Being in agriculture, it sometimes is hard to keep up with what policy makers come up with for the latest “flavor of the month” or “flavor of the year.”

Several years ago, the Low Input, Sustainable Agriculture idea was floating around where someone decided that was going to be the best way to save agriculture and the earth.  Then we ran into the idea that we need to save biodiversity.  This concept was so broad that “riding to the horizon” would have been easier than knowing when we accomplished the biodiversity goal.  Like everything in the natural world, the complexities of understanding how one thing affects all others is difficult, if not impossible.  We’ve seen that listing several species as endangered or threatened can put Fish & Wildlife in a difficult situation where protecting habitat for one species can be detrimental to another.  I remember the discussions regarding the Mountain Plover which thrived in rangelands many range professionals would consider to be degraded.  Then along came the Sage Grouse which need rangeland in a much different state than that of the Plover.

The next flavor to come down the pike has been the word “sustainable.”  We now have sustainable being bandied about for a number of things.  Companies, once they decided that goods could be marketed better, soon began to add “sustainable” to their marketing program.  Like the word “natural,” that has been bandied about almost with abandon, the term sustainable could be measured by any number of yard sticks.  The green groups loved this term because everyone wants to be sustainable right?  If you weren’t sustainable, then you were a greedy capitalist.  Something a number of the green groups hate with the same intensity as a toxic waste dump, if not more.  While many of us watched to see if this term would be around in a year, we soon discovered those who liked this term were busy convincing regulators they should carry out their mandates based on how these groups defined sustainable.

We in the agricultural community began to ask the question that should have been part of the discussion all along.  What happens when the person goes out of business?  That certainly doesn’t sound very sustainable.  Many people recognized that without a sustainable economic system, sustainability was not practical.  Now that those economic capitalist ideas are part of the picture, some decided that we need another term.

Recently we’ve heard regenerative agriculture being talked about.  Some in agriculture have been using these techniques to enhance their farms or ranches.  While this has been going on, there are a number of individuals out there who want to use it for more regulations.  The idea being that if someone is not doing what they think should be done then they are not using regenerative techniques.

One phone call I fielded was from a person traveling to Wyoming to meet up with an individual around Cody that was all about biochar.  The person, while traveling from someplace on the east coast, was sure biochar could save us, but apparently had forgotten to find out where this person lived.  Perhaps finding out that here in the West it was several miles between gas stations the individual felt perhaps a better address than Cody, Wyoming would be helpful.  Somehow or another my phone number came up on the internet search. This person decided to call me, because after all with the word “farm” in the name, I should surely be familiar with this biochar expert. I did look the name up to see if they were a Farm Bureau member (they were not) and then politely told the lady I didn’t know the individual.  At this point my “crack pot” antenna went up and even though the person was sure I now needed to be educated about the benefits of biochar, I excused myself from the conversation because of another commitment.

Having now had my curiosity peaked by the question, I did look into it and discovered, yes there are some benefits possible.  This individual’s inspiration was based on a film “The Need To Grow” narrated by actress Rosario Dawson.  For those of you who are not familiar with Ms. Dawson, she was (and maybe still is) the girlfriend of Senator Cory Booker, who currently sits on the Senate Ag Committee. You’ll be pleased to know the film, narrated by Ms. Dawson describes agriculture as the most destructive activity on earth.

The interesting thing about  the many “new techniques” that someone outside of agriculture suddenly discovers is farmers and ranchers have been implementing new techniques for generations. Those in agriculture keep plugging along using what works, adapting techniques that will increase the bottom line or benefit the land. They do all of this while forgoing the concept of trying to convince a politician or regulator that they need to force that technique on everyone else.  Through all the efforts by people outside of agriculture to tell them what to do, they have increased the number of non-ag folks they feed on the same amount of, or less, land than 30 years ago.  Farmers and ranchers also recognize that in order to feed a population in a sustainable manner they still need to be around tomorrow.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President