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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Heitschmidt, Rodney
item Vermeire, Lance
item Grings, Elaine

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/27/2003
Publication Date: 4/1/2004
Citation: Heitschmidt, R.K., Vermeire, L.T., Grings, E.E. 2004. Is rangeland agriculture sustainable?. Journal of Animal Science 82(E. Suppl.):E138-E146.

Interpretive Summary: Properly managed grazing is ecologically sustainable. But because long-term sustainability is linked closely to social values, the greatest challenges to the development and implementation of fully sustainable rangeland agriculture systems are social rather than ecological. As such, rangeland agriculture in the United States and other economically developed countries will continue to be threatened if rangeland agriculturalists do not respond to changing social values in a positive, proactive, and understanding manner. This is in contrast to those regions of the world where economic development is severely limited and current human population is at or in excess of ecological carrying capacity. In those situations, we suggest it is a folly to attempt to develop sustainable agriculture systems, including rangeland agriculture systems, before addressing and rectifying the ecological and social challenges arising from unsustainable human populations.

Technical Abstract: The objective of this paper is to examine the sustainability of rangeland agriculture (i.e., managed grazing) on a world-wide basis with focus on North America. Sustainability is addressed on three fronts: 1) ecological; 2) economic; and 3) social acceptance. Based on previous and on-going research, we believe that employment of science-based rangeland grazing management strategies and tactics can insure ecological sustainability. The formidable challenge in employing said technology centers around the need to balance efficiency of solar energy capture and subsequent harvest efficiencies across an array of highly spatially and temporally variable vegetation growing conditions using animals that graze selectively. Failure to meet this fundamental challenge often accelerates rangeland desertification processes, and in some instances, enhances rate and extent of invasion of noxious weeds. We also believe that the fundamental reason ecologically sound grazing management technologies are often not employed in the management of grazed ecological systems is because social values/issues drive management decisions more so than ecological science issues. This is true in both well developed societies with substantial economic resources and less developed societies with few economic resources. However, the social issues driving said management are often entirely different ranging from multiple use issues in developed countries to human day-to-day survival issues in poorly developed countries. We conclude that the long-term sustainability of rangeland agriculture in: 1) developed societies is dependent upon the ability of rangeland agriculturalists to continually respond in a dynamic, positive, proactive manner to ever-changing social values; and 2) less developed societies on their ability to address the ecological and social consequences arising from unsustainable human populations before the adoption of science-based sustainable rangeland management technologies.

Last Modified: 05/27/2017
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