Beef producers must share their stories of environmental stewardship

By John Ferry, Corinne, Utah, national winner of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award 

My family has been farming and ranching outside of Corinne, Utah since 1900 — that’s 123 years, when you do the math. Today, JY Ferry & Son, Inc. is a farming, feeding, ranching, and wetlands/wildlife operation. My brother Ben, my son Joel and I jointly manage our land resources with a cooperative and sustainable approach. 

Holistic synergy is what we seek on a daily basis. We’ve always believed that the land itself is the greatest resource any farming or ranching operation has. And as a member of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and co-chair of the Beef Checkoff’s Consumer Trust Committee, I know that consumers are very concerned with beef’s environmental impact. As a beef producer, I also know I must do my part to let those consumers know how much we care about our land, our animals and our environmental responsibility.

Our property is literally where agriculture, wetlands and wildlife habitat proactively intersect. We farm and graze our cattle on a 150,000-acre footprint. Our cattle feed on phragmites, a locally invasive wetlands plant. The grazing in wetlands helps manage the plant’s population and prevents it from crowding out other beneficial plant life that is so critical to wetland wildlife. The cows are eating these plants which are inedible to humans and turning them into high-quality beef. Furthermore, the grazing strategy brings the phragmites spread under control without the use of expensive chemical sprays.

We’ve also taken numerous measures to improve water efficiency throughout our operation. We do everything we can to be sustainable — something people who buy all their food at the supermarket don’t always have the opportunity to see. And I’m certainly not the only beef producer who takes these types of measures.

The Checkoff-funded Meat Demand Monitor surveys 2,000 people monthly on their meat preferences and views. Taste, freshness, price and safety remain consumers’ most important considerations when purchasing proteins. And while the climate-positive trend is a movement that beef producers like me know all too well, these are the true factors that consumers continue to find more important than beef’s environmental impact. Still, the Beef Checkoff is committed to providing education and correcting misinformation about beef and the environment while gaining consumers’ confidence.

The first step is investing in extensive, science-backed research. The Beef Checkoff continuously funds third-party, objective research projects that prove the beef industry’s environmental responsibility. Through this research, we can provide science-validated sustainability indicators that benchmark the industry’s current status and provide a path forward toward continuous improvement. By taking an objective, scientific approach, this program helps create a sustainable beef product for a growing world population while also building consumer confidence in beef. 

From there, we try to stay ahead of issues that impact consumer perceptions through a two-pronged effort of education and outreach. Our ultimate goal is to connect and engage with people before false or misguided information about beef production practices spreads. Then, we can share what the facts that our research has uncovered. Here are just a few examples of what we’ve been doing to educate and inform others about beef production.

Developing educational units for middle and high schools 

By connecting with young minds, the Checkoff can educate tomorrow’s beef consumers today. Educational units focus specifically on greenhouses gasses and cattle, as well as general beef production and genetics.

Hosting on-the-farm STEM events 

The Beef Checkoff funds annual educator immersion events designed to bring inner city teachers to real, working farms to learn about beef production. In 2022, the educators who participated in the tour shared their experiences with more than 70,000 urban students.

Taking part in New York City Climate Week 

Beef was front and center in September 2022 during Climate Week, the largest global climate event. Checkoff-funded Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. hosted a webinar on beef being an ultimate climate-smart food and shared the truth behind emissions.

Collaborating with the Beef Expert Network 

The 22 influencers who make up the Checkoff’s Beef Expert Network are all passionate about sharing beef’s story and connecting with their audiences to address misinformation surrounding beef.  

Sharing information via digital campaigns 

Checkoff-funded digital campaigns on Connect TV, YouTube, websites and social platforms encourage consumers to “rethink the ranch.” Real beef producers share their beef stories and how they care for their cattle and land.

Most cattle operations are far removed from the mainstreams of today’s society. We producers are most comfortable on our ranches and farms doing what we do best, supporting our livelihoods and our families as we feed the world. But as full-time environmentalists, we must speak up when it comes to topics like beef’s impact on land water and air. Unless we share our own true stories, others will control the narrative. First and foremost, we must take extreme care of our land and our cattle. Then, it’s our responsibility to tell others about our efforts. Learn more about facts about beef and the environment at beefresearch.org.  

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