The real land use from growing meat comes from the land used to grow the corn that feeds the cows. In the article, that’s counted as agricultural land, not pasture.
And yet it is an incredibly destructive use of land for so few cows. BLM land is often shrubby desert and is not able to cope with the impacts of the cows and remain a healthy ecosystem.
In most cases it's not done well.
It's how most beef should be raised, though, IMO.
Unfortunately, if we were to take all the cows stuck in factory farms and turn them loose on BLM land, I somehow doubt there would be enough food out there for them.
From an ecosystem impact perspective, though, arid land that only occasionally hosts herds of cattle is still going to be significantly affected, compared to similar land that is protected from any commercial grazing.
See how much of that BLM managed property is semi-desert? And how much is actually Forest Service land? The first map also includes state lands, which is more apparent in the East, and Alaska. I for one am proud of our reserving of lands for the greater public. It's all of our lands, not just a few greedy landowners.
(above found here: https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/pad-us-land-management-map)
No one has yet transfered the property rights to the land to anyone else.
From an agricultural standpoint perhaps.
It doesn't support many cattle, but that's about all you can do with it, and there are better places for 'outdoor activities'. Cattle do need to be managed so as to allow the native species (sage grouse for instance) to thrive.
It doesn't mean it has no value as a wild, natural environment, just that from an economic development perspective there's not a lot going on there.
I don't think its necessarily a knock on OP, so much as it is just meant to be a reminder that we should really try not to just fall into that way of thinking.
I'm curious if some of this pasture land might be more heavily forested if it weren't being grazed. Out where my folks live in Colorado, for example, it's striking to see how anything that's anywhere close to flat enough for cattle to walk on is scrubland, but the sides of the mountains are well-forested. I'm no ecologist, but I doubt that's because trees just happen to only grow well on steep terrain.
I read in some book on pre-Columbian history or other that the prairie that existed in North America when Europeans first showed up was a product of human activity. It seems that folks living in the Great Plains started burning down forests to create more grazing land for bison, in order to have larger bison herds for hunting.
re: antelope, I thought they were browsers and not grazers.
And juniper trees aren't exactly a 'forest' like most people would think of one.
Yes, humans are the only creatures we know of with the concept of valuing land.
There are absolutely no animals in Africa that value any land in South America other than some humans.
does a creature need to have a concept of value in order to value things?
To first-order approximations, most living creatures seem to value their lives & habitat.
1. relative worth, merit, or importance:
the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.
2. monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade:
This piece of land has greatly increased in value.
3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.
The key words here are "relative", "trade", and "exchange". Just because something is mandatory for an organism's survival or well-being, it does not mean that the organism is able to attribute value to it. For example, an animal would be unable to say what they'd be willing to trade for the grass they eat for survival, nor how much grass they'd be willing to give up to make the trade, and vice versa.
EliRivers shows a few links that present examples where various animals demonstrate ability to attribute value. I'm not sure that it's "value" that they're contemplating when they make their decision though. In the first link, all the examples are 1-for-1 trades, albeit displaced by time. In the second link, the parrots may come close to doing what's described, though I wonder if it's simply a case of the parrot not preferring to eat pecans anymore after having tasted cashews.
I once adopted a street cat and the first thing I fed her was some sausage snack I bought from the convenience store right by where the cat was. She ate the sausage snack voraciously and happily. A few years later after feasting on various types of the best cat food, I went and bought that same sausage snack for nostalgia's sake. My cat would not even touch it. After having a long conversation with my cat about me thinking that she didn't appreciate the early days of our relationship and her thinking that I was being condescending and inappropriate, I threw the sausage snack out and gave her proper cat food, which she promptly ate. I am very sure that the one that was not in her mind was what value the sausage snack had to her. I venture that if I starved her, she'd eat the sausage snack out of desperation, but I don't think that has anything to do with how much she values the sausage snack.
Or maybe the parrot is able to attribute different amounts of value to different nuts, who knows?
edit: I suppose we could claim that the cat is making judgements on value, but is unable to actually measure the value they're thinking due to complete lack of mathematical prowess. I guess it's possible in that way for cats to understand value, but not actually use or express it in any way, except for choosing whether to eat what's in front of them, due to lack of cognitive capacity. Perhaps I was guilty of thinking value judgements require mathematical understanding.
there are better things to eat than shitty meat from cows grazing in a desert. i'll take the outdoor activities and the preservation of these ecosystems
Also, that Street View vehicle needs to readjust its camera mast to vertical.
If I managed a beef herd out there, I wouldn't expect it to gain much weight out there. I'd actually worry a bit about waking up one morning to find a bunch of cow mummies, still standing up, just about where I left the live cows.
Seems like a good place for solar power plants, though. Or anything that doesn't depend on water, unlike most of human civilization.
> shitty meat from cows
Ribeyes are delicious
I wonder how much about that could be changed with a large scale permaculture  approach?
There must be something useful able to grow there? From there you can maybe bootstrap a long-term ecological change of the region into something with lusher vegetation.
Not here. I live on cow range land, but the cattle are outnumbered by elk. The elk hunting industry here is larger than the cattle industry. Every third local seems to be a hunting guide, and many of those are cow growers too.
This seems to me to be a very positive thing that should be encouraged. Instead of buying all their meat at the local supermarket meat counter thousands of city dwellers dream of the hunt. They buy expensive equipment and tags then come out here and work their asses off for a chance.
Why would anyone spend that much and work that hard for an uncertain outcome unless it was fulfilling in some way? It sure doesn't save money on meat. Hunting forces you to commune with nature, dressing and hauling out your kill rubs your nose in it. It forces you to own responsibility for killing your dinner. Paying the blood price carries meaning that paying $/lb for a BOGO does not.
If we can arrange for more people to harvest their own meat rather than accepting an industrial commodity, more people would have a greater love and understanding of nature, more respect for themselves, and more meaning in their lives. In many places it's a superior use of the range.
That's fine as a hobby, but it would create poverty and rapid depletion of wildlife if the majority of people were forced to depend on hunting and game meat for daily meals.
> If we can arrange for more people to harvest their own meat rather than accepting an industrial commodity.
This is a false dilemma. If we want to return to a nation of small farmers rather than a handful of industrial farms, all we need to do is increase property taxes on land ownership, as declining property tax rates are associated with increased rural inequality and a worsening gini coefficient for land ownership, where a greater fraction of land is owned by fewer people. Development of large numbers of intensive and efficient small farms can also be aided by marginal cost public irrigation infrastructure funded out of land tax revenues, which is how California developed its agricultural sector in the early 1900s using its public irrigation districts. Requiring households to devote large fraction of their labor towards traveling to hunting areas is not a realistic alternative.
For example, I give you a few pieces of the 6d ranch, located on some of the most prime real-estate in Austin Tx.
(Lot 4, 260 acres, $307 in taxes)
(Lot 2, 155 acres, $278 in taxes)
(Lot 1, ~120 acres + ~7000 sqft cottage, boat dock larger than my house, and a bunch of other stuff, $69,556 in taxes)
The $70 thousand a year in taxes seems like a lot, unless you consider that I live a few miles away and pay ~15k a year for less than .1 acre and live in a house that isn't even as nice as the boat dock on that property.
(if you google it a bit you can probably figure out who owns it, but good luck untwisting the layers of shell corps listed on the tax appraisal)
Consider for grazing use 2-6 acres per cow is needed. 4 cows, isnt even a blip. Nor can you farm most crops meaningfully on 20 acre plots either.
On lot 1, most of the taxed value is derived from the improvements, not the land itself.
Currently reading The Market Gardener and it's surprisingly fascinating for a guide to intensively cultivating on about 1.5 acres - about 140k CAD gross, 60k revenue on 1.5 acres - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18406251-the-market-gard...
Perhaps your definition of crop is too narrow. Something like hops is well suited to "commercial" sizes starting at 20 acres.
Vineyards supplying a co-operative? 20 acres of fruit trees for boutique cider production?
I think there's probably quite a few examples of 20 acre crops which are sustainable commercially.
 "...EU competitive hop farms (more than 10 ha of hops) ..." https://www.dlib.si/stream/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-CWQINAJR/eaf94387-...
As for small scale farming:
edit: To be exact about $720k an acre, given this nearly adjacent:
(.3 acre 4391 sqft, $20k taxes)
again the improvements are worth more than the land, but if the guy had a full acre that wouldn't be true.
Texas is a low tax state if your a billionaire, or business, everyone else is fscked.
There is no "communing with nature". There is no "paying the blood price". There is certainly no "greater love and understanding of nature" or "meaning in their lives". It is just eating, living, surviving.
When your life is hand to mouth, there’s not a lot of room left for suicidal stuff. Too busy surviving. Especially if there’s people depending on you.
Even if you’re suicidal, you don’t have the luxury to go through with it. And even if you’re depressed, you don’t have the luxury to give into it. Because if you do, then you don’t eat and neither do yiur kids. No choice but to keep going.
Life’s fun like that.
Does Argentina have a much worse education system for women than Brazil?
The struggles of developing countries are just another form of the distractions that people need to keep themselves from nurturing suicidal thoughts.
Or lifespan. Cancer rates are also really low in many super-impoverished countries. Few survive long enough to get it.
Even given that hunting provides some kind of spiritual value (which I must admit I'm very skeptical of), it's a value only available to those who are by any reasonable standard quite wealthy (excepting rural people). It takes a lot of time, costs more, and is hard work that a lot of people aren't capable of. A marked increase in demand would make this even more of a problem.
>It forces you to own responsibility for killing your dinner.
I wonder if, faced with this choice, most people would not simply become vegetarians.
I expect that most people would quickly find that killing animals isn't that hard, that billions of people still do it today, and that natural disasters & wars have clearly shown that people can and do adapt quickly, doing things they never thought possible.
Probably not if they had to forage all their foods at current densities.
edit: one issue to be careful of is the plants collecting "pollution"
What reasonable standard? A shotgun or small game rifle is < $300 at Walmart and a license is about $20. I have a really hard time seeing that as needing to be "quite wealthy."
I agree with your other points, but I have to take issue with this one. I've let people we know, who live in the suburbs, hunt on our land and while I'm not a hunter, they certainly derive a great deal of pleasure from it.
I'm not sure that anybody here is recommending that literally every person hunts their meat though, or that it should be the only way to get meat, so what's the point of talking about scale?
I think you meant __less__, not more, yeah?
One thing that surprised me moving up here, and this is something I didn't realize re: laws around food, availabiliyt of game meat (dear/elk/etc) really is something you have to hunt on your own.
Another interesting tidbit about cattle grazing and national parks - If you ever do the Mohave Road, there used to be a number of ranches that grazed in/along parts of that route. Old water troughs visible, etc. Most of them shut down, one of the few that was allowed to continue had connections to Diane Feinstein and her husband. Water, grazing rights, and land use politics can get pretty damn ugly out west.
I grew up on a dirt road in the middle of no where and loved every minute of it. I've been in Chicago for the last four years and love every minute of it. Eventually I'll probably move somewhere like Denver that allows access to both within an hours drive or so.
Those forest reserves are enviable, the UK is lucky if it has a couple of squares left.
Wow, it's almost 50% increase in just 10 years.
Im not sure what's going on, I'd like a more nuanced analysis.
Isn’t this a huge waste of resources, and completely unsustainable?
If we ate the produce directly instead of feeding it to cows and eating them, how many people could we feed?
What about the gigantic consumption of water this implies?
The link between this to global warming and climate change is undeniable.
The recent book Clean Meat covers the field in detail. Steaks will be a while, but for ground meat we're a lot closer than I'd expected. Dairy is even easier: no cells, just fats, sugars, and proteins that can be produced by engineered yeast.
(The book also has a chapter on just going vegan, but points out that despite decades of advocacy, people's behavior has barely changed. When people can afford meat, they eat it, and it's been that way for pretty much all of human history.)
-the government should decree beef and pork illegal
-or implement some sort of high tax or cap and trade measure for livestock and meat
-and perform a massive propoganda campaign to teach people that they should raise their own chickens, eat more beans, and eat less meat/protein overall.
The problem of people not starving to death around the world is not an issue of food supply, it is an issue of food distribution.
The water isn't destroyed. It goes right back into the ecosystem. The planet surface is 70% water. We aren't running out of water.
> how many people could we feed?
The US could probably feed the entire world with meat, with unlimited energy / $$. People going hungry is not a food production problem, it's an economic and logistic problem.
If we use plant based food, we could probably feed 3X the world problem (or use 1/3rd the land). World hunger isn't caused by lack of productive land.
Your other point on meat requires more land use and energy than plant food is correct.
also, all water requires money / energy to process before we drink it or use it on crops. It's just a matter of much money / energy you use depending on the source.
You're also making the assumption that agricultural land is a resource that needs conservation, when there is a massive surplus of it. We've allowed huge tracts to revert to forest on the east coast.
Start feeding that directly to people instead and you can use the rest of that land a lot more efficiently. And that's not even addressing all the other nasty externalities of breeding that many animals.
The one that we use is already causing massive environmental problems.
Grasing is not an inocous activity, there are the methane emissions that are very impactful.
I mean, isn't not being good stewards of the land what gave us the dust bowl?
The very last line is what bothers me the most:
"since 2008 the amount of land owned by the 100 largest private landowners has grown from 28 million acres to 40 million, an area larger than the state of Florida."
That much land-wealth locked up by a handful of individuals seems like yet another knock against economic mobility. At one time people feared that sort of wealth concentration could mean a return of the aristocracy and was slowed somewhat through estate taxes.
Also, here's an article with an interesting map of their holdings: https://www.opb.org/news/article/weyerhaeuser-plum-creek-tim...
I always find facts like this misleading, not purposefully so but misleading all the same. Take a semi-random example, PepsiCO. HQ in NY, Incorporated in NC, 250k + employees, 60B+ revenue. This is a huge company with many brands and global sales. They are stocked and sold all over the world with factories, distribution centers, sales centers, etc all over the place.
Does the NY metropolitan area claim all 60B in productivity?
Weyerhauser is another interesting company. For 100 years they were based on of Federal Way and only recently moved to Seattle (probably same metro area anyway). Obviously their bread and butter, timber, is not grown, harvested or converted into product in the metro area. The CEO lives in Seattle but the thousands of lumberjacks and mill workers are not in urban areas. The employees that "do the work" are not in urban areas. That last sentence isn't meant to be inflamatory but it was the best wording I could think of.
Some companies, maybe Facebook, do generate the vast majority from the HQ in an urban area.
It is beyond my skills to figure it out but I think an equally cool map/graph/infographic (I do think this is cool, just a small nitpick here) would be to break down how and where companies actually generate their revenue.
Another possibility- I don't know what I am talking about and these stats already take this into account.
I can’t imagine bloomberg.com would be creating this sort of web experience without whatever Topolsky did while he was there.
Plus, a good portion of the country’s good farmland is diverted to growing feed for those animals.
Think of it like: how many acres have been changed from a natural ecosystem to an artificial one for meat eating.
It's not like we invented grazing animals in a lab. The Great Plains were teeming with millions of buffalo before, and we have cattle on them now.
Sure that's different but it's reasonable to note that a lot of this land looks and basically is pretty much the same as it was before modern ranching.
But mostly we kill off the predators. The livestock spreads all over and grazes continuously. The result is topsoil destruction and erosion. There are large areas where overgrazing is a serious problem.
Allan Savory has been the leading advocate for "holistic grazing" that keeps the herds packed. It's been controversial, because he advocates doing more grazing. The evidence of that helping is mixed at best. However, just leaving overgrazed land alone is another matter, and experiments have been very successful.
Leaving the land untouched is even more 'ecologically privileged' than using it to make expensive food.
>Plus, a good portion of the country’s good farmland is diverted to growing feed for those animals.
Growing feed (hay/grass) is much easier than growing things like almonds. If a farmer could grow something humans would pay for directly rather than hay, they would.
By contrast, EU farm subsidies in a smaller economy are three times that size. If the US farm subsidies are colossal, I'm not sure what you'd call 3x colossal.
Plus, all the grain storage facilities are still mostly full from last year and we're looking towards another bumper crop from all the rainfall this year.
I wonder what the economics would be of doing without the feed and feedlots? There would be somewhat less cattle I presume.
There are a lot of things to factor into this, crop yields aren't static and there are a lot of other things that can change the yields. Cows have legs, so you don't have to 'irrigate' them, they just have to be pastured within a couple thousand feet of water, and you can set up temporary solar pump + water trough if you have water within a couple miles.
Beef Cattle will give you 5-600 lbs of meat at about 1200 Calories per pound, with an average grazing time of 12 months. works out to 150cal/gallon.
Avocado has about 700+ cal per pound so about 8cal/gallon. (I'm not as sure on this, it could be lower as a 'medium' avocado is about 1/3 of a pound, but I've never grown avocados so I don't know the exact here.)
Calories in a whole grain wheat is about 1500/lb, so 1500/150 is about 10cal/gallon.
So it's kinda relative, but the only way you're going to harvest edible nutrients from scrub land is buy herding or hunting grazing animals that process the stuff with 4 stomachs.
There's a larger question of the value that grazing provides and if we need that as a food source. Before modern farming and shipping, if you lived in a semi-arid scrubland style climate, you were very much dependent on some type of animal to turn that stuff into a digestible food source for you.
Here’s a look at carbon sequestration in ecosystems in the Western US:
You can see that sagebrush and other hardy species, while not trees fit for lumber, can do the job better than cows belching away.
This paper focuses on the UK, but is still full of relevant info.
The bison that lived there before had identical gut bacteria, and it doesn't seem to have caused an "environmental disaster". Why not?
Modern cattle spend some time grazing in the Great Plains, but start their lives on farms, and finish their lives on feed lots. Then they’re slaughtered, and more CO2 is emitted transporting them all around the country and indeed, world. Then of course, the bison existed in a world before heavy industry, a world of millions rather than billions of people, a world before automobiles, airplanes, coal fired plants, oil exploration, strip mining, rainforest clearing, ocean acidification and overfishing, etc... etc...
No, they weren't. You need to count only the cattle that are on the land under discussion.
> lived far longer lives than the average 2.5 years to slaughter of a cow
Irrelevant. One bovine is the same as another as far as the impact on the prairie is concerned. That's sort of how an ecosystem works, dude.
I'm skeptical that they lived "far longer lives", by the way. If they were anything like the wild grazing/browsing animals with which I am familiar (moose, caribou, musk ox) a WHOLE LOT of them died in their first year, either through being taken by predators or simply not surviving a harsh winter.
I strongly suspect you're using a lifespan figure for modern bison herds that are protected by human beings.
Now, there are a lot of other cattle that aren't being grazed on the historical prairie. You might have a point with those, but it's not relevant to the point under discussion.
If you’re also of an ethical mindset similar to someone like Peter Singer, the “cultivation” of animals for slaughter is not something one should favor.
do cows produce significantly more methane than non-domesticated grazing animals, or are there simply many more cows than there were buffalo?
The same is true of similar grasslands elsewhere in the world. Lots of grazing animals, which support a smaller population of predators (including humans).
What are you talking about? Places in the midwest and eastern part of the west that get plenty of rainfall every year?
Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. The aquifer is at risk for over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.
"Irrigated land" is not the same as "farmed land".
The vast majority of farming is done in places where irrigation is rare.
About 53 million acres of farm land in the United States is irrigated, but there are about 257 million acres under cultivation.
Bonus points if (as with pine and bamboo) it can be used for construction, which'll potentially lock it up even longer.
Besides, we need the open space. Can't have houses everywhere, this isn't LA.
I'll also add to that, look how much of the rocky mountains was listed as 'pasture / range'
Most of it was buffalo country two hundred years ago, so it's not like it's really changed.
The modern cow is not, especially when time on feed lots and eventual transportation pre-post slaughter are factored in. Modern cattle are after all, part of an industry which pollutes in addition to the cows themselves, while bison just lived and died on the plains.
Out of curiosity, why do you think it's tragic? Aren't these fuels used for experimentation with sustainable energy?