In January 2023 JG began contracted work for The Nature Conservancy’s Regenerative Grazing Lands Program. TNC’s grazing lands strategy has the following mission: to improve management on 240 million acres (30%) of U.S. grazing lands by 2030, resulting in enhanced wildlife habitat, soil carbon storage, water quality, and rural economies. In a paper published in 2021, A Synthesis of Ranch-Level Sustainability Indicators for Land Managers and to Communicate Across the US Beef Supply Chain, TNC scientists and colleagues synthesized ranch monitoring indicators recommended and used across agencies, organizations, and individuals to assess environmental, social, and economic outcomes for rangeland management plans. From this research emerged a list of core indicators that are generally agreed upon for determining ranch sustainability (soil health, biodiversity, animal management). In an effort to ground-truth this list of indicators as appropriate and useful to both the research community and to ranchers and farmers themselves, the TNC team contracted JG’s Kristal Jones and Willow Grinnell, along with collaborator Katie Epstein, to use a mixed method approach to help validate a holistic set of indicators relevant to a wide set of priorities for ranch land viability. To review a condensed version of our report, visit the link here.

The research project was conducted through utilizing a survey (n=85) and virtual focus groups individual interviews with ranchers and farmers across the United States (n=17), as well as the secondary sources associated with the first round of TNC’s research on ranch-level sustainability indicators. Special efforts were made to capture diverse and underrepresented ranching perspectives.

This study asked three overarching questions:

  • Do ranchers see utility in the shortlist of indicators for management, reporting, and storytelling purposes, and do these
    perceptions differ based on rancher characteristics?
  • Why or why not are ranchers currently paying attention to each of the indicators on the shortlist and do these
    monitoring actions differ based on rancher characteristics?
  • What suggestions do ranchers have for other types of indicators or ways of monitoring those indicators that could be
    more useful for management, reporting and/or storytelling?

Survey data and interviews were analyzed and used to convey how TNC’s list of indicators for ranch sustainability (Ahlering et al. 2022) were working for farmer and rancher monitoring. In addition to seeking to answer the questions above using our data, our report presents a series of key takeaways for what might be needed to make these indicators more useful for producers.

Percentage of producers interviewed (n=86) who monitor for each of TNC’s list of indicators for ranch viability.

Our key takeaways:

  • Many ranchers are monitoring many indicators, and motivations for monitoring are related to ranch management decision-making and long-term outcomes.
  • There are clear opportunities for technical assistance and education around soil health and specific soil properties.
  • Relevance of indicators is a consistent barrier identified across indicators by those who don’t monitor; time and capacity are barriers to monitoring specific indicators
  • Farmers and ranchers benefit from simple monitoring tools and support systems.

Stay tuned for a peer-reviewed paper, coming soon.