Illinois beef farmers are true environmentalists
It is often an untold story, but farm families have led conservation efforts across the U.S. for generations. Conservation principles are used at every point in the beef lifecycle. The practices look different based on geography, but collectively, these efforts help maintain and improve the environment.
Let’s explore the ways that Illinois beef farmers care for the environment:
CATTLE ARE “UPCYCLERS”
Cattle have a unique, four-chambered stomach, the largest chamber being the rumen, which helps them get the nutrients they need from parts of fruit and vegetable plants that humans don’t consume or can’t digest—like carrot tops, almond hulls or grasses. These leftovers are often mixed into their feed, along with other grasses or hay like alfalfa and grains like corn. Cattle are acting as “upcyclers” in our food system by upgrading inedible food waste into high-quality protein and essential micronutrients that humans need.
Taking into account all water from farm to fork, it takes 614 gallons of water for every pound of edible, consumed beef produced in the U.S. Approximately 95 percent of this water is for irrigation of crops used for feeding cattle. The water cattle use for drinking represents around 1 percent of the total water used in beef production. Irrigation practices used by farmers continues to improve, which means each drop of water is used more efficiently to sustain plants, and less is lost to evaporation or to run off.
Keep in mind that water used for raising beef is not “used up.” The water cycle we all studied in elementary school still works. Water percolates into aquifers, it runs down streams into lakes and oceans, it evaporates and returns as precipitation, and cattle pastures provide land to filter this water and return it to the ecosystem.
RESPECTING THE LAND
Farmers and ranchers are dependent on the land and fully appreciate the importance of conserving the resources and benefits these areas offer all of us! Pasture lands are located in all 50 states. Livestock grazing is the primary use of 27 percent of all U.S. land. Grazing is not only beneficial for livestock, it’s essential for biodiversity. Farmers alternate grazing pastures to ensure aggressive species are controlled, while other plant species are able to flourish. Often, the land cattle graze on is not suitable for growing crops like corn or soybeans.
CONSERVATION IS NEVER COMPLETE
Everything on Earth requires the use of natural resources like land, energy and water—it’s what we do with those resources that is most important. Today, beef is produced using fewer resources than ever before.
But conservation is never complete. Farmers continue to work hard to feed a growing population, while, at the same time, working to reduce water use, care for the land, and protect the environment.
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