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The Reality of Pasture

June 13, 2011

As I type this I am surrounded by over 8,000 acres of beautiful, and today very stormy pasture.  For those of you who have trouble envisioning the true size of an acre it is most often compared to a football without its end zones.  Those 8,000 and some odd acres only include those that belong to the ranch where I work; if I included all pastures I could easily be surrounded by over 50,000 acres of range. In this part of Nebraska over 80% of the land is used as pasture for grazing livestock, most often cattle.

Land Use Map of NE

Now, there is a school of thought out there that is based on the idea of eliminating animal agriculture and using the land to grow food.  With this in mind I present you with this situation.

You are a farmer in Mid-Western Nebraska you have always raised cows on your land but now corn is projected by some to reach $9.00 a bushel.  With today’s regionally adapted corn varieties yields have often exceeded 160 bushels per acre in the US.  Let’s do some quick math.

160 bushels/acre x $9.00 a bushel= $1440 acre

You have over 5,000 acres so: 5,000 x $1440= $7,200,000

Yes, that’s right seven MILLION two HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars.

What would you do?

Now remember you’ll need to buy seed, gas for the tractor, some fertilizer, and maybe some herbicide and a few various other things so let’s say you come out with…oh about…$3,000,000.

Would you plant corn?

If it was that easy I would too, but there isn’t a single farmer around here tearing up his pasture to put in corn.  Why is that?

Most of the land around here is like in this picture taken at the ranch: steep and rugged or sandy and dry.  Now we raise corn and hay here too, don’t get me wrong, but those fields are as flat as can be and easily irrigated.

The Dry Nebraska SandhillsIf animal agriculture were to be eliminated, as some would like, we might grow some more fruits or vegetables, but at what cost? Cattle, sheep, horses, and goats are uniquely qualified to inhabit this sparse land.  They are the most efficient converters of this wild prairie to human food.

The reality of pasture is this:  it is that way because it can’t be farmed, developed or irrigated in a way that is more economical or sustainable than using it for grazing.

Next time you drive past some pasture take a look…they are beautiful!

Keep Livin’ the Good Life!


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