President’s Message

Sustainable Agriculture, And A Farming And Ranching Land Ethic

President George Hollister

Sustainable Agriculture, and a Farming And Ranching Land Ethic are two sides of the same coin. Sustainable Agriculture is defined by what agricultural practices are used, and survive. A farming and ranching land ethic is a land policy that provides the basis for management that protects and enhances the agricultural economic viability of the land for the present, and into the future.

Sustainable farming and ranching practices include grazing, dry land farming, irrigating dry land including desert, water diversion infrastructures, weed control, monoculture, fertilizing, domestication and selective breeding, continued advancement in technology and practices, and adaption to change. These are all practices with a history exceeding 5,000 years, they are all still being used today, and they always have been used in order to make a required agricultural profit. These practices are used on a site specific basis. There is no single practice that applies to all farmers and ranchers.

Have mistakes been made? More than we know. To begin with, the only people who don’t make mistakes are people who don’t do anything. Also, in my experience, trying new practices means making mistakes, but being unwilling to try new practices is a bigger mistake.

A land ethic provides a fundamental foundation for making farming and ranching decisions. It might begin with something like, “Take care of the land, and it will take care of you”. Or maybe, “Make your land as productive, and profitable as possible, but avoid making demands on the land that exceed what the land can give.” “Make the land better, or it will get worse”. Another one might be, “Love the land, and like what you do”. A land ethic necessarily requires knowledge, conservation, and management of the land and the native environment the land is in, including the wildlife and the fish. Aldo Leopold, in his book Sand County Almanac, discussed all these factors making up a land ethic, though he likely would have a different land ethic than mine, and a different land ethic than most other farmers and ranchers, and that is the way it should be.

Individual farmers and ranchers, and others connected to the land need to define their own land ethic, just as they need to define what practices are sustainable for them. Too often we see attempts to impose a single land ethic on all farmers and ranchers, and specific farming and ranching practices defined as sustainable. This imposition usually comes from people disconnected from the land who are not in agriculture. The results are predictably unsustainable and unethical.