Grazing enthusiasts gathered in Reno to share ideas, discuss issues at triennial conference
RENO — More than 600 grazing enthusiasts representing diverse farm and ranch operations from across the country gathered Dec. 2-5 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno for the seventh National Conference on Grazing Lands (7NCGL).
The event, coordinated by the National Grazing Lands Coalition (NatGLC) featured more than 60 presenters, many of them producers, as well as science-based poster displays and a trade show with vendors representing forage seed, fencing and farm/ranch organizations, including several state grazing land coalitions.
Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei made the official welcome remarks to those attending the 7NCGL, and said, “People who make their living off the land don’t profit when they abuse the resource. They never have and never will. You folks know that, but don’t be afraid to remind people about that from time to time … Be proud. If you weren’t doing what you are doing, we’d have a lot of trouble with resources.”
Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, current chairman of the House Ag Committee, also delivered remarks and provided insights into the impending farm bill. Conaway encouraged attendees to continue standing up for morals and values in America to ensure that freedom and self-government are maintained.
Rancher and NatGLC Chairman Chad Ellis also reminded the grazing community of their importance. Ellis noted that ranching isn’t easy or glamourous, but he also noted to attendees that few other jobs offer the opportunity to pass a legacy down to the next generation. “I call it ranching beyond the fenceline,” Ellis said. “The things we do go beyond the fenceline to the entire ecosystem — from open space to clean water.” He encouraged all landowners and managers to keep stewardship top of mind, and asked them to remember a quote from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, “Soil and water conservation start when the first raindrop falls.”
REGENERATIVE AND STEWARDSHIP
Many conference presenters emphasized the importance of taking the steps to sustain farm and ranch operations for future generations.
South Carolina beef producer Don Jackson shared, “The two most important words we should be using in agriculture are regenerative and stewardship.”
Similarly, Texas rancher Frank Price provided this definition for sustainable rangelands: Grasslands that — when utilized for a specific goal or purpose — are consistently improving and at a minimum showing equal health and vigor, after timely recovery from that use. Price also emphasized, “I want to challenge this group. The first tool that should be applied is to put grazing management on the land. Then you can take some other tools and make some progress.”
Derek Schwanebeck, a Nebraska producer, spoke to the challenge of managing land. He noted, “When people say it can’t be done, that’s where I get excited because there is probably huge opportunity there … There’s a lot of gold in being contrarian to what people say you can’t do.” Schwanebeck also said that it’s important to “listen to the cows,” and added, “There’s a terrible shortage of people who understand grazing and who are passionate about it.”
Kansas rancher Bill Barby shared firsthand how important land management is to resilience. Barby talked about the fire that burned their entire ranch in 2017. But in recovering from the fire, Barby noted the help from others “was amazing,” and, he has found a silver lining from the devastation. For example, the salt cedar that infested many areas of his ranch was decimated and native grasses are starting to grow. These experiences have led Barby to believe: How you manage before a disaster will determine how quickly you recover after … Good management will shine like the new day sun.”
The closing session of the conference included several highlights. Renowned animal behaviorist Fred Provenza shared remarks on nutritional wisdom extending this concept from what he has learned from animal responses to now looking at human food selection and health. Provenza has authored a new book on the topic, which is titled Nourishment.
Additionally, a panel discussion featured Texas producer Gary Price and South Dakota producer Lyle Perman along with McDonald’s representative Townsend Bailey. The trio talked about the need for the entire beef production chain working together to ensure sustainable grazing lands and healthy ecosystems while producing wholesome, safe beef supplies. Bailey said, “Our challenge (at McDonald’s) is to show them (customers) that we are striving to build a better environment. The soil and the people who take care of it … without them, we don’t have any food. So that’s important to us.” Recently, McDonald’s has signed on as a sponsor of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Finally, Army veteran Shilo Harris shared his story of survival and resilience with 7NCGL attendees. Harris was badly burned and nearly died during deployment to Iraq when his Humvee was struck by an IED. Three soldiers lost their lives in the incident. Harris encouraged those facing challenges in life to persist and said, “Everything in your life is a gift. Sometimes, it may not be the gift you want, but you realize that your challenges are a new beginning.”
The National Grazing Lands Coalition, formerly the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, was established in Bozeman, Mont., in June 1991. The organization was created to address the need for technical grazing assistance being provided to landowners and managers on private lands. NatGLC is continuing to work to ensure farm bill funding for such technical assistance through NRCS. Expanding research and education efforts related to grazing management are additional objectives of NatGLC. The organization is planning their first national tour event in 2020 and is planning an eighth National Conference on Grazing Lands in 2021.
For more information about NatGLC follow the organization on Facebook and visit http://www.grazinglands.org. ❖