Ranching: It’s Not Just about the Beef
Cattle ranching has been a pillar in the American community since its founding, but ranching isn’t just about the beef.
Nearly 620,000 ranching operations occupy 337 million acres in the US
Cattle pastures account for every 1 in 5 acres of non-urban land in the United States and is home to over 20.4 million beef cattle. Ranches generated $33.9 billion in gross revenue, owned an estimated $523.4 billion worth of land, buildings, machinery, and equipment, and employed over 1.9 million workers according to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census. But money isn’t all that ranches have to offer….
Beef cattle operations make up a large part of the culture and community in rural areas of the United States. Ranching has been part of the American community since its foundation and the cowboy has always been an American icon. It provides a unique outlet to express the rich history of America. Cattle operations also serve as a vital income source for some rural communities, without it many families would have to move closer to urban areas which would only increase population densities in cities. Livestock operations allow for better utilization of land across the entire United States.
Wide Open Spaces
Pastures for livestock create beautiful, wide open spaces across the US where nature thrives. Natural vegetation and improved pasture grow simultaneously while wildlife and livestock commingle. Open land allows for natural environmental cycles to occur, allows ground water and aquifer recharge locations, and can help filter pollutants before reaching critical areas. Shear land volume is one of many ecosystem services that ranching provides.
Ecosystem services are grouped into four categories: 1) Provisioning, such as production of food and water; 2) Regulation, such as control of climate and disease; 3)supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and 4) cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.
Some ecosystem services are easy to measure economic value, we can directly relate pounds of beef developed to the money generated from their sales. Other services are hard to place a dollar amount on, such as providing open land for nutrient cycles, habitat for wildlife, hiking, hunting, and fishing opportunities, and more. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, attempted to take readily-available data and calculate the economic value of the ecosystem services ranching provides to America.
Ecosystem services provided by cattle ranching in the U.S. has an estimated economic value of $14,813,875,051. That’s $14 billion dollars that American ranches will never see. For every pound of beef that ranches craft for consumers approximately $0.86 worth of ecosystem services is generated.
Do you like hunting? American ranches provide almost $28 billion worth of hunting economic value and opportunity.
Do you like fishing? American ranches provide over $23 billion worth of fishing economic value across the States.
Appreciate wildlife? American ranches provide for 335,625,000 wildlife watching opportunities equating to $13 billion in economic value.
State by State
NCBA has graciously provided a state by state breakdown of ecosystem services of ranching. Hover over the map below to see how much economic value each states ranching ecosystem services equate to (amount shown beneath map). Click on a state to see the complete breakdown of services, or find a complete list of the continental United States here.