Grassland Presentation Pieces
The presentation slot was twenty minutes, fifteen minutes to actually present, the other five taken up by speaker intro before and time for questions afterward.
Fifteen minutes is long enough time for one person to talk, but just fifteen minutes to tell what you do and include why it matters means condensing a magnitude of thoughts and reasons.
This was not a producer conference although producers were more than welcome to attend. It was a research and policy conference. It was about grass and forage. I was asked to present a virtual farm tour. Basically I was the break between all the scientific and ag business presentations. I did not realize this going in to the conference. I did not (as all the experts tell you to do) try to peg down who I was speaking to. For some reason, when I prepared my presentation, I felt a strong compulsion just to tell what I felt and leave numbers and data out of it. I went with this. I don’t think anybody expected that, even me. The title of the presentation: This Land and Livestock Life.
I’m going to skip over sharing the first half of the presentation here on the blog. That first half gave a summary of our place, that we transitioned crop land back to grass and a snapshot of how we operate. While it was beautifully told through the lens of a story and great photographs (with several hours of practice behind it) I think you blog readers have a good grasp of my position on ranch life and how we operate here.
While the latter half could not have been told without the first to lead up to it, the latter half is, in my opinion, what really grabbed most people. A volley of beautiful photographs and the quiet and sincere manner in which it was told certainly helped.
Let's start in midstream right here:
Let's start in midstream right here:
“Forage has become king here and there is an unpretentious beauty about the place. Land and livestock are linked and I am glad I have parked myself at their intersection. I have time to take a walk every day in the company of my dogs, cutting across the prairie in any direction I like. I walk in sun, rain, wind and snow. In heat and in cold. Sometimes I come across favourite sitting stones and sit for a spell, pondering the life I lead. All the walking and pondering results in my soul being pretty tied up in this land and livestock life.
It is quite an easy matter to share the beauty of a place through rose coloured though and to gloss over the reasons why ranchers do what they do. But it occurs to me that our values and reasons need to hold true not only while we are looking through rose coloured glasses but more importantly they must hold true when the rose coloured glasses fall off.
When it all goes to shit and you can’t think through the frustration of your day. When you have a wreck and you can’t project yourself to the end of a day let alone see to the end of a year.
Your reasons must hold you up and when these are purely about numbers and production and the almighty dollar I know I lose hope real fast.
So it matters a great deal that there are intangibles we cannot get our hands on. That grassland places like ours and people who earnestly ranch on them with Mother Nature in mind are still here. It matters that we grasp and explore the link between land and animal, sink our teeth into the natural connections and risk rearranging the pieces of our thinking to something a little different.
Nowadays, when more than ever agriculture operates on numbers and facts it is increasingly important that we keep the stories and unexplainable reasons front and center.
The agriculture industry has never before been in such a rush to grow a crop or raise an animal as we are today. We have never before been so reliant on numbers to guide us, so much so that we forego trusting our own observations of habitat and animal. Why are we in such a rush when our food and price distribution system is heavily flawed and the waste of food in first world countries is so extreme? Why do we have more focus on the quality of a carcass than we do on coexistence with the natural resources we need to raise it?
We have created a mass production game, even in the name of high, unsustainable work loads and debt loads. And yet, all in the same breath farmers and ranchers proudly take ownership of the we-feed-the-world pedestal.
The title of this years conference is next generation forage cropping systems; profit above, wealth below. You wish to recognize the economic and environmental role forage and grasslands play in this land and livestock life. So what happens if we set aside our rush to raise an animal and produce a crop and set aside our reliance on numbers for just a moment. What if we examine not only what the land and animal give to us but what we offer in return. What is our real potential in this agriculture life? What is the true wealth below and what is the true wealth in ourselves and how much of each might we be shredding to get at the profit?
If we wish to improve our environmental practices in agriculture what about making this a two way street again. What about putting coexistence at the forefront of every decision we make lest we get to far down this road of taking the animal out of nature and the human out of humanity. There is nothing like keeping a flock of sheep on coyote rich prairie to teach the art of coexisting with a species that has different ideas than you do about what success is.
Grassland is the vehicle for this to happen. I have a small vision in which land and animal and rancher are respected for the link to humanity they are rather than viewed solely through the lens of yield per acre and dollar per production unit. Instead of pushing for maximum production we are letting production be what occurs when we look after animal and land. I operate my place in this way and it works well. We do not have to sacrifice land and animal to have ample production. There is a point where we can say we produce well, we produce enough and enough is all we need.
Author Don Gayton spoke at the 2016 rangeland conference and he suggested the way to bridge the gap that exists between the folks who do the research and the rancher who lives the life and the public who make it all messy, is through telling stories.
So this few minutes is me telling our story. Telling it in the hope that Don just might be on to something. The people on the land need to start being the linchpin for change rather than have change implemented upon us. And those who are being that change already need opportunities to tell our story. So to that end, thank you once again for gifting me with your presence and providing the chance to keep our simple story going.“
[p.s. That thank you extends to all you readers of this blog who are following this story. It only continues because you are here].