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The Grazier's Gazette

Are you treating problems or symptoms?

Alan Newport Prickly pear cactus after spraying
Prickly pear cactus is one of those problems that mostly solves itself when really good grazing management is applied.
The solution is to change the management that causes the problem.

Ranchers and other people involved in agriculture spend a lot of time, effort, and money treating problems.

A closer examination might reveal that many of these "problems" are actually symptoms of deeper tribulations that our efforts do nothing to correct. And I am not selectively picking on my fellow members of the profession. The same thing can be said about physicians, politicians and other occupations that deal with complex situations.

It is very easy to fall into the approach of playing whack-a-mole with problems and spend all of our energy fighting what we don't want instead of seeking what we want.

All of us would like to find that silver bullet that would make those bad things go away – weeds, pathogens, predators, pain, etc. This is especially true in all areas where multiple factors have effects that must be considered.

Marketers of all sorts of products play on this desire to increase their business. I have no problem with this so long as their pitch does not stray too far from the truth. We are adults and have the rights and responsibilities for our actions. It is our responsibility to separate pie in the sky from reality. Being a cynic, I have come to believe that the more money they spend on an ad campaign, the less likely the claims are to be accurate, supporting the old saw, "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is." I have a real problem when people push harmful products in an intentionally deceitful manner. It is not necessary to lie to do this; it is easy to accomplish by simply not reporting all you know.

Here's an example: A news story I read recently reported that companies manufacturing and selling a particular kind of narcotic had bribed numerous physicians to prescribe their products and to assure their patients that these highly addictive products were not habit forming. I doubt that many people would condone the conduct of either the companies or the physicians. The rationale that "the product did what we said it would. It stopped the pain," is not apt to be of much comfort to people whose lives were ruined by addiction.

As farmers and ranchers, we are constantly bombarded with hype urging us to buy products guaranteed to solve all sorts of problems. A great many of these products appear at first glance to live up to their billing – the weeds died, the insects are gone, the cattle gained weight – but, as in the case of the narcotics, what were the total and long-term effects?

History is replete with "miracle" products whose long-term downside far outweighed any possible benefit. We have seen several instances lately where products, "Guaranteed safe for humans and the environment" have been proven anything but safe.

Society has long recognized the desire of people for simple solutions to complex problems and all cultures have coined proverbs dealing with this longing:

  • There is no free lunch.
  • Beware of the stranger bearing gifts.
  • Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

These and many more axioms caution against being taken in by seemingly simple solutions that solve nothing and are only crutches that allow us to limp around problems rather than truly addressing them.

Many, maybe most, problems that plague ranchers are best solved by changing our focus from the negative to the positive. Instead of concentrating on how to kill weeds, disease vectors, and insect pests, we would be better served to direct our attention toward creating the conditions that foster what we would like to encourage: Healthy soil supporting healthy plants nourishing healthy animals.

To be successful this process must start at the basic level, which is increasing the health of the ecological processes. When environmental conditions of an area are changed so that the water cycle functions well, mineral cycling is robust, and energy flow from solar energy through all phases of biological energy is strong, problems from poor production and profitability decrease dramatically.

Healthy soil to healthy plants to healthy animals to healthy people to healthy finances is a road map to success because it addresses all parts of the soil-plant-animal-wealth-human complex in positive manners.

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