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The habitable zone

Jim Walker for Progressive Cattle Published on 29 October 2020

Alarming news articles recently divided the country into “habitable” and “unlivable” zones, based on scientists’ climate change weather predictions. In essence, as the planet and country warm, the prime habitable zone in the U.S. moves north toward the Great Lakes region and the Canadian border. What used to be colder Northern regions (too cold for a long growing season) will now be prime production areas; and the present prime Southern and Midwest farm and ranch lands will become too hot and dry for sustained production or human habitation.

Find the doomsday maps here.

Saying that this prognostication does not bode well for us here in the South may be an understatement. However, since this change is expected to happen gradually over the next 50 years, I reckon I won’t be pulling up stakes and moving north any time too soon. These ominous warnings do get me thinking, however, about what we can all be doing on our own little (or large) patches of ground to make them more habitable for people and livestock alike. We all know that water is going to be the next high-value scarce commodity, so we should be doing everything we can to keep as much of it on our property as possible, including enlarging or building more tanks and reservoirs, adding shade elements and looking into forage that requires less moisture. With a little assistance, plants and animals (including people) have a way of adapting to their changing environments. The pandemic has upended everything, but if we stick together, we can not only endure but maybe even thrive in our changed circumstances.

And, speaking of changed circumstances, just how far should we go to continue to support groups that no longer fully support us and our industry? With all the threats livestock producers are facing at the moment, should we be helping businesses that are abandoning us?

Cargill, Tyson and other companies have made a nice living supporting the beef industry for many decades, but they have recently made a calculated business decision to “hedge their bets” and have begun competing directly with our industry by investing in and pursuing the “fake meat” market with products like Cargill’s PlantEver as an alternative to meat.

Cargill is also selling off many of their cattle operations, making a clear choice of the direction they plan to go into the future – and it isn’t solely with the beef industry. Yet, we continue supporting Cargill by purchasing their products when there are numerous alternatives, simply because we always have (and let’s face it, because they are still an industry giant), as they maneuver to become a direct competitor with us and our livelihoods. Bottom line, by continuing to buy their products, we are paying Cargill to harm us. Does that make good business sense to anyone?

Now, don’t get me wrong, these companies have every right to go in that direction and, as a businessman, I can respect that. But, we also have a right, hell, maybe even a duty, to our children and grandchildren to not help them destroy what we have worked lifetimes to build. I’m not trying to pick a fight with these companies; they do make good products and for years have been friends to producers and the beef industry. I am just questioning whether they are now behaving how you would want a “partner” (as they refer to themselves) to behave. If not, then it is in your best interests to stop rewarding them, and that is your right. My father always said about friends and business associates, “You’re either with me, or you’re against me.” Well folks, which is it?

Our society is changing rapidly, even faster than the climate, but in my world, loyalty still counts. I personally don’t need people I thought were supporting me, now switching sides while I work to keep my little habitable zone bearing fruit. We producers are nice people, but it may be time to start pushing back a little, while we still have some leverage to push back with. And, the best leverage we have is with our checkbooks. Just something to think about.

As always, my advice is to grow your herd and keep them healthy for land’s sake.  end mark

The opinions expressed are those of the author and not of Progressive Cattle.

Jim Walker is a farmer, rancher and all-around thorn-in-the-side with Land's Feed Warehouse in Grand Saline, Texas, who opines on current events affecting the cattle industry. Email Jim Walker.