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Farm News & Views for week of July 17, 2023

Before the 4th of July, the National Farmers Union released an estimate of what a typical hamburger barbecue would cost consumers, which was about 26 and a half dollars. Farmers and ranchers share of that was just over five dollars, or about 20% of the total. According to the USDA, off-farm costs, including marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution, and retailing, account for more than 80 cents of every food dollar spent in the United States. The National Farmers Union points to the many mergers and acquisitions during the last several decades, which they contend, have resulted in agriculture and food supply chains that are not only noncompetitive but also fragile, while underpaying producers for their contributions to the food supply chain. National Farmers Union President Rob Laredo stated that “Corporate profits and consumer food costs continue to go up and up, but the farmer’s share of the food dollar remains low.”

Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated that he was confident that agriculture will be one of the first industries to meet net-zero emissions goals because of the interest that farmers have shown for pilot projects that test climate-smart practices. Vilsack pointed out that the outpouring of interest in pilot projects to test these practices from farmers and the development of markets for the products in the industry that could make agriculture one of the first industries to meet net-zero emissions goals. As an example, Vilsack pointed to the potential of sustainable aviation fuel to double the size of the biofuel industry. The USDA expanded the climate-smart initiative to $3.1 billion after receiving some 1,000 project applications. But Vilsack faces opposition for funding for these projects both in the House and Senate.

The National Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Initiative was conceived about a decade ago in Missouri by conservationists concerned about grassland bird populations. Grassland birds, including the northern bobwhite quail and meadowlarks, have declined by more than 50% in the past 50 years, which is more than any other bird group, according to Chris Wilson, Conservation Ranching Initiative Director. Wilson contends that the Initiative provides many benefits to ranchers who participate in the project, because the Society’s Conservation Ranching Staff work directly with ranchers to help them restore the soil health and increase drought resilience while providing indicators related to the health of their land. For example, bird populations provide a land health gauge, because they’re one of the easiest ways to see bio-diversity on the land. Bird numbers can also confirm or redirect management decisions, with help from detailed reports and technical assistance from the Audubon Society. The certification also creates potential economic value, for example, beef from Audubon-certified bird-friendly lands can be found in at least 250 retail stores, both local and online, and in butcher shops, while also communicating to consumers that beef is good for the environment. Ranching staff also work with participants to develop Habitat Management Plans that implement regenerative grazing and other bird conservation practices, such as controlling invasive species and native plant seeding. With information provided by the Society, ranchers can measure the effectiveness of these practices by monitoring bird diversity and abundance, vegetation change, and soil health.

John James Audubon wrote: “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.