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Extension Agent: Improve efficiency, economic sustainability, sustain natural resources

Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:13 a.m.

Brian Yanta

By Brian Yanta

There is a heightened awareness by the general public of the need to improve the management of grazing lands to sustain humans and the environment. We rely on numerous specialists as sources of information to make management decisions to achieve specific goals. However, whoever carries out daily management on individual ranches or wildlife areas determines what actually happens and what objectives are achieved on the land. When addressing multiple goals, there are usually numerous and complex factors involved that can be antagonistic. In such circumstances a decision - aid framework is often indispensable to achieving the desired goal.

Grazing lands are a significant resource for the people of Texas. Seventy-one percent of Texas' 157 million acres of agricultural lands are in grazing land or permanent pasture. These lands support the largest cattle, sheep, goat, white-tailed deer and exotic wildlife herds and flocks in the nation. Grazing lands provide habitat for 48 animals and 22 plants currently classified as endangered species, serve as scenic recreational areas, produce the largest segment of Texas' agricultural income and provide the largest area of catchment for the water needs of people living in the state. To the general public, water is the most valuable product from grazing land. Specific management is required to ensure an adequate and safe water supply. Generally, good watershed management is consistent with sustainable use of grazing land, but some situation specific conflicts, such as cow feces in rivers, can be overcome with innovative management.

Ranchers must make a profit to remain on the land while society requires use of resources that provides greater protection and conservation of the environment. Changing agricultural and environmental policies and the economics of traditional ranching enterprises present new challenges to landowners and producers. At the same time, Texas' large and burgeoning population has begun to saturate the public park system. This has created an increasing demand for fee hunting and fishing, birding, hiking and other forms of non-consumptive use of the resource. Increasing numbers of landowners are managing their land for recreational purposes. Changing demographics alter demands and pressures on natural resources. Many landowners do not live on the land and many properties are too small to generate an adequate family living. Employment in agriculture continues to decline with a significant switch from full-time to part-time ranching and there is an increasing demand from city dwellers for small recreation or retirement properties.

Production agriculture must be concerned with improving efficiency and economic sustainability, plus sustaining the natural resources on which agriculture depends. This relies on soil and water conservation and maintenance of relatively few, productive plant species. Maintenance or improvement of these resources does not specifically deal with endangered species and the maintenance or improvement of either faunal or floral biodiversity. Yet the small areas of designated park reserves and pressure on them, means that many conservation objectives can be achieved only if other landowners manage to achieve these objectives, too. These critical conservation needs require specific management. Often, but not necessarily, this is in conflict with production and some consumptive and non-consumptive land use objectives. These are the challenges, and it doesn't appear to be getting any easier.

Brian Yanta is the Goliad County Extension agent.

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