Updated: Apr 12
The recent April edition of the Upper Loup Scoop newsletter mailed by the Upper Loup Natural Resources District (NRD) has me hoping they published it as an April Fool’s joke.
A little back story on me, so you can get the whole context of what I am about to say. I was previously employed for a Natural Resources District in southcentral Nebraska. I used to compose the NRD newsletter for my district and currently publish my Association’s newsletter; I know how hard it is to keep everyone happy all the time! I have personally worked with staff at the Upper Loup NRD and genuinely appreciate their passion to better the environment. They are good people, and we ALL make mistakes. Show me the man who does not make mistakes, and I will show you a liar.
I genuinely love and appreciate that Nebraska has a system of Natural Resources Districts. We know that water is a precious resource, and we are so lucky to sit atop one of the world’s largest aquifers! Nebraska’s water conservation efforts are world-renowned, and several different states are working on modeling their water conservation programs after ours. Our waters’ availability and quality is something many states envy, and it should never be taken for granted.
My personal objective is to never throw another sector in the ag industry under the bus to promote my position. I am a firm believer in promoting agriculture as a whole instead of placing my side of the industry on a taller pedestal by cutting others down. Tearing each other apart makes it easier for our enemies to attack.
That being said, the Upper Loup Scoop’s front page’s premise is to celebrate Earth Day and reduce our water reliance. We all should be looking for ways to minimize our water consumption as a whole. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we should be able to target certain aspects of our lives that we could make simple changes for the better of the environment. Whether it is turning off the water when brushing our teeth, using less water to wash our dishes, or installing an eco-friendly toilet. Minor changes truly can make a difference in our water consumption.
However, it does not take you long to dive a little deeper into the bullet points of their ‘Celebrate Earth Day’ article to find a “call out” to the animal ag industry, namely the beef industry. The last bullet point reads, “Have meatless meals a few times a week. It takes about 1,800 pounds of water to produce one pound of beef.”
So, when I read such a suggestion from a tax revenue-supported, local government entity in the heart of “Cow Country,” I am pretty taken back. Pointing the finger at a singular sector of the ag industry is not the way to resolve any sort of environmental impact. Especially when the water usage noted is a highly refuted estimate, and there are more reliable estimates that factor in winter grazing and rain values. The more significant consumption amounts attributed to cattle production often use outdated data sets from 30 to 40 years ago or worldwide data instead of factoring data drawn from the United States producers only.
Let us stop to consider that New York City allows 36 million gallons of water to leak from its water supply a day. Or that one drip per second out of a leaky faucet can use 3,000 gallons of water a year. Wasting water is a far cry from utilizing water to grow animals that feed people. Blaming the beef producers for excessive water consumption seems like the wrong tree to be barking up.
The Upper Loup NRD covers a large portion of the Sandhills, which boasts 19,300 square miles of rolling, grass-covered sand hills. This area is often called “God’s Own Cow Country,” proven by the large billboards as you roll into the region.” The area’s economy depends largely on ranching, very little farming and industry uses do not current exists 91% of that land being grassland,” according to their own fact sheet. Their Master Plan, however, lists 4,044,329 acres of pasture/grassland, which puts the percentage of actual pasture/grassland at 94% of the total landmass they encompass.
Nebraskans, as a whole, pay increasing land taxes every year, which local government entities such as the NRDs largely depend on funding their efforts. According to the Upper Loup NRD’s Long Range Plan, “The population of the entire Upper Loup is approximately 4,301, of which 66% is rural and 34% is urban.” The FY 2020-2021 property tax request for the Upper Loup NRD is $439,350, and the tax levy is .016835 per $ 100 valuation. When you consider that 94% of the land in their district is pasture/grassland (one could assume that land is largely privately owned by ranchers - 66% of the Upper Loup NRD population), the tax burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the very people they are now throwing under the bus by promoting a meatless diet. It seems they want to knock the legs out from under the same people who support their conservation efforts.
Cattle ranching is the lifeblood of this region, and the Sandhills ranchers take their jobs very seriously. They strive to produce better cattle that will be profitable for both the producer and feeder, yet cost justifiable to the packer and provide safe, nutritious, and great tasting beef for the consumer. Without ranchers, the NRD simply would not exist.
I think I speak for the entire beef industry when I ask that “meatless” anything is removed from our government’s vocabulary, as it is only detrimental to the very people who keep the doors open. Oh, and “EAT BEEF!”
Elysabeth Kierl, Manager
Sandhills Cattle Association
For more information on the Water Consumption & Beef Production: Evaluation of the Water Footprint of Beef Cattle Production in Nebraska
Upper Loup NRD Reply:
Thank you for reading the newsletter first off and thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are a hundred percent correct in all that you have said.
The article had been one that was reprinted as part of earth day – I take full responsibility and not reviewing the content prior to it being sent out for print. It was an oversight and I can assure you we want to maintain a good partnership with all our constituents and ag groups. We are taking very specific steps to make sure that this does not happen again in the future.
Upper Loup NRD, General Manager
39252 Highway 2
Thedford, NE 69166
Protecting Lives, Protecting Property, Protecting the Future