Tales from the Outback

Agricultural notes and random thoughts from Bryan Lutter

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of agriculture lately. Things turned an odd corner in the ag land use world this year, at least in South Dakota. Maybe it was the uber-warm March, maybe it was some May frost action, but no doubt about it, the sod/pasture took the brunt of the drought. Even in areas north of I-90 where it didn’t totally forget how to rain the pasture was a thousand times worse than the crops were.
As bad as the pastures looked and the hay crop was, it’s a wonder the crops did as well as they did. Bizarre. So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves a ton of folks pondering breaking more sod in earnest. Every day I hear, “The cattle business has nothing for insurance. The pasture insurance is a joke, there is limited revenue protection, and it’s just too risky compared to crops.”
Then there is the labor factor. This entire business of hauling water, stretching up fences and doctoring sick critters is magnitudes more taxing on finite time capital than is modern crop farming. When you look at the astonishing amount of sod that’s been broken the past 10 years, it’s really a wonder even more hasn’t been broken. I say that with sorrow over the loss of what I consider a valuable resource. Farming is a mining adventure from the standpoint of fertilizer and hydrocarbons, while sod is a dynamic living body. That is, a dynamic living body that doesn’t pull its own weight.
Calves get sick in a confinement setting, so modern tech hasn’t adjusted the way we raise cattle for a very long time. Sure the four-wheeler allowed people to do it later into one’s life, but stocking rates have not adjusted since the first barb wire fence was introduced. Not by much anyway.
If beef isn’t to become a luxury meat for the mega-wealthy through supply destruction, then the industry badly needs to find a way to take the labor out of rotational grazing. The beef cattle industry must take a page from the farmer’s playbook and find a way to let satellites do the work.
Eventually we WILL see Management Intensive Grazing take over, but if it remains as much work as it’s been, the day it finally happens will come when the bovine is an endangered species.

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