Somebody should do something about that

OPINION — America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.” That is an excerpt taken from a news release from the Whitehouse about the executive order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad. President Biden has made it clear that he wants to address climate change and that has left some of us in agriculture feeling a little uneasy.

There is certainly a potential for future governmental actions to adversely affect us in the name of environmental protection. Proposals like “30 by 30,” which proposes to conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the world’s water by 2030, are concerning to us. Mostly because we don’t know what that means for us, and currently I am not sure anybody does. At this time it is undefined, there’s a conservation goal, there’s a few descriptions of what could count as conservation, and a commitment to getting stakeholder input. Beyond that, it’s limited. There are no definitions of what a healthy environment is and how it is applied to agricultural lands, no metrics in place to achieve compliance, no current inventory of where we are now and no clear plan on how to proceed. Just a thought that the USA should do something towards the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many of the rules and regulations updated the past four years that were friendly to agriculture may be under review the next four years. We have already seen the Radio Frequency Identification proposed rule be revoked and rules for things such as Waters of the United States may once again be looked at. When we have these shifts in ideology that change the policies that affect our operations, I always feel reaffirmed in my decision to belong to industry associations. While their efforts are a very important component to advocating for our business climate, I am sure they would agree they can’t do it alone; somebody needs to help them.

I think we all see examples of issues that we perceive as wrongs and we find ourselves saying “somebody should do something about that”. I occasionally find myself saying that and am always reminded of a meeting I was attending several years ago as we discussed a travel management issue in the Black Hills National Forest. With the growing popularity of off-road travel in the Black Hills, we needed to work with the Forest Service to develop a Travel Management Plan to control the travel that could result in resource damage. Those of us whom had worked with the Forest Service before knew we were talking about embarking on what would be a lengthy process, which would have to begin with convincing them of the need for action before we even got to the plan development, public comment period and final decision making.

I remember this particular meeting because towards the end of the meeting one person spoke up and said something to the effect of “this is a great idea, but who is going to convince the Forest Service of the need and convince the public who have open access to the forest now, that they will need to stay on trails once the plan is developed?” The president of our group looked at him and said, “if you want to know who is going to be responsible for this, go home and take a look in the mirror; that’s the guy that needs to be advocating for this.” That exchange has stuck with me for many years, more than I care to remember considering we are still dealing with Travel Management issues in the Black Hills National Forest. But we do have a Travel Management Plan now, which was no small undertaking. It took many hours of involvement from volunteers drawing lines on maps, attending meetings, writing comments, talking with agency staff developing a plan and to their friends about the need for a plan and how to get involved.

I think we can all agree there has grown to be a disconnect between the producer and the consumer. We are often told about how the consumer is now several generations removed from the people that produce their food and that they don’t know where their food comes from. We fear that the consumer does not understand the positive benefits that we contribute to the environment and that they think we are destroying the environment out of our own personal greed. I think the consumer wants to believe we are taking care of the environment, they are just being told otherwise by non-profit non-government organizations that need to fear monger in order to generate emotion which turns into donations.

Producers and consumers alike all want the same things, clean air, clean water, a healthy landscape, trees, a safe, consistent food source, and a healthy business climate. We contribute to all of these desires; we just need to make sure that the public knows about our contributions. Our good range management and cropping practices lead to carbon sequestration, our feed yard designs and manure application practices protect the ground water, we plant and grow trees, and we raise a wholesome nutritious product. We do all of these things very well, but somebody needs to tell the consumer. Who is that somebody? Take a look in the mirror.

Eric Jennings is the president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, a membership-based grassroots organization that represents cattlemen and individuals who are part of the South Dakota beef community.

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