A synthesis of ranch-level sustainability indicators for land managers and to communicate across the US beef supply chain

TitleA synthesis of ranch-level sustainability indicators for land managers and to communicate across the US beef supply chain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsAhlering MA, Kazanski C, Lendrum PE, Borrelli P, Burnidge W, Clark L, Ellis C, Gadzia K, Gelbard J, Gennet S, Goodwin J, Herrick JE, Kachergis E, Knapp C, Labbe N, Maczko K, Porzig E, Rizzo D, Spiegal S., Wilson C
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
Date Published10/19/2021
ARIS Log Number380849
Keywordsbeef supply chain, ecological, economicmeasures, social, sustainable rangelands

While increasing numbers of ranchers are striving to demonstrate sustainable ranching operations geared toward a healthy landscape, companies are seeking to advance sustainability along beef supply chains and consumers are making more environmentally oriented purchasing choices. Yet there is a need for greater clarity on which indicators are most effective for assessing and monitoring sustainable management and continuous improvement of ranching operations. Our objective was to synthesize existing guidance on monitoring and assessing ranch-scale sustainability in the United States and to identify core ecological, social, and economic indicators that could identify well-managed ranching, support adaptive management, and demonstrate producers’ sustainability and continuous improvement to retailers and consumers. We evaluated 21 range and pastureland assessments from nongovernmental organizations, agencies, and academics that totaled 180 indicators. From this, we selected 20 commonly used “core” indicators (12 ecological and 8 socioeconomic). We identified indicators that are designed to detect change over time for management practices, common among many approaches, and/or critical indicators for outcomes of common interest to producers, companies, and consumers. The synthesis of indicators across many guidance documents offers insight into what a diverse set of range professionals and institutions see as critical to demonstrate and track ranch-level sustainability, and producers, consumers, and companies may find a subset of these indicators to be relevant for their operation and region, values, and/or company sustainability goals. The synthesis also highlights the need for more integration and agreement on socioeconomic indicators of ranch sustainability. We acknowledge that socioeconomic indicators are context dependent and discuss the pitfalls of not integrating them into ranch assessments. Finally, we identified four issues to consider in operationalizing widespread use of common indicators: 1) who bears the cost, 2) agreement on simple and robust standardized protocols, 3) developing region-specific thresholds, and 4) issues of data privacy and sharing agreements for data use.