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Know the West

Ranch Diaries: Traditional agriculture meets progressive ideals

Can producers come together to find common ground and work toward common goals?


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first two years of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

Since my last Ranch Diary, I’ve participated both in an ag convention, and my first meeting on the board of the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance. When I mention that to people, some seem puzzled. Doesn’t the AgriFuture conference, hosted by the state of New Mexico, and the alliance, a small non-profit with an emphasis on grassfed production, stand in direct opposition to each other’s core values? 

There was a time in my life when I would have agreed. I had put real time into the family garden, saving seed, growing heirloom varieties, and learning about the importance of diversity in my food. I was skeptical of Big Ag topics like genetically modified crops and feedlots, and was awfully judgmental of anything but my view of progressive agriculture: Organic, natural and small-farm-raised was the only way to go, and that everyone else was doing it wrong.

I’ve since relaxed my polarized view, and I think both conventional, commercial ag and small-scale niche market farms and ranches do share common values: quality food production, a superior product, and the desire to serve happy consumers.

I, and many other producers, have found that niche markets are worth pursuing, for reasons other than health or land benefits. Any producer, traditional or nonconventional, is interested in making a premium return on their livestock. Selling grassfed beef, like I’m doing with Big Circle Beef, is just one way to do that. At AgriFuture, I heard about several other interesting ways to make it in the industry. One young producer shared how he maximizes the land base available to him by breeding and raising a modest herd of show cattle, and selling weaned calves for such a high premium that he can support the higher costs associated with operating without economies of scale. Another enterprising young man started his own jerky business, turning cuts of meat that are naturally more sinewy into a high-dollar item. Sam and I did a brief presentation about our path to Triangle P Cattle Company. The room was full of young faces and spirits were high.

I felt that again sitting in the meeting room with my new Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance partners. How to get some diversity into grassfed advocacy, someone asked. How can we take advantage of programs tailored to conventional ranchers and farmers, someone else added. There were adjectives tossed around to describe what about grassfed tastes good to a public with shifting needs. There was a unanimous agreement that the alliance needs to be part of bridging the imagined gap between producers, partnering with folks who don’t see eye-to-eye on everything but share the same core values.

This, I thought to myself, is what agriculture is all about. Coming together to problem solve for the future. It may include making concessions to our strong opinions, and being humble enough to realize the division between traditional and progressive agriculture is more imagined than real.