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Plows and Pitchforks # 8


Sustainability is the new ‘cool.’

June 29, 2013

By Matt Bernau

I was overcome by an urgent need to crawl inside my computer screen and yell at the author of the misguided opinions I was reading. Some white-paper study claimed that corn production is more ‘sustainable’ than in the past because corn producers are raising more bushels from less land.

The amount of land used to produce a bushel of output of grain or fruit or other crop is largely irrelevant to sustainability. Insofar as sustainability has to do with system stability and cycling…sustainability means that the capacity exists to keep doing what you’re doing ad-infinitum unless acted upon by an outside force. Which is my definition that has something to do with Newton’s First Law of Motion: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.”

Outside forces can affect the sustainability of a system but that has more to do with the resiliency and how more or less said system is resistant to change than it does with the basic definition of the term ‘sustainability.’ A system can change a lot and still be sustainable because it continues to exist. As a word, sustainability is defined by the beholder of his or her own idea. Sustainability has many users; there is environmental sustainability, social sustainability, corporate sustainability, agricultural sustainability, business sustainability, food sustainability, clothing sustainability, economic sustainability, design sustainability, architectural sustainability, educational sustainability, political sustainability, soil sustainability, engineering sustainability, and the gravitational sustainability of slippery slopes.

John Fraser Hart is a Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota; he penned an article titled “Ruminations of a Dyspeptic Ex-Editor” (Hart, John Fraser. 1976. “Ruminations of a Dyspeptic Ex-Editor” The Professional Geographer 28 (3) 225-232).
Dr. Hart warned us about the use of ‘fad words’:  “Vogue words are vague words, and they should be avoided as one avoids any other social disease. Such words frequently substitute for careful thinking and precise phrasing, and they communicate little meaning, because they mean all things to all people” (Hart 1976). I fear that the popular use of the word ‘sustainability’ has rendered it weak and meaningless as far as modern scientific discourse is concerned. The urbandictionary.com defined ‘sustainability’ four ways:
1) “Sustainability is a lens through which to view all issues”
2) “A word that left leaning urban Caucasians use to feel good about themselves”
3) “The ability to endure a balance of economic, social, and environmental well being now and in the future”
4) “The ability to sustain oneself i.e. ‘I have the ability to sustain myself, so I have sustainability!’” (Accessed June 29, 2013).

The urbandictionary.com also had a definition for the word ‘awesome:’ “Something Americans use to describe everything.” So the next time you read something or listen to someone using the word ‘sustainability,’ cross it out of your mind and replace it with the word ‘awesome’ because it means the same thing.

Comments may be sent to mmbernau@gmail.com, or on twitter @veritzombie.




Razas de caballos: Cuarto de Milla (3er set)






Is Stress Wreaking Havoc On Your Family Ranch?

Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? Yesterday was one of those days. After my husband got home from his day job, he had a list a mile long of things he wanted to get done before dark. He was in a hurry, he was stressed, and he was crabby about it.
“Mandy, we’ve got to bale up the hay I’ve cut before it rains. I’ve got to get this fence fixed, so we can move pairs to the south pasture. We’ve got to finish filling out your new health insurance forms and get them in the mail. I need you to run to town for parts. Stop and bring me some bug spray and iced tea in the field before you go, okay?. And, oh yeah, my sister is coming over tonight. What’s for supper?” Sound familiar?
Typically, it’s on nights like this where you’re trying to do too much with too little time, that stress builds up, and accidents happen or mistakes are made. North Dakota State University (NDSU) Agricultural Communications recently offered advice for producers on how to manage stress to make better farming decisions.
The article reads, “Some of the most pressing concerns faced by farmers and ranchers, such as weather-related issues, can elevate personal stress and disrupt sound decision-making.
"Producers and their families should think family first and keep current challenges in perspective," says Sean Brotherson, NDSU Extension family science specialist. "Weather-related stress and other sources of concern in agriculture can put persistent strain on farmers and ranchers operating in today's agricultural economy. However, what farmers and ranchers want to be careful about is letting their personal stresses pile up so that their management practices and decision-making become negatively affected. When you're under stress, you may communicate less with others, become more disjointed in your thinking, and make decisions based on anxiety or anger."
Brotherson has these suggestions:
1. Identify key values important to the well-being of you and your family. The same holds true for the farm or ranch operation. Discuss these values and then develop goals that are specific and clear that will guide your family and business decision-making.
2. Identify personal and interpersonal resources, such as creativity or communication, which cost little but can aid in your decision-making. Also, identify tangible, concrete resources such capital or equipment that are important in making decisions. Seek ways to access or create these resources.
3. Evaluate the costs and benefits involved in making a particular decision to each member of the family or business operation. Then evaluate the costs and benefits to the couple or the family as a whole.
4. Examine your decision-making style and then think about what decision-making process will work best for the family and the farm or ranch operation in a particular circumstance.
I have added a few pieces of advice to add to the list (and I hope my family members are reading this blog post, today).
1. Share your plans for the week with family members before the week begins. This is a good thing to do after Sunday lunch when you’re all sitting at the dinner table together. Make a list and communicate that list with family members. That way everyone is on the same page.
2. If things change, and you know they will, communicate those changes on a day-to-day basis. A quick text, “Remember the vet is coming at 3 to semen-test bulls,” sent the night before or that morning (instead of an hour before the vet shows up) means that extra help will be around when you need it.
3. Don’t micromanage. BEEF reader Jesse Larios from California sent me a quote yesterday that read, “A manager says ‘Go!’ A leader says, ‘Let’s go!’” Don’t be afraid to spread the workload around, instead of doing it all yourself. Trust that others will be able to handle the job and get it done on time.
4. Finally, know that there is always tomorrow. Sure, you might not want the hay to get rained on, and, yeah, it would be nice if we got everything done before dark, but there is always another day. Don’t make costly mistakes because you’re in a hurry.
Do you ever feel stressed on the ranch? How do you cope? What advice do you have for managing stress?

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