Beef Industry Sustainability

Sustainability is a word we hear a lot in the beef industry these days. Some of the nation’s largest buyers of beef are heavily focused on the topic right now and I don’t think it’s a topic that will go away any time soon. You’ve no doubt heard McDonald’s plan to source verified sustainable beef by 2016. Walmart is also developing plans to ensure the sustainability of its beef supply chain.
Any time the big players step into the game, things can quickly become confusing and messy. There have been some negative perceptions in the country about the topic of sustainability. However, the sustainability effort as it relates to beef, is about doing things right, making things more efficient, improving public image and reducing the cost of doing business. Regardless of the other motives, I think we can agree that these are solid goals for any business, especially a farm or ranch. That’s why the beef checkoff funded the Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment. It’s also why NCBA is involved as part of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is in the process of developing principles and criteria to define sustainable beef for producers around the world. The definition isn’t meant to be prescriptive and wasn’t designed to create a standard of production or certification scheme. Instead, the principles and criteria which define sustainable beef production are meant to provide a set of guidelines for what sustainable beef looks like and provide benchmarks for improvement for all producers.
Here in the United States, the concept of beef industry sustainability isn’t a new one on my ranch or probably in most of your operations either. For those of us whose families have been in this business for generations, the concept of sustainability simply translates as “running our business in a responsible manner that allows us to pass the operation along to the next generation,” or perhaps, “leaving the land to the kids in a better condition than it was when I took it over.” We never assigned a name to these concepts before now, but the ideas are the same. As cattlemen and women, we’re always looking for ways to improve our operation. Whether it’s choosing a new bull with better performance, improving our pastures or replacing a piece of equipment with one that is more efficient, the practices we put in place to improve our operation have the ability to impact our sustainability.
The checkoff-funded Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment quantified those improvements and created a benchmark to measure future progress made by the beef value chain. This program gives the industry the science-based proof we need to demonstrate our progress. It also gives the industry a path forward to develop our own plan for how and where we make targeted improvements. However, we must always be cautious about making those improvements. We must be in line with the market and the consumer to prevent negative impact to our industry, prices and product.
We each have a role to play in the sustainability effort, from the cow-calf producer to the consumer. Each of us has the opportunity to better our industry. Whether it’s reducing plate waste or improving calving rates, we can all be better at making sure we’re doing things right. That’s what sustainability really is making sure we’re being responsible with our resources.

Bob McCan of Victoria, Texas, is the 2014 NCBA President and oversees the cattle operations and recreational hunting and wildlife operations for his family’s company, McFaddin Enterprises, Ltd. in Victoria, Refugio, and Bee Counties. Bob and his wife Julie have two children, who are the sixth generation of their family to work on the McFaddin Ranch.