February 2011
For What It's Worth

Develop A Game Plan for Sustainable Small Ruminant Production

Attend Symposium March 12 in Hazel Green

There is a USDA webpage offering a lengthy explanation of Sustainable Agriculture: Definitions and Terms (http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/terms/srb9902.shtml) and shares the following: In 1996, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman issued a memorandum on USDA sustainable agriculture policy.

It stated, "USDA is committed to working toward the economic, environmental and social sustain-ability of diverse food, fiber, agriculture, forest and range systems. USDA will balance goals of improved production and profitability, stewardship of the natural resource base and ecological systems, and enhancement of the vitality of rural communities."

University of California’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (http://sarep.ucdavis.edu/concept.htm) shares the following regarding sustainable agriculture:

…sustainable agriculture addresses many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities…. Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The same website tells us there are specific areas relevant to sustainable livestock production. They include: management planning, animal selection, nutrition, reproduction, herd health and grazing management.

My article in last month’s issue addressed strategic planning regarding goat and sheep production; this article applies to the same. Sustainable production and strategic planning have similar concepts to securing long-term viability and success. Both require accepting relevant concepts; developing and implementing management, economic and marketing strategies; and securing plans for "passing the torch" onto future generations. For some, this may require developing goals and objectives, business and marketing plans, and even a mission statement. All this serves to develop a "game plan" on where to go, how to get there, what is expected along the way and what will be accomplished.

Farmers in the past did all this and much more. They were diversified and self-sufficient, utilized strategic planning with the ability to modify as necessary, and maintained the best intent to expand the farm and pass the farm on to future generations.

In recent years we seem to have lost some of that vision; big business has done the same thing. We have become too specialized with a narrow focus, reliant upon other resources for inputs and think short-term with immediate profitability rather than long-term with sustainable profitability. There are no easy, quick fixes to turning things around; it takes innovative thinking, planning, patience, evaluation, modification and the ability to envision long-term sustainability and success. Simply put strategic planning for sustainability for generations to come.

Making this transition is a process; it requires a series of small practical steps, innovative and reflective thinking, and considerations for economic practicability and viability. Family support, financial resources and personal goals figure into the transition. In the "big picture," each component and relevant decision makes a difference and contribution to the entire farm becoming sustainable. The key to all this is taking the time to evaluate each decision, taking the first step towards implementation, accepting the consequences and be willing to make changes as they are deemed necessary.

To learn more about these concepts relevant to small ruminant strategic planning and sustainable production, make plans to attend Extension’s 5th Annual Small Ruminant Spring Symposium to be held March 12th in Hazel Green.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.