The following appeared on field conservationist Bobby Whitescarver's blog, blog.gettingmoreontheground.com. For more information, please visit his website.
Monday I went to see a farmer that was interested in fencing his cattle out of a stream on his farm. He operates one of those down-home, “buy your local meats here” farms. They raise beef cattle, “free range” turkeys, and hogs. They sell all kinds of meats, from bacon and sausage to whole fresh turkeys to steaks. It’s all local, all natural, all organic.
The farmer and I walked out into the front pasture where the stream flows through the middle of one of his larger fields. His cattle have access to the whole stream, probably a quarter of a mile of stream. That’s where they get their water and you have to drive right across the stream to get to the office where he sells his meats. He wanted to fence the whole thing out which would create four grazing units. We talked about all the different scenarios for watering the cows once he successfully fenced them out of the stream.
I asked him the same question I ask everybody that gets into a stream exclusion project, “What compelled you to fence the cows out of the stream?” His answer surprised me.
He said, “A lot of my customers ask me why I don’t have my cattle fenced out of the stream." He went on to say that he thought fencing them out would help his marketing and image as a farmer of “all natural” products.
So here’s the lesson. It’s okay as a customer to demand environmental stewardship. I guarantee the American farmer will produce what the customer wants. After all, we really do vote with our wallets. So the next time you buy that local chicken or rib-eye steakm, be sure you ask the farmer why he hasn't fenced his cattle out of the stream.
Whitescarver is a recently retired USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who spent more than 30 years working with farmers on conservation practices. He now has his own private consulting business where he helps landowners create an overall vision and plan for their land. He also works with CBF to help famers install more Best Managment Practices (BMPs) in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the recipient of a CBF Conservationist of the Year award. For more information, visit his website.