Category Archives: Agriculture

Manage the world like a ranch

My son, Rial, and I are in Hawaii riding some horses for our friend, Nancy Jones.  We had a nice discussion at supper and Rial expressed concerns about the world’s future. This got me thinking about solutions to the world’s challenges.

I wonder if the world leaders were all ranch managers if we could manage it for maximum production and maintain it for future generations.

The first thing we would need to figure out is available resources.  The next thing would be to figure out how to manage those resources in a way that will create profit, investigate ways to increase resources, and decide the best methods to harvest those resources.

If I purchase a 1000 acre ranch it comes with a history.  Its resources were managed in a way that those in control decided they wanted.  When I take over I make the decision to keep operating in the same manner or to change it to what I want.

If I am going to raise livestock without any inputs from anything but this 1000 acres, I will need to be very careful about the number of animals I run on the ranch.  In some cases it may be better to operate with a certain number of animals and bring in some outside inputs that I can purchase from another source with some of the profit I take in from selling my resources off the 1000 acres.

The previous management may have only ran 50 head of cows, did not manage grazing, did not irrigate, never made any repairs to improvements, and did not spend any money because they did not make any.  They got along fine, but had a very hard life because there was not any money to purchase things that made life easier and they could never save enough to be secure.

I could possibly take this ranch and increase production dramatically.  I could develop and improve the soils to create great forage with improved management and utilizing irrigation.
I could manage the grazing in a way to quadruple production.  If done properly  this could really make this a ranch that is going to improve soil fertility, ensure a high quality of life for the people involved on the ranch, and create an environment on the ranch that is comfortable in the present and will be improved in the future. The profit from the resources are split up into maintaining and improving infrastructure, creating a high quality of life for those involved with the ranch, training new help for the ranch, taking care of those that have worked on the ranch after they retire, and some of the profit should go to stockpiling resources for future use.

I could also take this same ranch and only think about taking as much as possible with no regard to what effect it is having on the soil or surrounding ranches.  I could use as much fertilizer and chemical as possible, run as many animals as possible, only trying to get as much as I can as fast as I can.  I may more than quadruple production and take as much profit as I can so I can live an extravagant lifestyle.  I am not sure how long it will last, but I am going to get the most out of it I can.

From what I can tell, the Earth ranch is either the first or the third scenario.  What I think we need to do is get to the second scenario.  We need to utilize the world’s resources in way that works like a good ranch, combining Mother Nature with technology, then adding common sense and integrity.

The Earth is a big place.  If there is a worldwide drought or if the animal units get to be more than capacity, we can’t haul in more feed or ship units off to another earth.

The Earth is only so big, and there are only so many resources.  We can’t expand this ranch unless we go to space.  We must manage with what we have.

I have seen many places with the same resources in which one outfit improves and prospers, and another beside it goes bankrupt.  It is all about the management.

I think all the world leaders should go to a Ranching for Profit School.  I and Jesse have both attended this school and many people I know have as well.  It lays it out how to work with available resources to improve and prosper in many ways.  Isn’t that what the world needs?

We need to be realistic with how we manage. Before ranching came along Mother Nature kept things in balance for the way the world worked.

I am not sure everyone on Earth will ever work together to make the ranch run smooth, but you and I can work on our division to make it the best, and just like on ranches I have worked on, this creates desire to improve from other ranch workers.

~ Curt Pate

Nevada “Range War” Seems A Tough Story To Unravel

Image via The Dana Show

Sharing at Curt’s request:

By now most of the nation is aware of the self-proclaimed “range war” brewing on the ranch of Cliven Bundy in Clark County, Nevada. The situation is complex, and like most complex issues it’s hard to pinpoint who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong on this one. Throw in the various spins the talking heads of the media are taking on the story and we will likely never get a straight answer.

If nothing else, the Bundy ranch difficulties show how difficult it is to ranch in the West under the supervision of bureaucrats.

Click here to read more in my latest Beef Producer blog on Fodder for Thought.

~ Jesse Bussard

Sustainability: My point of view

I am going to explain this word from my point of view.  Many things have led to my definition of it like the way I was raised, the environment or area of the country I have lived in, the places in the world I have traveled to, and most importantly the different ideas people have shared with me on how to live and think.

For some reason I have a huge desire to learn and develop knowledge and skill, then try to take this even higher. I feel the only way to do this is to is let your ego take you where you need to go, then overcome the ego to learn even more, and allow your skill to improve to the point your ego shows up again to start the whole process over again.

When you get satisfied and think you are as good as it gets, you are right.

To me this is really dangerous not only on a personal level, but also on the world level and industry level as well.

On the subject of the sustainability of beef, ego is playing a huge part.  It has become us against them.  The problem is there are not many of us and a whole bunch of them.

As I said before many things have influenced the way I feel and think.  I am exposed to more opinions from all sides than most folks.  The hard part is getting the facts and not opinions or wishes from both sides.

The place I grew up on in the Helena, Montana area is now a housing development around a golf course.  There are many huge homes and paved streets.  The golf course has a fancy clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop and a very large paved parking lot.

The shop, hog barns, and slaughter house are used for golf cart storage and to keep all the equipment it takes to operate a golf course stored or worked on.  The corrals, feed lot and the fences are all gone.  No animals or crops are raised on the place any longer.  Just big expensive houses and a golf course.

I am sure many of the people that live and play on the place believe beef is bad for the environment.  I beg to differ.  It seems to me we were operating a sustainable operation.  We grew hay and grain to feed the cattle and hogs.  The manure from the cattle and the hogs was used to fertilize the soil.  We rotated crops with alfalfa to put nitrogen back in the soil. We were a part of the community and provided a service with our slaughter house for folks to harvest their own food.

My grandfather’s place bordered the place with the golf course.  We ended up buying the place.  The creek that ran through the golf course came through our place as well.  The plant life in it was so thick that you could hardly ride a horse through it and the flow really slowed. It was much different than before the golf course.  We had real big trout in it before, but I think they have all disappeared.

With so many houses and sewers the ground water contamination was getting to be a concern.  Most of the people had dogs and that was always a concern to have them chasing stock and I would sometimes see the cattle running.  I think it was a fun pastime for some golfers to see if they could hit a cow with a golf ball.  We also got a lot more traffic on foot and in cars.  The golf course and subdivision really changed everything.

My definition of sustainable is this:  Using something in a way that maintains or improves quality.

That’s it.  Producing beef, pork, and growing crops on that land was sustainable.  Not only for the land itself, but it was not hurting the surrounding area, and was creating protein for humans while improving the land.

Something had been grazing and  putting manure and urine on that few hundred acres for thousands of years.  Grazing had made it sustainable for all those years.  From the way I see it, our farming and ranching enterprise was as good or maybe better than the previous use, and I am certain it was much better for this land than a housing development and a golf course. I guess I can see this because I was there.  I am proud of the way it was taken care of by my family.

Mother Earth is what is important.  We need to sustain her.  I truly believe grazing animals must be a part of that.  It’s not about the beef, it’s about what the cattle can do to improve and sustain the soil and water.

Big companies like Walmart and McDonald’s may not know what they want from those of us raising beef. The customer may be unreasonable in their desires. It may be a conspiracy theory by the United Nations. We may not be able to feed the world because of it, or one of the many other reasons I have or haven’t heard.

It’s really about figuring out what is right for everyone and then doing it.  If the consumer doesn’t approve they will change their consuming habits.  If the producer can’t make a profit long term they will change the production model or stop producing.  The government can regulate us out of business, or subsidize to keep us in business, or stay out of it and let supply and demand control it.

I don’t care what you call it, but it has to be right for two reasons, first to be able maintain or improve soil and water in a profitable manner, and second to produce a product the consumer wants.  That is sustainable beef.

The way I see it sustainable beef is the best term for it.  If you have a better term, let’s hear it. I would really like to here what you have to say about this, and how you would label it.

Watch this YouTube video and it will show how I feel every time I go by the old place.

~ Curt Pate

This is the place I grew up on.  It is presently a golf course and a housing development.  You can see the property to the left is still producing agricultural products.  The property on the right is dry land grain but has never produced much.  It looks like the golf course and housing development would have been better placed across the road.  This week I will use this place as an example of “sustainable” agriculture.

~ Curt Pate

google earth map of curt's home place

Farm Bill

Everyone sure seems happy the farm bill got passed.  I don’t know anything about what is in it and don’t really care.

The thing that I would be interested in is people’s attitude about how important it is to agriculturalists’ success.

I had some real good things set up in my morals when I was younger.

First my grandfather Leonard Frank was really against borrowing money.  It was not the borrowing that he did not like, but he felt by working and saving and starting small and growing you grew your skill ahead of your business and therefore could maintain and improve the business.  The farther along I get in this life I am seeing how smart he really was (ornery, but smart).

My father Tex Pate was very good at seeing a good business and then learning how to make it work.  He was not afraid to borrow money, but was real serious about getting out of debt.

Lee Pitts had a big impact on me as we got his paper The Livestock Digest. He was outspoken about things in the beef industry and I liked his philosophy at the time when I was just starting to think about things in the cattle industry.

Then I read a book titled The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton.  It is a tragic book about the drought in the 50’s.  Charlie Flagg is the main character, and he is very set in his ways and does not believe in government programs.

I totally agree.  When you put your hand out to the government to pay or partially pay for something it will most likely cost you money or effect your business negatively somehow, but it is just so hard to turn down something that appears to be for nothing.  This is a thing that is very hard to see, especially when everyone is justifying it.  Nothing is for nothing.

Most of us know there will be a drought in whatever part of the country you live in.  Before all the assistance programs you kept your numbers down, and the feed reserves up just in case, or were willing to sell animals to match available feed.  When we started getting disaster assistance it changed the grazing programs, cattle numbers, land prices, age of ranchers, type of equipment, number of auction markets, added to the national debt,  and caused a ripple effect across the entire cattle industry.

From what I see we have become a nation that lives beyond our means and our country can’t support all the things we all think we are entitled too.  This goes from farmers to auto manufacturers to folks that have lost their job.  I would be willing to bet this is going to change.  It has to and it should.

I learned this the hard way.  I got into a situation that I had to make a payment on a grazing operation based on paying for it as the cattle grazed.  A very extreme drought caused us to reduce numbers and remove cattle early.  It did not cover the mortgage and it’s a good thing I had another income.  I was sold on a deal that couldn’t lose.  But in the back of my mind I could hear my Grandpa saying, “You had to be a big shot.”

Like I have said before when I share an opinion if you don’t feel the same that’s fine with me. These are just my thoughts and it really is not that big of a deal to me if you agree or disagree. I don’t farm the government and never have.  I got a check for $700 dollars and tore it up and threw itin the garbage. I had no idea what it was for. I also let a neighbor talk me into letting him get some money from the government for some farming he did for me. The money came to me and I gave the check to him, but I did not like it.

This is a really tough deal.  Every one says how tough it is to make it these days in agriculture. I disagree.  It is really tough to make it these days if you go borrow money that is impossible to pay back.  It is tough to make it if you don’t do the things that make money in this day and age.  Just because everyone else is doing it a certain way may be a good reason to do it a different way.

It seems we think you must get big to make it these days. I disagree. Start small, gain knowledge and resources, and then try to stay small.  If you are really good that will be the biggest challenge.  The better we get at something the more we challenge the limits and then we either are not as successful or quality of life suffers.

I hope you will read The Time It Never Rained.  I hope you will take pride in the fact that you are making good decisions that will help you prosper on your own.  Then when the time comes and this old country comes down hard on us, like it did to our friends in the North last fall, we can all pitch in and give the kind of help that really works – prayers, physical help and spare money, or commodities from friends and neighbors.  Our founding Fathers, our ancestors, and Charlie Flagg would be proud of that.

~ Curt Pate