AoR 40: Sara Place, Connections Between Rural Producers and Urban Consumers

Ranching and rangelands are undergoing rapid and intertwined changes. Changes include ecological transitions due to climate and invasive species; land use transitions associated with urbanization and shifting priorities for public lands; demographic transitions reflected in the increasing average age and decreasing number of ranchers; and market transitions associated with changing consumer attitudes and globalized markets. Dr. Place discusses the importance of reconnecting consumers and food producers. Sara Place was recently a science advisor for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. This talk was recorded at the Society for Range Management annual meeting in February 2020 in a symposium titled: Strategies for sustainability transformations in western rangelands. 


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson [assumed spelling], range and livestock specialist with Washington State University extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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>> We are reproducing some of this [inaudible] sessions from the Society for Range Management's 2020 annual meeting and training in Denver for the podcast. These were recorded live on February 17 through 20. I selected sessions in consultation with the meeting and technical program chairs that we believed would be widely applicable and that would not depend heavily on the listener being able to see the accompanying slideshow with photographs and charts. With the speaker's permissions, we will provide contact information for each speaker so that you can request additional information from them directly if you are especially interested in their topic. This episode is from the symposium entitled Strategies for Sustainability and Transformations in Western Rangelands. Ranching and rangelands are undergoing rapid and intertwined changes. These changes include ecological transitions due to climate innovative species, land use transitions associated with urbanization and shifting priorities for public lands, demographic transitions reflected in the increasing average age and decreasing number of ranchers, market transitions associated with changing consumer attitudes and globalized markets, and technological transitions with advances in wireless and sensory technologies and access to big data. In this symposium, the speakers ask and answer the question, how can we direct inevitable change in desirable ways, and through these changes, how can we sustain the flow of rangeland products to consumers and improve environmental conditions in order to maintain or increase the wellbeing of those who live and work and recreate on rangelands. The symposium has three speakers, each of whom will synthesize existing and what they see as emerging strategies for enhancing ranching and rangeland resilience. First, we'll hear from Dr. Sara Place with the National Cattleman's Beef Association. Her talk is titled Strategic Connections Between Rural Producers and Urban Consumers, the Future of Marketing for Rangeland Products. Next, we'll hear from Dr. Andres Cibils from New Mexico State University on precision technology and other adaptation strategies in ranching systems. The third speaker is Dr. Lynn Huntsinger [assumed spelling] who we will run as a separate episode due to the length of the first two.

>> Welcome. Thank you for coming to this symposium on strategies for sustainability transformations in western rangelands. We're going to be talking today about adaptation and transformation. And, there are really two ways that social ecological systems like rangeland landscapes that we work with can change in response to external forces such as climate change and global economic events and internal processes such as changing demography of the ranching community. The first, which most folks are familiar with, is adaptation in which we make adjustments to cope with change and to try to keep the system and its operations pretty much as they have been. The second and the focus really of this symposium is transformation in which there may be significant changes in the system, including human environment relationships and how we conduct business and even our values. Transformations are not necessarily desirable, especially when we inadvertently cross tipping points such as happened during the dust bowl [phonetic] and rangeland degradation episodes in the southwest in the early part of the 20th century. But today, we hope to highlight some ideas for purposive, deliberate transformations that sustain human wellbeing and ecological systems on which that wellbeing depends. It's important to point out, as was pointed out this morning by Clayton Marlow [assumed spelling], that the creation of range management and this society was one such purposive transformation, but we face new challenges and new ideas are needed by our society. So, we have three distinguished speakers who will help orient us to some new ideas about transformation. The first after my five minutes will be Dr. Sara Place, who will talk about strategic connections between rural producers and urban consumers. Following that, we will have a talk on precision technologies by Dr. Andres Cibils. And then, last of the three symposium talks will be by Lynn Huntsinger, Collaborative Planning for Diverse Land Uses in Changing Rangelands. Then, we will have short reflections by two additional panelists, Dr. Jeff Herrick [assumed spelling] and Dr. Christy Masco [assumed spelling]. And, I should probably - it's Matchco [phonetic], isn't it?

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Oh, okay. Darn it. And, they will offer some short reflections to kick off an interactive discussion. Okay. Without further ado, I would like for Sara to come up and give her presentation. Thank you, Sara.

>> All right. Thank you very much, Brandon [assumed spelling], for that introduction. So, my name is Sara Place. I'm an animal scientist, so I'm a little out of place at this meeting. It's my first time at a range meeting, but very happy to contribute to this session. I think it's an excellent session and the associated cap project with it is something I'm really excited about to see the work that comes out of it. A little bit of background on me, like I said, I'm an animal scientist, but I'm also originally from Upstate New York. So, as the first [inaudible] speaker spoke about this morning of a dairy barn - a red dairy barn with kittens in the hay mill. That's actually what I grew up with, right. So, I'm not from the western U.S., not from that beef cattle perspective, but over the course of my career, have gotten more into the beef cattle industry and have been working for NCBA, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, for three years prior to taking this new role with Elanco. So, what I'm going to try to do is as the title discusses, you know, talk about some of these connections or what we hope to build as connections between rural producers and urban consumers. Right, of course, when we think about consumers, we're all consumers, right. Everybody's an eater but, of course, most of the U.S. population is living outside of these areas that are rangelands, right, or outside of the areas where beef cattle production is taking place. And, this whole title of sustainability or thinking about sustainability having just to start off with, I'd like to put out, you know, kind of what I think about when we think about sustainability, right. It's a really complex topic. And, this isn't a perfect model, but the way I like to think about it, it's a Venn diagram type [inaudible], right, where we have our three different areas that we know are important for sustainability, whether it's the environment economics social areas, right. And, when we talk about sustainability in beef and a lot of what I've dealt with over the last several years and my role at NCBA and currently, it's more about those environmental footprints, right, that fall under the environmental sustainability piece, right. Which, of course are important, things like carbon and water footprints, but they miss the bigger picture when it comes to, you know, how does food production fit in the larger society, how are we going to meet that challenge that was eluded to earlier this morning of we've got two billion more people coming to dinner in the next 30 years. Right. So, how are we actually going to achieve that without eating the planet itself, if you will? So, there's all these issues and this is not an exhaustive list, that would fall under these different domains of sustainability and was eluded to by the morning speakers. Right, there's places where there's win-wins, where some of these places overlap. We can have things working together and there's also real tradeoffs, right, that we have to illuminate and recognize, right. So, all of these issues are important and one of the challenges when it comes to sustainability is that everybody is going to put a different priority on it, right. There's different value judgments and that's what makes it really challenging, right, is we may all agree that all these things are important, but everybody's going to have a different ranking. And so, that's where sustainability is really a wicked problem, right, in terms of how we think about we're trying to manage this. Over the long term, there is no perfect situation where we now say we're sustainable, we can wipe our hands and say we're done. Right. It's going to be a constant process. So, that's just a little background, again, how I'm thinking about sustainability. And, I think the other thing that's really key when we think about how beef cattle production fits into this and thinking about rangeland systems, is there's a big disconnect between most folks who are consumers of beef and how beef is actually raised, right, and thinking about what is the beef cattle production system look like in the United States. So, for folks in this audience, you're going to be totally unsurprised by this, right, thinking about where the cattle at any given time in the United States, most of them are on grasslands in the U.S., right. Cow/calf production is where most of the cattle are at any one point and time and two thirds of an animal's life that is going to be finished in a feed lot is actually going to be spent on grasslands, right. So, that communication of that connection between grain finished beef and actual rangeland landscapes sometimes is missing, right. And, I think we see that sometimes in these debates about grass versus grain finished beef, that sometimes misses the bigger picture that all of the beef production is supporting or can support good rangeland ecosystems, right. It's just that finishing phase that's going to be different across different beef production systems. Okay. And, I'll come back to this later, but that is important when we think about the [inaudible] play and a sustainable food system is throughout their whole lifecycle. They're mostly eating human inedible stuff, right. Plants - even when they're in the feed yard, they're still eating a lot of biproduct feeds, forage that cannot be consumed by people. And, about 82, again, 82-85% of the cattle herd at any one point in time, the beef cattle herd in the United States is going to be outside of feed lots. So, it's also important to think about where is beef cattle production taking place and it's taking place where the [inaudible] resources are, right. The Great Plains is obviously very important for beef cattle production. If we just think about the beef cows, right, the mother cows that are essentially - you can almost think of them as like the factory for beef, right. They have to have a calf once per year and that really drives the rest of the industry. Where are they located? A lot of it is in those areas with rangelands, right. So, 60% of the cattle herd is from the Great Plains west, right, in the United States. And, of course, the southeastern U.S. is also very important, more managed pasture systems there, but we think of those states that really have more of our rangeland resources in the U.S. are very important for the U.S. beef industry, right. So, all those calves are born all across the United States and what's unique about the beef cattle industry is there's a lot of movement of cattle, right. There's moving a stocker cattle to follow where [inaudible] is available, but there's also a lot of movement and concentration of animals when we do get to the grain finishing phase of the U.S. beef cattle industry, right. So, what you're looking at here, again, information from the USDA, but where are the cattle in terms of cattle on feed, right, the finishing cattle. So, for the most part, that's all going to be concentrated in the High Plains, right, overlapping with the Ogallala Aquifer and into parts of the corn belt, right. So, Iowa is a major cattle feeder state. Those feed yards tend to be smaller than some of the ones out in the High Plains, like close to here, right. If we think about in Weld County even. And, then there is some cattle feeding that takes place in the Imperial Valley down by Yuma, Arizona too, which is another major cattle feeding region. So, again, these cattle are moving from wherever they're starting their life, right, on these rangeland resources and being finished in a completely different spot. And, I think that's important when we think about this connection, right, to urban consumers, is trying to tell that story of how these cattle move, when in a lot of times we don't even have a good traceability system within our industry, right, that makes it really difficult. And, of course, the beef industry is also the dairy beef industry, right, if that makes sense. So, all cattle are beef cattle, but some cattle are dairy cattle, right. And, the dairy industry is actually quite important to the U.S. beef industry, right. So, about 20% of U.S. beef production is either coming from cold dairy cows or dairy steers. And, what we're seeing a lot now is this emergence of dairy beef, crossbreeding, right. And, some of those cattle are spending time on grasslands, right, [inaudible] grazing systems. And, anecdotally have heard from some producers that they like these dairy beef steers because they're a little bit more respectful of fences maybe than animals coming out of say the swamps of Florida, right. So, they're a little tamer than some of our beef cattle breeds. Where's the dairy industry actually located? It's a lot more concentrated than the beef industry, right. There are dairy cattle in all 50 states, but it's very much focused on the big states, right. So, in terms of California, about 1 and 5 gallons of milk come from California. Wisconsin, of course, traditionally big dairy state, New York, Idaho, Texas is a growing dairy state as well. So, when I thought about this title of the presentation, I though well how are we going to talk about this whole idea of connecting rural and urban, right. So, not very scientific, but just looking at Google search trends I thought was interesting over time. Okay. So, what if we think about, you know, relative interest in some of these things, right. So, the blue line on this chart is grass fed beef and this is in the United States web searches. And, the red down at the bottom is rangelands. Okay. So, it's actually kind of surprising. And, there's increased interest in grass fed beef, but it's been kind of steady over time in terms of people searching for it, right. So, again, it gives you an idea of how much people are searching for these terms. A little bit more context if you just look at beef in rangelands. There's actually been a steady increase in beef over time. And, you'll notice there's a key seasonality there, right, in terms of when people searched for this. So, the first spike is actually around Christmastime. Okay. That makes sense. Everybody's trying to figure out how the heck to I cook this prime rib roast, right. I don't know what I'm doing. And, then the second spike, I was like, what is going on with this second spike, right. What is that? And, then I put in corned beef, right. This is like all of us Americans when we're going to express our Irishness in March, we all Google corned beef, okay. So, again, you'll notice the relative difference there between rangelands and some of these food terms, right, and that's how people are connecting with a lot of these things is through food. And, just one more, again, just to give you an idea of things, right. So, this is Lady Gaga versus rangelands, right. So, obviously, distinct difference in search volume. But the other thing you can take away from this is like, you know, early 2000s, rangelands and Lady Gaga were equal. Okay. So, what you need to do is have like a bad romance type video for rangelands and I think it'll greatly increase the awareness and the general public. So, when we think about just how familiar are people with how cattle are raised, right, in this extensive portion of the animal's life that is incredibly important to all [inaudible] agriculture in the United States, this is information just from the beef checkoff, right. They survey consumers, people that are regular beef eaters, and they just ask them, how familiar are you with how cattle are raised. Okay. So, this is self-reported familiarity, right. 24% of people say I'm familiar with how cattle are raised. Now, this doesn't mean they actually know, right. If you question them, they won't probably know, but they think they know, right. So, even self-reported awareness is very, very low. And, I think this is one of those big challenges, right, of connecting these two, is just some of the basics, again, of the lifecycle of cattle and how things work, whether it's beef or land production, right. It's just very disconnected from the consumer. That said, you know, when you also ask people to self-report how interested or how does production practice influence your purchasing decision, they do say, you know, that's important to me, right. So, again, there's this low awareness, but people think it's important, right, in terms of how it's raised. So, that said, I think another important context is thinking about how much do these production system claims actually show up on labels in retail spaces. Okay. So, what you're looking at here is essentially retail scanner data. So, every time people go and they scan an item in the grocery store, that information is collected. Again, this is compiled by the beef checkoff, but it gives you an idea that most of the beef sold in the retail space is just beef, right, it's just commodity beef. It's probably differentiated based more on a branded program in terms of product quality rather than just production systems, if that makes sense. Right. So, about 3% of the pounds and 4 1/2% of the value, right, has some sort of production system claim with it. So, that's not just grass fed. That could be natural, right, and never ever [inaudible], never give hormones, never given antibiotics, organic, all those claims, right, fall under that. So, obviously, there's more value associated with those pounds, right. That's why it's a bigger slice of the pie, but again, it's a very small portion of the whole piece. The other important context here is just, you know, thinking about beef demand, right. So, demand is not just consumption, but essentially consumption packaged with willingness to pay of consumers. Okay. So, this is information from Dr. Glynn Tonsor at Kansas State and what you're looking at over time here is from the late 80s to today of just every November, where is the beef demand index. And, I just put November here because if you put all the months, it gets so squiggly it's hard to make out any trends. Okay. And, the arrows that are pointing down I just want to point out, right. Every time we have a recession in the United States, beef demand goes down, right, because it is a more premium product from a standpoint of price. Right. And so, that does impact beef demand every time we have an economic downturn. The other thing is since the great recession though, we see that trend line, right. Beef demand has been strong domestically in the United States, so there's a lot of headlines about plant-based alternatives, eating less meat, etc., but when we look at the actual demand data, the demand for beef is quite strong. And, of course, we can't just think about U.S. consumers or U.S. folks, right. We had to think about a lot of beef gets exported now too, right, and the importance of exports has only grown over time. And, a lot of folks in other markets are asking the exact same questions about beef production, right, and beef production practices. And, when we look at our export demand, that's growing very strongly as well. Again, this is information from Dr. Glynn Tonsor at Kansas State. So, beef demand is fairly strong, especially export demand has been growing, but we have a lot of questions about the sustainability of beef production. Absolutely, right. And so, maybe it's not showing up in demand right now, but I think that's something that the beef industry is definitely paying attention to, because we see a lot of headlines, we see a lot of reports coming out, again, kind of eluding to what I said earlier, right, saying eat less meat, that's the way for a sustainable future, especially eat less beef, right. And so, we have to think about how that intersects with everything. So, what I'm going to say over the next few slides here, we're going to share over the next few slides, just some information that we did - research that we did at NCBA and I think this first one kind of gets to one of these issues that's brought up over and over again when you read some of these headlines about how much meat we eat, what is sustainable in terms of consumption, is this whole idea of feed human food competition, right, that livestock are essentially stealing food from the mouths of babes, right, that we should take out the middleman, if you will, and eat plants directly. So, this is something that's very common in the sustainability literature. And, I think this is where some of this research that we did at NCBA is helpful - one way to look at it, right, there's many different ways to look at this food security question, but thinking about human edible protein conversion, right, or what we call upcycling or essentially upgrading a protein. So, hopefully this makes sense when we think about what I eluded to earlier, right, most of the cattle in the United States, most of the growth, if you will, of beef, is taking place on [inaudible] resources. Okay. So, this table's a little complicated. Essentially, the columns at the top are the different segments of the beef industry, so, cow, calf, stocker, finishing. And then, the rows are the different types of feed consumption. Okay. So, the numbers within the actual table are actual kilograms of dry matter per kilogram of carcass weight produced. So, you'll notice down at the bottom, right, it's 22.3 kilograms of dry matter feed. That is a large number and I'll talk about this on the next slide compared to our other meat animals, for sure. But most of those feed resources are not human edible feed resources, right. So, you'll notice that grazed [inaudible] is the bulk of what the feed resources are in the U.S. beef industry. Again, despite the fact that we're grain finish and we kind of emphasize that a lot, corn finished beef in the U.S., but grain itself is only about 2.6 pounds or kilos of dry matter per pound of beef. Okay. So, why is this important? When we think about feed food competition, we can express feed conversion efficiency a few different ways, right, and I think this example just highlights when it comes to sustainability, you know, you can find different ways to express data to fit your bias and tell the story you want to tell, right. So, what we're looking at here on this slide is comparing grain finished beef, okay, so data from that research that I just shared with you, broiler chickens and pigs. Okay. In the first column that's in black is just saying how many pounds of dry matter feed does it take per pound of live weight. You'll notice, this is different than what I just showed you. That was carcass weight. This is live weight. Okay. How many pounds of dry matter does it actually take? So, you'll notice there's distinct differences, right, between the ruminant and then the simple stomached animals, pigs and chickens. Okay. And, again, most folks stop here and they say, look at that dramatic difference, right. So, if we're going to eat meat, we should eat pigs and chickens and not eat ruminants. Right. But that doesn't take into account what I just shared with you about human edible feed, right. So, that's what that middle column is, is how many pounds of human edible or potentially human edible feed, right, because most people would rather eat beef or pork or chicken than a corn soy mix, but if you had to you could, right, in terms of human edibleness. So, when you look at it from that perspective, a lot of those differences go away, right. The actual proportion that is really truly in competition with human food is quite similar across the three species. And then, the third column is taking it a little bit further, okay. This is kind of a weird concept at first if you haven't thought about this, but this is essentially saying what is the protein value of beef or pork or chicken to people. And, when I say protein value, I don't mean, you know, desirability, I mean from a human nutrition perspective. Right. So, we're monogastric animals too, right. We need to get all of our essential amino acids from our diet and ruminants are different, right, because they have the symbiotic relationship with microbes. So, they can rely on the microbes to meet a lot of their essential amino acid needs. And, this is an advantage when we express feed conversion efficiency this way, right, because chickens and pigs are also monogastric omnivores. Right, even though we have lots of label claims for vegetarian fed hens [inaudible] drives me nuts, but they're omnivores too, right. So, this ratio is protein value in the beef or the pork or chicken versus protein value in the feed inputs going in. Okay. So, a higher number is better in this case. And, above one, as I've indicated there on the slide, right, that means we're generating more high-quality protein than we're using. So, this is the advantage of ruminants, is that they're able to do this. They're able to upcycle protein and really, they're not doing it, it's the microbes that are doing it, right, and taking all that solar energy and cellulose that is truly human unusable in the food system without that intermediary of the ruminant and creating a higher quality product. Right. So, again, three different ways of expressing feed conversion efficiency, three different answers, right. So, which one is the right one? My bias is the last column, right, because I'm an animal scientist and I love ruminants, but you know, people have different opinions on which is the right way. So, the trade off with this for ruminants, and I won't go into it, is they make methane. Right. So, that is the tradeoff. If you have the rumen microbiome, you also have methanogens there and they generate methane and that's where a lot of the attention, of course, is with beef cattle. So, the other thing is that when we think about these rangeland systems, these grazing land systems is that beef cattle production, again, I'm preaching to the choir here, it's providing more societal value than just food. But when we think about those enterprises of what cattle producers are actually getting paid for, it's pretty much just the red meat, right. They may be generating a lot of societal value, but the value that they're getting in terms of real cash coming back to them is just in the live animals that they're selling, right. So, how can we quantify some of those ecosystem services values. And, again, for you all, this is again preaching to the choir in terms of those different categories of ecosystem services from provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural services, and so when we're at NCBA, one the things we wanted to understand is how can we quantify some of these. Right. It may not be the most perfect way, but what is some of the ways that we can quantify a per acre value or per head value of some of these ecosystem services that are providing societal value other than just food, right. So, we worked with Dr. Masco and others at the University of Wyoming, right, and said, can we put an economic value on some of this just using publicly available data that's out there. And, this is just a summary from this and then I'll direct any of the hard questions to Christy in terms of how it was all done, but essentially, we're looking at things like forage production, fish and wildlife value per acre on private grazing land acres, right. So, this is not including public and this is also excluding any private land acres that when you look at the [inaudible] aren't classified as first and foremost for beef cattle farming and ranching. Right. So, we have a lot of operations that maybe people are crop farmers and they are cattle ranchers, right. And, if they get most of their income from crop farming, those acres were excluded from this analysis, right, and they're actually working on a follow up to pole those acres in and update this with 2017 data. But you guys can see what the takeaway is, right. There's a lot of societal value, right, over $14 billion dollars of value that's not actually being put in producer's pockets, right, from that standpoint. So, that's one of those things to think about, again, how do we connect that value back to actual rangeland systems. So, when I think about this, if I'm going to like simplify or try to simplify it all down from a standpoint of beef and sustainability, it's like what does beef provide that these other animal proteins can't, right, from a human food perspective. And, to me, it's about this whole idea of transforming or upgrading, right, human inedible plants is a big part of it, right, into higher quality nutrition for people. Because at the end of the day, that's what we're doing, right, we're trying to create a new [inaudible] supply that's going to nourish everybody, allow people to flourish in the United States and abroad. So, how can we enhance this upcycling value of minimizing any of those negative environmental outcomes, increasing desirable outcomes, [inaudible] outcomes, and social acceptability, or I like to think about it, it's like a balance sheet, right. Total social cost versus total social benefits. And, I would say a lot of the time the way we're talking about sustainability and beef or the way I see it being talked about is we're essentially looking at this balance sheet and we're just focusing on the negatives, [inaudible] conversation publicly is, right, of methane emissions or any other footprints like I eluded to earlier, and we're not thinking about any of the assets side of the equation, right. And so, I think we have kind of an incomplete picture when we're talking about this from a broader perspective. So, how can we connect some of these? So, I'm not really providing any solutions, I'm just asking questions, right. But how can we better connect some of these ruminant production realities with the consumer, right, the eater of the product? So, one approach is, of course, thinking about, you know, it's kind of almost like this production system claim, right. Creating these branded programs that are related to verified, process verified systems, right, and reflecting that hopefully in an increased price in a product itself, right, and saying essentially this is providing you more societal value, you should pay for it, right, and it's reflecting in the price of beef. So, you know, the challenge with that is to be credible and transparent with making those connections. And, the other challenge is is how many people are there out there, right, to buy a product like that? I think that's always the bigger challenge, is that at the end of the day, most people despite caring a lot about these issues, when they actually make purchasing decisions, it's usually based on price, perceived value, other things like that, right, taste, nutrition. So, the other ideas, what if we had a separate marketplace, right, for these ecosystem goods and services, not just attaching it to the red meat that's leaving the ranch, right, but having a separate marketplace or separate revenue streams that would actually be more focused on the ecosystem services, you know, potentially, right. There's obviously ideas out there now for ecosystem services markets that are trying to get off the ground and other, you know, more local examples of some of these things taking place in the past. And, I think this is a potential again where I've kind of highlighted that in the slide. Maybe this is a way to get more dollars into the system, right, beyond just relying on individual consumer decisions, if that makes sense. And, then I think what's interesting and we'll hear probably more about this in the next presentation, right, thinking about precision livestock technologies and just our ability now with whether it's RFID technology or whatever it may be, right, to track animals through the system. And, if we can get those, you know, data packages, if you will, attached to the animals going through the system in a more, again, credible and transparent way about what production practices were actually happening on the ranch or attached to this animal to the steak or whatever people are buying at the end of the system, right. Maybe that's a way to drive more of this change as well and connect those things. Again, because consumers are very disconnected from food production as they probably would be, right. You're a few generations removed from agriculture. How would people know or understand about rangelands, right? So, maybe that's a way, again, to connect it in a more quick transparent manner. And, just to end, it's a little bit tongue and cheek. You know, so I talk about some of these things and as I eluded to earlier, right, when we think about sustainability and beef, a lot of the pressure that beef cattle producers are feeling right now is this perception that they aren't sustainable and that a lot of these alternative products, even though they're a very, very small percent of the market share, essentially marketing on sustainability issues, right. If you look at some of the plant-based burgers that are out there, right, that is what they're marketing their product on is sustainability, right, and saying we are more sustainable than beef, right, this plant-based meat. So, again, like I said, tongue and cheek, but a little food for thought, right. We already have a really cool technology that makes meat from plants that the beef community uses. Okay. So, it is a technology that takes solar energy, right, that is human inedible, right, the powers this little bioreactor that's out on the landscape that's mobile, right, but doesn't have to burn fossil fuels, so that's pretty cool. It produces a high-quality granite fertilizer while it's doing this, right, that feeds the soil, okay. And, it self-replicates, right. This is an amazing technology, I'm pretty sure we could call up Elon Musk right now and be like, hey, you know, cancel the Mars mission, you should invest in this technology, it's great, it's called cattle, right, the original plant-based meat. So, again, tongue and cheek, but I think that's one of those things of thinking about the market opportunity that's out there for plant based meat shows me that there's just been a total failure on the beef industry side to communicate our story, right, and do it in a transparent way, in a way that's respectful to the consumer of the product, right. And, that's why plant-based meat is the thing, right, and we're not telling this story of hey, we already have plant-based meat, right. And, especially when it comes from rangeland systems that we know are highly sustainable because they've been around for thousands of years, right. So, with that, we'll probably hold the questions to the end or we've got a couple minutes for questions now if you have them?

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>> -- but there are always so - and then ranchers would [inaudible] - and ranchers would be paid for grazing, especially if they do it to specifications. But there is so much competition for access to rangeland in this state that people are willing to rent or lease land from parks and other entities at what seems like a loss or very close to it. And, as long as that persists, a conservation group or a park, they're all strapped for money. They're not going to be paying for the ecosystem service value that they already know that they're getting, because they don't have to and I don't know how we get out of that. It's good old competition.

>> Yeah, that's a great, great point, right, because those values are already being provided, right. Why would I start paying for something I've been getting for free, right?

>> Yeah.

>> And so, I think that's one of the, you know, that's why I put up there that the corporate investor community, just because I see a lot of the pressure actually that the beef industry is feeling right now is actually coming from very few individuals and from people that are very, very rich, right. So, if you follow the new of investor communities, you know, the head of the Blackstone group right there, a hedge fund was $7 trillion dollars, which is I can't even fathom that number, right, but they're like very much - everything that we invest in or people that were investing, they have to demonstrate environmental social governance, right. So, there's a press release that comes from them and then it trickles down to all the food companies and everybody else is saying, what are you doing, what are you doing. And, I think that's where were at this critical juncture, hopefully, of those people that have all the money, want to put their money where their mouth is, so that they can invest in these things, right. That would be my ideal, right, because at the end of the day, it's the rancher that has to get compensated for these things, the person on the land that's doing the management that's resulting in these positive outcomes. So, maybe it's a pie in the sky, but I think to your point, right, those traditional organizations that are already cash strapped, dealing with competing uses, it's going to be really hard for it to come from them.

>> Is grass fed beef all the way food that is excluding especially the grain fed component, would you consider that in any way to be a reasonable compromise over the long term?

>> So, I think everybody heard the question what about grass finished beef, right. At the end of the day, I think it's probably going to remain a small niche market just because of the cost and the challenges in some parts of the United States that have forage available year round. What we also see is a lot of grass finish beef. Cattle may spend time in a feed yard and they're just being fed forage, right, so I think that's important for people to understand too, is it doesn't mean they're out grazing 365. It depends on the label claim that's actually there. There are advantages, even though it's controversial to say, there are advantages to using some of the grain and some of the biproduct resources that we have in the U.S. too, right. It kind of makes sense the way our beef system has developed in the U.S. and Canada, right, and other parts of the world that are major beef producing states or countries because of that combination between the two, right, but it's all about optimizing. And, we don't want to go so far of feeding cattle so much grain that we're trying to make them fix their chickens because they're never going to be as efficient and that's a waste of resources in my opinion. So, the point was is that the grain fed portion that is where the sustainability concern lies maybe, sometimes no, because the people that are very focused on greenhouse gas emissions who actually point more to the cow/calf, right, because that's actually where more of the greenhouse gas emissions are taking place. So, that's one of the things with ruminants. When we feed them more concentrate feeds, methane emissions actually decline, right. So, that's counter to what a lot of people think. So, the more fermentable carbohydrate that's in the rumen, it supports a rumen population that has fewer [inaudible]. Yeah. So, we do lifecycle assessment to look at that, right, and it all depends on your assumptions and lifecycle assessment. Kind of what I eluded to earlier, right. It all depends on the assumptions and the analysis. So, if you're going to be able to actually achieve higher [inaudible], right, you can have advantages there for grass finishing, right. It all depends on the system and it is very context, very context specific, right, in terms of the management and how the crops are actually grown, right. So, there's all those considerations that are built into anything like that.

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>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. You just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering the rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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