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Sustainable Rangeland Symposium teaches successful methods for long term goals

By Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

Sustainability is a buzz word in today’s culture especially when it comes to how food is grown. With many societal trends going toward buying local food sources including organic and direct from growers, many farmers and ranchers can fill these niche markets in different ways. 

In natural resources management, sustainability is a necessity that must be set as a long-term goal if farmers and ranchers are to remain in business. Sustainable utilization of all resources available, adapting to changing markets, and keeping up with latest research and technology are just some of the ways today’s ranchers can succeed. 

Texas Tech University recently hosted the Sustainable Rangeland Symposium at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock. The event brought ranchers, researchers, government agencies, and many others together to discuss ways to remain sustainable. Ranchers in Texas constantly have challenges they must overcome to keep their ranch moving forward with adequate forage, drinking water, and infrastructure in place.

In West Texas, lack of rainfall continues to keep ranchers awake at night with worry of the next drought, however, many ranchers are learning that building sustainability into stocking rates, grazing management, wildlife, and marketing are all ways to combat the constant battle of planning for drought before it happens.

“This year’s symposium was a huge success with many great presenters that brought many discussions on the successes on our rangelands which gives everyone new information and tools they can take back with them on their ranch,” said Mark Wallace, professor and chairperson of the Department of Natural Resource Management at Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Raising cattle on some of the most successful ranches comes from many multigenerational families where they perform good management; a key to maintaining sustainability.

“The proud history of the ranching industry is a testament to rangeland sustainability and how fragile it is,” explained Frank Price, Sterling County rancher. “We must all admit that our forefathers and regretfully ourselves have made huge mistakes. The key to success is grazing management and constantly looking for new ways to keep our forage and animals healthy with lower inputs.”

Land management has many facets including the infrastructure that is required to stay sustainable in a world where land is being lost every day to development of housing and urban sprawl. Management considerations includes installing troughs for adequate water distribution and managing grazing movements to ensure that cattle do not overgraze - ultimately damaging the quality of the forage plants. This can also lead to a mountain of problems including erosion, lack of forage, and basic land degradation with an increase of unwanted brush species, in turn degrading wildlife habitat.

“Grazing management must be constantly monitored because if you can see cow pies and the rocks across your pasture instead of being covered by standing grass, you will soon be out of business,” said Kent Ferguson, retired NRCS rangeland management specialist and rancher near Valley Mills.  “We must graze by residue heights if we want to be successful in ranching because your grass is what you are growing. The livestock is the way we harvest it.”

Developing quail buffers, planting food plot strips, and harvesting the correct number and type of animals are some of the successes that are being utilized on the rangelands in Texas. While cattle graze these lands, wildlife are another resource that brings in large amounts of revenue through hunting and outdoor recreation. Whether leasing lands for hunting deer, quail, turkey, or exotics, these animals must be managed properly to keep hunters satisfied with quality animals and trophies.

Ranch Manager Bob Kilmer said, “At the Matador Cattle Company, sustainability comes from profitability and profitability comes from sustainability. We are able to do this through cattle and wildlife by finding that balance of stewardship to solidify our ability to make a profit so our land, our animals, and our wildlife are managed to the best of our ability. Working with the NRCS and other resources continue to allow us to find different ways to stay sustainable.”

After seeing a direct need to protect our grazing lands, the Grazing Lands Coalition (GLC) was formed through a consortium of individuals and organizations working together to maintain and improve the management and the health of the Nation’s grazing lands, mostly private but also public. Texas NRCS was able to hire GLC grazing land specialists whose job is to write conservation plans, conduct forage inventories, and develop grazing plans.

“My duties are to work on rangelands but more importantly to educate. When I conduct a forage inventory on a ranch, I make sure that rancher or manager is there, so I can teach him the process on how to conduct his own inventory, so he knows exactly how to do this the next year as well as what he is actually looking at when I hand him his completed conservation and grazing plan,” explained Clint Rollins, NRCS-GLC rangeland management specialist.

Sustainable Rangeland Symposium teaches ranchers successful methods for meeting long term goals, Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, August)