By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
We have all heard the saying, and probably many have seen the drawing or picture of an old mule with a stick dangling a carrot out in front, getting the mule to move forward. The saying has become a simile for giving motivation, but it should make us think more of false promises than motivation. We live in the era of a carrot being dangled in front of us but just out of reach and constantly moving. The positive way to think of that old saying is to imagine the person operating the stick and the carrot finally giving that carrot to the old mule when they reach their desired destination, justifying the motivation. All of us in agriculture need to ensure we are not changing course based on the promises of groups that don’t keep promises.
The cattle industry has an outstanding sustainability story, and I don’t mean the ambiguous, feel-good, woke version of sustainability (which I have covered in another article). I mean the real meaning of sustainability. Good cattle operators have shown sustainability by doing the same thing on the same ground for centuries while at the same time paying bills because society is willing to pay for what we produce. Based on the fact that our industry has proven that we know how to keep doing what we are doing, we need to be cautious when advocacy groups try to encourage us to change course based on a promise of economic reward or a societal pat on the back.
The optimistic version is based on the idea that the carrot stick operator has a destination in mind, and the mule gets the carrot when the destination is reached. What if the carrot stick operator is never happy with a destination and never intends to give the old mule the carrot? The old mule burns endless calories based on a false promise. We, as ranchers, need to ensure we don’t change course to appease an unappeasable group. The environmental zealots have shown themselves to be unappeasable across many industries, but as mules, we keep jumping through hoops because of the carrot they dangle on the other side. With every hoop we jump through, we give up a little ground. Occasionally, a mule will get a piece of a carrot. But with every hoop we jump through, we notice there are less and less of our fellow mules.
We have no excuse for being naive because the model has been displayed repeatedly. Across all industries, the example has been shown, from mitigation ground for development to climate hurdles we use to regulate our vehicles. The list goes on and on with no sign of the ability to appease these folks. Many folks in our industry were silent on cap and trade because a bogus carrot was dangled that said cattle producers would get carbon credits for their rangeland. This regulatory burden was heaped on productive society, and many were silent based on a false promise from folks with dishonest intentions. Selling conservation easements has been a carrot to many that have unfortunately resulted in many hoops to jump through with often very little carrot.
The examples are numerous, and chances are many of you could think of several off the top of your head. The fact of the matter is, we jump through hoops and chase carrots not only for economic gain but primarily because we think we can make a group of zealots happy and therefore get them off our back, this is a false premise. We have a true story of sustainability in our industry; it needs to be told, and we should be proud to tell it. We need to make sure we are not giving up ground jumping through hoops chasing a carrot that no one intends to give us. We must tell our story of true sustainability and fight false narratives aimed at our industry because appeasement has not been shown to pull environmental activists away from their regulatory pulpit.