putting nutrient-rich food on families’ plates.
Anna grew up on a ranch and explained to me that she grew up
understanding what went on her plate and what contributed to a healthy
diet. “We were raising our own food, so
I knew where it came from. As a kid, did
I eat Pop Tarts once in a while?
Sure. But I grew up understanding
that food is about much more than just taste.
It is about life.” One of the
major values that Anna hopes to instill in her kids is value of the life cycle. “That is one advantage that kids in
agriculture have: a greater understanding of life and death. My kids understand that things die. Understanding the life cycle has given them a
greater respect for life at such a young age. “
When Bass returned with the kids, he added that he hopes to
teach his kids integrity through the work that he does. “The kids need to see the respect I have for
my team. It is so important to follow
through with your word and mean what you say.
We are a family here.”
Bass and Anna both agree that hard work is a value they both
learned from agriculture. “There is a
major difference between physical hard work and mental hard work,” explained
Bass. “You can experience exhaustion
from both. There is value in
Bass and Anna were raised in different agricultural
settings, but the couple agrees that raising kids in agriculture teaches hard
work, integrity, and humility. “It keeps them grounded.”
This post was written by Celia Dubauskas. Celia is an undergraduate student at Arizona State University, studying Nutrition Communication. This spring, she has been an intern for Arizona Beef Council, creating written and social content for our platforms. Celia is an experienced fitness professional and is certified as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Her passion for fitness has fueled her interest in nutrition and learning more about health and diet culture. Keep on eye out for upcoming posts!
Green beer and corned beef day is just around the corner! While you don’t need a recipe for the beer, we can help with the directions on the corned beef. Plus ideas for breakfast and lunch the next day! Bonus: A perfect beef-y brunch drink is included in our recipe round up!
Try this brunch favorite with a depth of flavor only beef can provide. Roasted Beef Stock is the secret ingredient to this one of a kind Bloody Mary. Garnish with a beef slider, beef meatball, or whatever you can dream up.
I consider myself fortunate to have been raised in the farming and ranching community. Growing up, I’ve watched this group of people that grow and raise our country’s food do so with dedication and passion for the land they care for, the animals they are raising, and the people they are feeding.
My family runs an agritourism farm and cattle ranch called Mortimer Farms and Ranches in Dewey, Arizona. I get to call myself the Marketing Manager for our family’s farm which means I write blog posts, post lots of exciting news, events, and stories on our social media channels, design flyers, billboards, and signs, and handle all public relation topics. I also get to drive tractors, teach kiddos how to pick veggies, plant crops, take pictures, watch baby cows walk for the first time, and work cattle. I seriously have the best job ever! After I graduate from the University of Arizona in December, I hope to work for a non-profit agriculture organization in their marketing and public relations department as well as continuing to work on my family’s farm and ranch. Now let’s talk about the good stuff… cattle!
The past months have been the driest on record for many Northern areas of Arizona. Yavapai County, the area we call home, has received less than 30% of the normal rainfall this year. At one-point, homes in Prescott Valley were even asked to cut water usage, do laundry on scheduled days, and water their lawns and plants on others. The decrease in the rain doesn’t only affect homeowners. The drought has greatly impacted farmers, ranchers and can potentially affect our food supply.
Our farm and ranch are greatly affected by the drought. Our water pumping costs have gone up drastically and our cattle just about ran out of grass to eat.
I remember a Sunday afternoon not too long ago when we went out to check cows. Everything looked dead and the grass was just about all eaten down. It is at this point, in a normal year, we would move the cattle to the next pasture – a pasture filled with tall grasses, new growth, and a filled stock tank from which the cattle could drink. Unfortunately, mother nature foiled our plans and that next pasture, the one we had planned to move cattle to since the beginning of the year, had no water. The stock tank was dry. And the pasture which was next in the rotation for our cattle to graze didn’t look any better.
Due to the drought and lack of grass and water, we were forced to sell 95% of our calf crop from the last 2 years, move a 10,000-gallon portable water storage tank and trough system to the pasture with no water, buy an Army water truck, and found ourselves hauling water day in and day out to the cattle.
The Army water truck driving job was passed from one member of the family to the next. At one point my dad and I were driving down the road and we saw the big truck driving past us, but there was no driver to be seen. We soon realized Kolten, my little brother, was driving the truck and was just short enough that we couldn’t see him over the steering wheel.
It was a daily team effort hauling water and hay, pushing cows into new areas with more feed, and finding the baby calves that were left behind, usually in the dense brush.
I never had much time to plan if I am needed to help move these calves and I somehow always seem to be wearing shorts when I got the call. My job (with the help of my cattle dog – Stella) is to run through the thick bush and push the calves out and back with the herd. Now picture me running through, under, and jumping over dense, pokey, dead brush with shorts on. For weeks my legs looked like I was attacked by a feral cat.
Hauling water, hay, and moving cattle was only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. As each day passed, we watched the grass quality deteriorate and eventually get close to depletion in the pasture the cattle were grazing. Each pasture lasted less time and just when we moved the cattle into a new one it was time to move them somewhere else again. We either needed to figure out a way to provide food and water to our cattle in a more sustainable fashion or we needed to sell them.
My dad, Gary, is a big proponent of using the latest technology and practices in his job as a farmer and a rancher. The challenges the drought brought to our business were no different. He used technology and modern practices to combat the effects the drought had on our cattle and on the bottom line. We implemented a grazing technique, very uncommon in Arizona, called intensive grazing.
This practice puts cattle on small sections of land. The cattle eat all the forages in a short amount of time and then are moved to the next section. We decided to utilize the farmland we were going to grow hay on to implement this type of grazing. We began by planting and growing 30 acres of sorghum-sudangrass. We then, through trial and error, sectioned off one-acre areas by taking a small tractor diagonally across the field with the bucket of the tractor scraping the ground. The tractor pushes down the 15 feet tall grass to make room for a 2-strand temporary electric fence to be put up.
After this is done, it is time for the cattle to eat all this grass! 300 cattle are put on this one-acre section of farm-grown sorghum-sudangrass. The cattle enter the section and in one day the entire acre of 15-foot-tall grass is gone. It is like a buffet for cows! At this point, 15 minutes is taken to move the 2-strand electric fence to make a new one-acre section, the gate is opened, 300 cattle move into the next section, and the process starts all over again.
The cattle know the system now and wait by the gate as we move the fencing around. The whole herd of cattle runs into the next section and for a few hours disappear in the very tall grass. It is really is a site to see!
I asked my dad about the benefits of this type of grazing for the farm and the cattle.
Why did you decide to do this type of grazing, besides the drought impact? We are able to grow a crop and not have to use labor, resources, or money to harvest this crop. If we had grown hay in these same fields we would have spent lots of resources cutting, baling, hauling, storing, and then ultimately feeding it to the same cattle that are eating it straight from the field now.
Is sorghum sudangrass good for the cattle? Sorghum-sudangrass is a protein-rich grass for the cattle to eat. It also adds nutrients back into the soil.
Will you only use this grazing practice on sorghum sudangrass? High-intensity grazing can be done in corn fields, sorghum-sudangrass fields, ditches, sorghum alfalfa blend fields, in native grass pastures, and pretty much everywhere else grasses and grains grow.
How does this gazing affect the farmland? Intensive grazing not only combats the lack of range grasses my family’s ranch has but it also helps the farmland. Each crop grown in a field takes specific nutrients out of the field and puts specific nutrients back into the soil. Due to this, farmers rotate where they grow certain things (i.e. corn, pumpkin, grasses, etc.). The grass grown for the intensive grazing practice not only added a crop to our rotation but also adds more nutrients back into the soil. It also helps with the fertilization of our farmland. The higher density of cattle paired with short grazing periods allows for even manure distribution and an increase of nitrogen back on the land. The cattle act as a living fertilizing system!
How does this grazing affect the ranch lands? Higher intensity grazing for a shorter duration allows for a longer rest period for the plant to recover fully which promotes the regrowth and in turn, is beneficial for the environment and for the cattle.
Is there anything negative about this type of grazing method? Anyone would see this type of grazing method as a different management system. This scares some people away from change because there is so much to learn and implement. Overall, the benefits of this program for the land and the animals outweigh the efforts that would need to be taken to implement the program.
Do you see yourself using this practice after the drought is over and the grasses have grown back on the ranch? Many ranches in the cattle belt use this type of grazing to increase their herd size which in turn positively affects their bottom line. This type of grazing is definitely something we will continue to work with and add to our long-term plan for our native range grazing and our crop grazing.
Intensive grazing saved our cattle herd and our ranch’s bottom line! This way of grazing and feeding our cattle has allowed us to keep ranching through the drought and continue our efforts to care for and protect our animals and the land we raise them on. This is a job that my family and I love very much, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to raise cattle and care for the land.
In June, sixteen culinary experts from across the country got a taste of the beef industry during the Pasture to Plate Beef Tour, sponsored by beef councils in California, Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas. Invited to the checkoff-funded event were the culinary chairs responsible for the 28 International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes across the country. The non-profit Art Institutes operate the largest system of culinary schools in the United States.
The tour featured a visit to a cow-calf ranch, feedlot and the JBS beef processing facility in northern Colorado, along with presentations from beef experts that helped the culinary leaders understand beef’s role in a sustainable food system, and ideas for incorporating sensory and beef umami exercises into their classrooms. Attendees also had an opportunity to participate in a beef cooking competition that demonstrated their culinary talents.The spark for development of this tour was generated last fall during the California Beef Council’s Beef Leadership Summit, according to the CBC’s Christie Van Egmond, director of retail and foodservice marketing, who helped organize the tour. At that time Dave Hendricksen, the national culinary director for the Art Institutes, expressed interest in giving the Institutes’ culinary leaders more backgrounding in the beef industry.
“This is a great way to connect the next generation of chefs with those who produce the food,” Hendricksen said. He said it was “critical” that information this type of event provides gets carried down from the participating culinary leaders to the students in culinary schools studying to be chefs or operation managers.Standing out to those attending the tour was the well-being of animals throughout the process, Hendricksen said. “The constant theme of this event was animal welfare and the care for the environment,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Arizona is home to the Arts Institute of Phoenix that includes a large culinary program. The Arizona Beef Council sponsored Chef Noel Ridsdale, culinary program chair, to attend the national tour. Here is Chef Noel’s feedback about his experience.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Arizona Beef Council for sponsorship of my attendance at the beef checkoff-funded Pasture to Plate Beef Tour for the Art Institutes (AI). This experience was very educational and collaborative in the ways that we were able to connect with the beef council professionals, as well as with each of the AI national directors individually.The tour started on a high note with a tour of a Colorado ranch, with some great knowledge shared by the breeders on how the cattle are treated, the process for the birthing and production management. The aspects of feed analysis and herd health were very interesting. We had dinner on the ranch, and the chef turned out to be an alum of AI, and his selection of items and ways to use beef was very good.
The trip to the packing plant was very interesting. I have been in Certified Angus Beef processing facilities before but never in a mainline producer. This was one of the highlights of the tour for me. I was very interested in the sanitation, inspection process and the zero waste production aspects of the tour. I cut meat myself, but my skills do not match the speed and accuracy of the cutters on the floor there. Watching the entire process enlightened me to the accuracy and technical aspects of production but at the same time still marveled at the human element that is still involved in the process.The science of the feedlot was interesting, and it was great to see that the industry is using green technology by utilizing byproducts of other industries, such as the beer industry. This use of their byproducts as opposed to just corn would add more flavor to the beef.
The presentations on the science of beef and the practical cooking aspects were very good, and our recipes will be featured on www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com soon. Overall, experiencing these aspects of beef production gave me additional knowledge that I am able to utilize in my classrooms.
Thank you very much for the opportunity!
Noel G. Ridsdale, MBA, CEC, CCA, AAC
Program Chair – AI Phoenix
Editor’s Note: The Art Institute of Phoenix is closing December 28, 2018 due to unfortunate circumstances. The Arizona Beef Council is glad to have met Chef Noel and we look forward to working with him in his next ventures.
Amber Morin was raised on her family’s cattle ranch in Southeastern, AZ. This experience sparked her interest and career path in natural resource management, agricultural policy, and agriculture communications. She has worked with the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, Arizona’s Natural Resource Conservation Districts, and continues to promote agriculture through her current position at the Arizona Farm Bureau. Whenever time permits, she is back at the ranch helping her family run their beef business, running trails in preparation for “fun runs,” or writing.
Here are her thoughts on the urban agriculture divide and why we are all more alike than different.
Agriculture has been taking place for the last 10,000 years, and yet, ranchers and farmers are now the minority? What the heck happened?
With agriculture, humans traded the harsh uncertainty of nomadic life for the somewhat more predictable and controllable agrarian lifestyle. An improvement, for sure. In exchange for their time and dedication to caring for plants and animals, humans were afforded more abundant food supplies, health, wealth, leisure, and the ability to trade for goods that could not be grown in their home climates. In short, agricultural abundance improved lives. It still does.
All of this happened because humans are smart, they experiment, they adapt, and find answers to questions, sometimes out of curiosity and most of the time out of necessity. Agriculture changed the way humans live and it wasn’t long before humans all over the world were adapting to agriculture methods on some level. This took place for 10,000 years, and yet, in a mere two centuries, the same curiosity and/or necessity also brought about another rapid change, the movement away from agrarian lifestyles to industrial lifestyles, and now to what pessimists call virtual lifestyles and optimists call entrepreneurial lifestyles.
To break the rapid change down for the readers who love numbers, in 1790, about 90% of the American workforce was related to agriculture. In 1890, that number had dropped to about 43%. In 1990 about 2.6% of the population’s workforce was related to agriculture. Now that number has dropped to about 2%. As people moved out of rural America to pursue an improved lifestyle in urban areas, agricultural advancements have made it possible for 2% of the population to feed the masses.
Why is this important? While about 2% of the population clothes and feeds us, we can do other things with our lives and pursue other careers, and not worry about where our next meal is going to come from. If it were not for ranchers and farmers, most of us would be struggling like the unfortunate souls on the show Naked and Afraid! Although I must admit, there are some very tough people that participate! But, would anyone really want to live that way? Or, go hungry because their backyard garden failed due to a pest infestation? I know what my answer is: an emphatic, no!
Thanks to the ingenuity of agriculturalists, technological advancements and improvements in the industry, and the dedication and care that agriculturalists have for their businesses, we live great lives without a lot of worries. The few feed the many. And, it takes an insurmountable amount of dedication to thrive in the agricultural industry when things like global markets, local markets, weather, genetics, natural resources, financial constraints, and the unpredictability of caring for crops and livestock are just a few of the challenges. Being an agriculturalist requires a high degree of intelligence, resilience, and faith in oneself, in the future, and in the process.
My own dad knew this when he said to both my sister and me, “You can always come back, but you can’t always leave.” This was a gentle but very blatant way of telling us, this path takes grit and serious dedication, so go and experience life before you make the commitment to come back and manage the ranch. And, when you come back, bring what you have learned to make it better. Like all parents, ours wanted the best for my sister and me. They encouraged us to grow, learn, and improve.
So, when I asked the question, what the heck happened? How did Americans get so far removed from agriculture? It’s simple and it’s practical. Like the nomadic lifestyle, the agrarian lifestyle was not easy. It is still not easy, so Americans changed, and the industrial revolution which made promises of wealth and lifestyle improvements spurred that change. It was the anticipation of an improved future that moved most people out of rural America and into urban centers. At the end of the day, no one can be blamed for trying to improve one’s life or that of their loved ones.
Today’s “entrepreneurial revolution” coined by Seth Godin promises an even better future for Americans, as the ability to market goods, build wealth, and have more control of our lives is at our fingertips via smartphones.
This same optimism has spurred the technological advancements and environmental improvements in agriculture. We want to improve, be more precise, waste less and have more controlled data-driven outcomes. In the case of food production, doing our best is a necessity because we are not just feeding our families, and yours, with less labor and inputs, we are also feeding the world. Doing less than our best, with so many people who trust us for a safe and reliable food supply, is simply not an option.
Just as the public has always been looking to improve, agriculturalists have too!
The reality is, we are all working toward the same goal – to do our best!