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What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

By   /  September 14, 2015  /  Comments Off on What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

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“Sustainable” and “sustainability” have become the topic of a large number of articles in livestock magazines lately. It seems that some of the writers of these pieces have taken the concept as a positive one for the production of livestock. But on the other side of the coin there seems to be others who view the folks trying to promote the idea of sustainability as a threat to the livestock business. It seems to me when reading some of these articles that the writers are not writing about the same thing. I do not think that we can assume that sustainability is the cure-all to the production problems that we all come up against from time to time. But I do not believe as one person wrote that sustainability is a stale and droll idea nor do I believe it is a step back in time searching for something that never existed as another author suggested.

What is the definition of sustainable or sustainability?

Mr. Webster’s dictionary defines “sustain” this way:

“to maintain; to keep in existence; prolong. To keep supplied with necessities; to provide for.”

This definition describes in a few words the things that those of us in the livestock business try to do every day.

John Ikerd defines sustainable as being economically viable, ecologically sound, and socially responsible.

220x230-0003Using this definition we can ask ourselves, is our operation sustainable? For an operation to be economically viable it must be profitable. Is your outfit making money or does it take money from your town job or business or pension to keep it in operation? There are only two kinds of operations, those that are self-supporting and profitable or those that are subsidized.

To be ecologically sound may be the hardest for some of us to understand. Some of the things that we do as a matter-of-fact practice and never question may be doing more harm than good. It cannot be argued we have attempted to develop the technology to totally dominate nature, but it is also evident we have not been very successful. There is no way that our soils can be sustained with the amounts of fertilizer and chemicals being put in them. Our water resources are being depleted faster than they can replenish themselves.

The only way that our operations can be ecologically sound is for us to learn to operate by the laws of the natural world and allow nature to correct our mistakes. There have been mistakes made in the past for no other reason than lack of foresight, and our children will be dealing with those problems into their old age. As an example, here in Louisiana our coast did not get in the shape it is in today without a lot of help from us. The question now is how much will we be able to save.

The best way to begin to make our outfits ecologically sound is to question everything we do and try to see the long term effects of our actions. How many times have you seen a soft spot in a trail in the woods turned into a bog because of all the four wheel traffic? No big deal you say and maybe it’s not, but the same mindset that made that bog in the woods will plow up a natural drain and create a swamp where there was none before. The hardest lesson for us to learn is that in the natural world you cannot do one thing without affecting everything else. So just learn to think before you act, and make an effort to do what is necessary to leave your surroundings better than you found them.

To be socially responsible is no more than being a good neighbor. The property rights that most of us value so highly come with a huge amount of responsibility. We are not only responsible for what happens on our places, but also how what we do affects the folks across the fence. Without getting into a long discussion on social behavior let’s just say that we will not do anything to someone that we would not want done to us. Sounds like something you have heard before doesn’t it. Being socially responsible in our business is working to produce the best product possible without doing damage to our world and to put a product on the market that will have no ill effects on the folks who consume them.

This is not complicated or impossible but if we are to survive in this business it is necessary. None of us can do more than our part, but are we all doing our part? This may sound idealistic, but maybe that is what is required of us to raise our standards. Think of all the problems that we deal with every day that would not exist if everyone did their part. The drive to end litter in our state would not be necessary if everyone would just not throw that drink cup and hamburger wrapper out of their truck or car window. (What is so hard about carrying a bag in your ride to deposit your trash in and at some later time put in a trash can?) The point is that if we all do the best we can it will be better for all of us.

Someone must start. Let it be us. The natural world is designed to go on and on and on to be sustainable. It is time for all of us to decide if we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution and we have just about waited as long as we can afford to wait. My wife’s granddaddy would never cut the timber on his place. He said he was saving it for the kids. What will we leave our kids?SEEDSClublogo

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.

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