Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 1:00 PM
By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
Changing management to adapt to changing times was proposed by Jim Gerrish, a nationally known grazing management educator and consultant.
He spoke at the Quivira Coalition Conference held in early November in Albuquerque, N.M.
Gerrish is a former University of Missouri research scientist now living in Idaho, where he manages a ranch and operates a consulting business. During his daylong workshop on grazing, Gerrish spoke about the need to change the way we do things.
Many U.S. farms and ranches involve more than one generation in their operation. Usually the parents retain control until they are well along in years. The younger generation has the energy and initiative to change and adapt, but doesn't get a chance to manage until they are older. So, the next generation operates as their parents did.
"Meanwhile, times and situations have changed. Why doesn't it pay to operate on the parents' paradigms?" Gerrish asks.
He gives several reasons. First, they reflect finances of the best years of operation. Second, those times probably occurred 20 to 30 years ago and times have changed. Also, family operations tend to change more slowly than society in general.
"We don't need a lot of new information. Rather we need to apply what we know," he said. Gerrish and other grazing specialists have developed guides and written books to help graziers improve their management and achieve their goals.
"Ranch management should be about balancing ecosystem processes, not manipulating inputs," Gerrish said.
"The situation has changed for the economic climate, the environmental climate and the social climate," he said.
We now operate within a global economy and the costs of production have increased more than commodity prices. Gerrish indicated that in the last 40 years, desertification of the planet has increased by 35 to 40 percent. Desertification is the transformation of arable land to desert from either a change in climate or destructive land use.
"There is less potable water available and erosion has degraded 20 percent of our land," he said.
Society in general now has a different view of agricultural producers. Very few people have any connection with a farm or ranch any more. Thirty to 40 percent of the U.S. population no longer think farmers and ranchers are honest and reliable or care about conserving land or the well-being of livestock.
Also, Gerrish believes that much of the current health crisis is due to the high level of stress in our society and poor nutrition because of an improper diet.
These negative changes, especially less water availability and reduced soil, affect our ability to grow food.
Well-managed grasslands increase organic matter, return carbon to the soil and are much better able to absorb moisture, reduce soil erosion and support the activity of soil organisms. All this makes for a healthier ecosystem and works with nature, not against it.
An added benefit of working with nature is reduction of stress to the manager.
Gerrish's tips on successful rangeland management will be covered in my next column.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, now lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he consults and writes on ranch management.