While “sustainable agriculture” has become a catch phrase used at many agricultural functions, Colorado rancher Kit Pharo says agriculture can’t be sustainable if “it’s not profitable and enjoyable.” That message was at the heart of Pharo’s keynote address when he spoke to farmers attending the Alabama Forage and Grassland Conference Dec. 15 in Troy.At times, Pharo sounded more like a philosopher than a successful rancher and consultant when he spoke to nearly 250 farmers who attended the conference. “Average producers are breaking even,” Pharo said. “You’ve got to be better than average at increasing your production or reducing your expenses. You can’t stay in business by breaking even.”Most farmers try to increase profits by increasing production, but when that happens, they also increase their expenses. Production and profit are not the same thing.”Pharo encouraged producers to get out of the “commodity business” and learn to sell “a product,” adding that many producers suffer from what he calls “big calf syndrome.””Most ranchers believe that they must raise big calves to be profitable,” he said. “Big calves are not always profitable. Profit depends on your cost of production. I know several Western ranches that were put together and paid for with 350-pound calves and are now struggling and going broke raising 600-pound calves. You can only produce so many tons of beef from an acre of grass.”Profitable ranchers make the most efficient use of the available forage resources by matching cow size and type to the forage resources on their ranch, he said.Pharo said producers have been told by experts that they need to increase their production, and many did that by changing the size and type of brood cows they had. When they did that, they greatly increased their production and input costs, he added.”Bigger cows eat more than smaller cows,” Pharo said. “Heavy-milking cows require more feed for maintenance even when they’re not lactating. “We need to require cattle to live within their means, and they must be able to produce with minimum inputs. I want a cow that supports the ranch instead of a cow that is being supported by the ranch.”The conference was sponsored by the Alabama Forage and Grassland Coalition, an organization that includes the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the Alabama Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. For more information about the coalition, contact Federation Beef, Dairy and Hay and Forage Director Perry Mobley at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4221 or email at PMobley@AlfaFarmers.org.
Pharo Says Sustainable Agriculture Must Be Profitable