Defining Sustainable Agriculture
At Niman Ranch, defining sustainability is an ongoing journey. The term is complex and constantly evolving, so we’ve set out to get a deeper understanding of sustainability for ourselves as well as how it relates to our partners – farmers, ranchers, customers and consumers.
In an effort to learn more about the components of sustainable agriculture and current industry best practices, we’ve hosted four events and educational programs over the past two years for our staff and partners:
1. August 2011: Sustainability Panel of nine industry experts moderated by Dr. Fred Kirshenmann, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Panelists included:
Dr. Fred Kirshenmann
- Dr. Cornelia Butler Flora, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Iowa State University
- Dr. Kraig Peel, Colorado State University
- Tracey Ryder, Edible Communities
- Dave Murphy, Food Democracy Now!
- Kurt Michael Friese, Slow Food USA
- Chef Bob Perry, University of Kentucky
- Miyun Park, Global Animal Partnership
- Barry Estabrook, Politics of the Plate
- Mel Coleman, American Farmland Trust and Niman Ranch
2. April 2012: Presentation on the Environmental Impact of Grain-Fed versus Grass-Fed Beef at Boise State University by Dr. Judith L. Capper, followed by a tour of a working cattle ranch.
3. September 2012: Presentations on Traditional Livestock Production by Dr. Kraig Peel, Director of the CSU Western Center for Integrated Resource Management, and on the Disappearing Farmland by Jon Scholl, Executive Director American Farmland Trust.
Soil Lab at CSU
4. January 2013: Sustainable Agriculture Short Course at Colorado State University – a two-day Masters-level curriculum to introduce the impact of agriculture on sustainability by addressing topics ranging from ecosystem function, soil health, water cycle and livestock raising practices to economic impact and strategy.
Coming out of the Sustainable Agriculture Short Course at CSU, we developed our current definition of sustainable agriculture as it relates to Niman Ranch and our partners:
Sustainability at Niman Ranch incorporates sustainable agricultural practices with economic sustainability for the farmers, the ranchers, our customers and our employees; all of which are an integral part of Niman Ranch’s overall business philosophy of RAISED WITH CARE.
We believe sustainable agriculture is best described as livestock raising and production practices which balance current resource demands without compromising the future of these resources, from an environmental, economic and human perspective.
It begins with the practices of the family farmers and ranchers who embrace the land and its interdependent parts by using raising methods that protect the resources for future generations. The benefits of these practices are far-reaching: from the farmers, the farmers’ families and their communities to the land, water and air they rely on and the animals they raise.
Sustainability does not end at the farmer. The desire for sustainability must carry throughout the supply chain in order to maintain the economic health of all of our partners.
Top 10 Sustainability Best Practices:
- Mitigate soil erosion and/or loss through: maintaining pasture with coverage for livestock, crop rotation, rotational grazing and responsible waste/manure management.
- Prohibit the use of concentrated liquid manure systems.
- Utilize buffer strips and grassed waterways.
- Promote agricultural biodiversity by using breeds which are uniquely suited for their specific environment.
- Practicing genetic diversity to keep breeds healthy over generations.
- Maintain conservative livestock density stocking rates to improve the land resource over time
- Raise livestock in geographies where feed sources are locally available to reduce the environmental impact of feed transport.
- Pay farmers a premium in accordance to our strict raising protocols.
- Establish a floor price for our farmers tied to the cost of inputs of feed and fuel.
- Provide robust and growing marketplace for their livestock.
Our definition of sustainability and our best practices will surely evolve as we continue to learn more about this complex and dynamic topic. We hope that you choose to learn along with us.