In recent iGrow Articles, SDSU Extension Field Specialists Heidi Carroll and Warren Rusche discussed the role of ‘Sustainability’ in the beef industry and the interpretations and implications of how sustainability relates to best management practices, marketing, and animal health. Much of the recent discussion on sustainability was spurred by the March report from the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (see link below), the details of which Carroll covered well in her article. While stopping short of defining sustainable beef, the report did offer five core principles of sustainability to consider including: natural resources; people and community; animal health and welfare; food; and efficiency and innovation. Further, they went on to promote the concepts of the ‘triple bottom line’ approach to sustainability in regards to social responsibility, environmental soundness, and economic viability. In the end, the report acknowledges the complexities involved in trying to define what sustainable means at a local scale.
Fast forward to July 8 in Rapid City, South Dakota, where for two and a half days we were privileged to hear from partners representing beef producers, conservation organizations, government agencies, educators, and national processors and retailers on what sustainability means in relation to South Dakota’s livestock and grassland industry. The workshop was hosted by the World Wildlife fund in partnership with the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. Early on, it became obvious that sustainability would not be easily defined at this gathering. What came out of this meeting was an underlying tone of respect and admiration from the corporate partners for our grass and beef producers and an acknowledgment by all that significant challenges do exist, even in these relatively good times of profitable beef. The corporate partners had no desire to define what sustainability might mean for our backyard. Rather, they preferred that we as South Dakotans define what sustainability means for South Dakota.
Sustainability not only implies good intent but also an understanding of actions, impacts, and improvements. Technically, Webster defines sustainability as: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods. Not bad, but in truth the word sustainability means something different to everyone when referring to the grass and beef industry. To some it means they have a constant supply of product. To others, it means they’ve achieved a desired state of success in production methods. Still to others, achieving sustainability is simply not enough. They want to do more than just sustain, they want to expand, improve, and increase profitability in dollars, time management, natural resources, and family life.