There’s a reason recent blog posts have been mostly of sheep. In the winter, the sheep stay relatively near (100 miles) to the Home Ranch. Most of the cows go to spend the winter eating hay at the Spiegelberg Ranch near Laramie. A couple of days ago, granddaughter Siobhan, a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, went to visit the cows, including our summer nurse cow, Loralie. Here’s Siobhan’s photos of the winter cows.
Today was a Goldilocks Day–not too hot, not too cold, and not windy at all. I took our banker, Kim Brown, from the Yampa Valley Bank in Craig, Colorado out to the Red Desert to take a look a the sheep. Conditions were perfect, with enough snow for the ewes to water on, but not so deep that they couldn’t access the dried grasses which we count on for winter feed. Everyone looked happy–the ewes, the bucks, the dogs, and Pepe, Leo and Guillermo.
Pepe unloading dog food–we buy a pallet a week
guard dog checking us out
a curious Hampshire ram lamb, also checking us out
It’s that time of year again. December rams mean May lambs. A sheep’s gestation is five months less five days, and usually we put rams into the ewe flocks on December 15th. A big snow storm was predicted for the 15th. Since some of the roads are scary, especially I80, we decided to haul bucks on the 14th.
The rams wait all year for these winter weeks. A ewe’s heat cycle occurs every three weeks, so we leave the bucks in for six weeks or so. The rest of the year, they are bachelors (except for the lucky few who get to hang out with the early lambers in October). For a few weeks, it’s all romance, all the time!
sheep grazing on the Routt National Forest–reducing wildfire, building soil
As international negotiators huddled in the last hours to hammer out an acceptable agreement, agriculture garnered little attention, except as a source of methane emissions. The need to produce 50 percent more food worldwide in the coming decades was hardly mentioned at all. Virtually no notice was given to wildlife and wildlife habitat enhanced by agricultural production. These are glaring omissions.
Fossil fuels, especially coal, were the crux of the negotiations.
Oil, gas and coal provides about 80 percent of all the energy used by human civilization. In China, it’s 88 percent (US Energy Information Administration). In the U.S., about 80 percent. The other big influencer is India, third in emissions and receiving 70 percent of its energy from coal alone.
India and China’s negotiators intervened in the last hours to water down language about reduction of fossil fuel use and subsidies to “phase down” from “phase out.”
Here’s a link to see the makeup of the delegations.
An emphasis was placed on deforestation, but other than an exhortation to plant trees, attention was not given to the role sound forest management has in sequestering carbon and managing water.
To the credit of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) they stated, “At COP26, governments recognized that soil and nutrient management practices and the optimal use of nutrients lie at the core of climate-resilient, sustainable food production systems and can contribute to global food security. It was also recognized that while livestock management systems are vulnerable to climate change, improving sustainable production and animal health can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands. improving sustainable production and animal health can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands.”
In the end, we believe our Solutions from the Land team of seven was highly effective. We communicated with folks high (John Kerry) and low (the lone delegate from Tajikistan) about the importance of agriculture and forestry, and its role as a solution to climate change.
If the goal of no more warming than 1.5 degrees centigrade has a hope of being met (we’re currently at 1.1), it will take all sectors. The solutions are not simplistic,
Cattle trailing off the Forest, after a summer of grazing management
Sunset from the International Space Station (NASA)
It is challenging to summarize the experience and outcomes of attending COP26 as delegates representing Solutions from the Land (SfL). SfL focuses on land-based solutions to global challenges.
Our team carried the message that agriculture, livestock production, and forest health offer solutions to mitigate methane emissions. Farmers Ray Gaesser, Lois Wright Morton, Fred Yoder and AG Kawamura, ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole, and SfL President Ernie Shea attended the COP26 over two weeks’ time.
We were told that past COPs agendas had hardly let agriculture, let alone animal agriculture, get their foot in the door. Deforestation was the only lens through which forestry was viewed. Pat said his fellow Board members who attended past COP meetings told him, “You better get somebody from livestock to go because you’re really being demonized.”
It didn’t take very long to realize that demonization of agriculture and forestry is a potential issue that we all need to be paying attention to.
Pat observed that the COP process has been really naive in its view of production agriculture and its ability to create solutions. “Chilling” is the word that Pat used to describe this view. “The conversations at COP26 did not indicate an understanding of the need for success in balancing production and conservation in the context of overall strategy,” O’Toole observed.
It was obvious that that meat production, rice production, and farmers in general were characterized in a negative way. The people who have gone to these COP meetings over the last years from all over the world say it’s only now that agricultural producers are recognized. Only now are agriculturalists having an ability to participate. Our team strongly conveyed the message that we from ag need to have a seat at the table.
Our path was made easier when United States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack showed strong support for ag when he, along with Fred Yoder presented at the U.S. Pavilion. Vilsack was very proactive in his support of agricultural production. This helped set the stage for the positive message carried by our team to focus on solutions, not agendas.
Here certainly was a feeling that there’s a lot of agendas about food production. Consumers have a very high level of concern without a very high understanding of production. Pat O’Toole said, “Luckily our family comes from a community of people who have been working on resilience in natural resources for over 30 years. We have example after example. On our landscape, a wetland that was created went from less than 40 species of birds to around 130.
“A trout passage program that made the entire watershed passable for trout from the main river to the heads of every tributary demonstrates agricultural resilience in terms of more efficient irrigation. This shows the vision of how we work together and use both our own initiative and programs from the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to come up with solutions.”
Solutions include working with organizations which share SfL’s values. Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) promotes “Healthy Habitat, Wildlife, and Communities.”
“The IWJV’s conservation delivery program brings people together to address complex challenges with broad-scale benefits for fish and wildlife, ranching and economic livelihood, and maintenance of the western way of life.” (IWJV.org)
Pat is the long-time President of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for irrigators. Their mission is to “Protect Water for Western Agriculture.”
“The Alliance is a powerful advocate before the government for family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts, and allied industries in 17 Western states to ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water needed to produce the world’s food, fiber, and fuel.” (familyfarmalliance.org).
Partnerships in agriculture and forestry management hold a key to enhancing our landscape and atmosphere.
Day 4 was a big one for Pat, Ray, and Sharon at the COP26 talks. While world leaders promise to stay up late to hammer out an agreement palatable to all, or almost all, participating countries, we have been talking, talking, talking to other delegates, trying to convey that agriculture is a solution and can offer mitigation and regeneration to landscapes needing healthy management.
Ray is a world-class farmer whose 30-year record of innovation is unparalleled. He has a gift for engaging people—from fellow travelers on the Edinburgh to Glasgow train to high mucky-mucks in our government and others. He is a large-scale farmer of corn and soybeans in Iowa. He is innovative and open-minded, and works extensively with researchers to determine the best way to produce crops, enhance soil and benefit natural resources.
Each of us has been engaging with whomever will listen to convey our message supporting agricultural production, and practices which improve the landscape.
Pat spoke at length with Joao Campari, Global Leader of World Wildlife Fund’s Food Practice initiative. He was curious and engaged, and recognized our message that wildlife habitat is largely dependent on private landowners and their stewardship. As an example, rice growers in California manage the flooding of their paddies to minimize methane release, and to accommodate the migratory birds who are dependent upon the rice fields to survive as they travel. The role of wildlife and its symbiotic relationship with agricultural practices is missing from these discussions at COP26. It requires education regarding the web of life.
We heard the drumbeat (sometimes literally) by some to eliminate meat from the human diet. There was no thoughtful consideration of indigenous and rural cultures and their role as pastoralists. There was no recognition or appreciation for the superpower of grazing animals to convert grass and sunshine into protein. There was a demonization of cows and other red meats.
While Greta Thunberg and other young protesters gathered in the streets outside the main venue to demand action, they did not seem any wiser than their negotiating elders within. If an easy solution existed, it would have been enacted by now. The protesters with their signs and their skits were colorful and entertaining, but they too were guilty of the blah, blah, blah they were accusing the negotiators of blathering.
Pat did engage with Fred Krupp, long-time President of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is sometimes a reasonable partner with progressive ag organizations. Fred spoke in front of a mural which depicted cows, along with the big “30%” description of livestock production’s contribution to the greenhouse gases, and the phrase “Simple Solutions.” When challenged, Krupp said it was just a pretty picture of cows and that the 30 percent was absolute fact, so how could this be offensive?. We did challenge those assumptions. We are all ears for the Simple Solutions.
Pat told Mr. Krupp that we had spoken with farmers from all over the world, who are feeling attacked and unappreciated. The anti-cow drumbeat, both subtle and overt, is just the most aggressive part of this messaging. The human population is growing, demanding resources from energy to water to food. Fifty percent more food production will be needed in the coming decades. With attacks on livestock and farming, and the havoc caused in production systems from climate change, we are not on track to feed the world.
Grazing and good farming practices are a solution to both producing food and improving the landscape. This message was missing from the COP26 deliberations. We did our best to make this message heard. Solutions from the Land is just what its name communicates—solutions, not agendas.
“Methane from livestock accounts for nearly 30 percent of global methane pollution”
“Eat less meat” (top left)
on site dining with carbon footprint 0.1 for the Spinach and Roasted Cauliflower, 3.9 for the Scottish Beefburger
These are examples of “information” shared at Pavillions and eateries within the COP26 site.
Peatville Pavillion, and another hat
another hat on the bus
Pat visiting with Howard Shapiro, Senior Scientist in plant science and agroforestry/agroecology for M&M, Mars. He is with the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Howard leads the Multi-Disciplinary Research Unit, a collaborative effort between Mars, UC Davis and The University of Nottingham. He’s a chocolate guy.
Patrick and Sharon O'Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. They represent the fourth generation on the six-generation family ranch. The O'Tooles raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children on their high country ranching operation. The transhumance operation stretches from north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Wyoming's Red Desert.
Pat has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the Western Water Policy Commission, and is currently President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators and water users in the western United States.
Sharon is a writer and poet. She writes extensively on western issues, and the relationship between landscape, animals and people. She is widely published as an author, essayist and editorial commentator.
Sharon's father George, 89, passed away December 25, 2010. He lived much of his life in the house where he was born, and remained active in the day-to-day life of the ranch. Mr. Salisbury was a decorated World War II veteran, a former member of Wyoming's House of Representatives, and former President of Wyoming's Board of Agriculture.
Pat and Sharon have three children. Their daughter, Meghan and her husband Brian Lally, live on the ranch with their children, Siobhán, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnán. Meghan also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, and she and Brian are active in community service. Daughter Bridget lives in Denver with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in public relations and he serves agriculture in the food business. Son Eamon and his wife Megan live on the ranch with their sons, McCoy and Rhen. Eamon is a horseman and natural resource manager, and Megan is a nurse.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.