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  5. April 2018

Farming and Ranching Beyond the Fence Line

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The father of land stewardship Aldo Leopold noted in his 1939 "The Farmer as a Conservationist," address, "Conservation means harmony between men and land. When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation. When one or the other grows poorer, we do not."

As Leopold described, it is in the best interest of owners of working lands to care for the land because they rely upon it for their livelihoods. Landowners' bottom lines are tied to stewardship principles and practices that balance land sustainability and economic viability. Therefore, their conservation efforts benefit both the environment and their operations.

Private working lands are the cornerstones on which our nation was built. These lands not only produce and provide food and fiber to a growing population while sustaining rural economies, they provide many conservation benefits such as clean water, wildlife habitat and ecological diversity.

Conservation needs to make economic sense to landowners. Property rights, along with functioning markets, are essential tools for getting conservation on the ground.

With more than 70 percent of land in the United States being privately owned, it's imperative that property owners have incentives to invest in land stewardship and their own ethic. Conservation needs to make economic sense to landowners. Property rights, along with functioning markets, are essential tools for getting conservation on the ground. These benefits often extend beyond the producers' fence lines, serving the interests of both the landowner and the public. Working lands are able to provide these benefits because land stewardship often goes hand-in-hand with production agriculture.

Landowners have the power to conserve endangered species, improve water quality and quantity, and stop the spread of invasive species. As we continue to pursue solutions to environmental problems, it is essential to involve working lands and reward landowners for their vital role in privately supplying environmental benefits to the public.

Unfortunately, these lands and their valuable role in environmental conservation are under threat. More than 1 acre of working land is lost per minute to fragmentation and conversion. This loss has negative implications for natural resource conservation and the ecosystem services provided to the public from working lands. Often, government policies aimed at preserving the environment are filled with complex regulations, unnecessary red tape and burdensome taxes that undermine property rights and increase the cost of environmentally conscious business decisions on working lands.

Keeping working lands productive and intact should be a national priority and is a focus within the Noble Research Institute industry relations and land stewardship efforts. However, we cannot solve agriculture's grand challenges on our own. Our success hinges on forming and growing collaborative relationships with other like-minded organizations throughout the industry to further address regional and national agricultural and private land stewardship issues.

The agriculture industry is more than any one segment within the supply chain. It is the entire chain from the producers to the consumers. In order to fully understand and impact an industry, each sector within a supply chain must focus on optimizing their role. Demand for agricultural commodities is rising rapidly with growing populations. Agriculture's deep connections to the economy, society and the land make it one of the most important frontiers for stewardship.

Noble's industry relations and stewardship efforts will advocate and promote the benefits of agricultural production with a focus on stewardship. We will accomplish this by highlighting the important role stewardship plays in the long-term sustainability of the nation, informing the industry on the "state" of agriculture and creating opportunities for the advancement of stewardship principles.

As the divide between urban and rural continues to widen, it is increasingly critical for us in agriculture to be more vocal about the importance of agriculture so we can see more favorable policy and positive stories within the media.

Furthermore, we will develop tools and technologies that enhance working land stewardship as well as integrate and aggregate ideas and processes currently being explored across the nation. By doing this, we will find ways to better test, validate and track your ranch information so you can make better and timely management decisions. Today, we continue to research ways that land stewardship and markets promote creative conservation and reward private landowners who conserve the public interest.

Chad Ellis
Former Industry Relations and Stewardship Manager