From Nebraska to Brazil, Cattlemen Worry about Water


Sustainability is a buzzword in agriculture these days, as the legislature wants to ensure we have enough water for industry, agriculture, and wildlife. It's a common concern for cattlemen from Ogallala to Brazil.

"I love the decision I made when I moved from the city to work at the ranch," Antonio Ferreira says.

What's not to love, as Antonio tends to cattle on horseback as they graze in Brazil's tropical pastures.

But it's not all picture perfect, as cattlemen worldwide face demands to use less water.

He said, "There's a lot of finger pointing and pressure from natural resources utilization and have to respect that."

Nebraska cattleman and State Senator Ken Schilz can relate, as the unicameral launches a water task force to make sure the state has this resource for generations to come.

He said, "We have to learn to work together to get where we need to be and not build silos and try to protect ourselves, our own interests and if we figure out everyone's interests are part of the solution – it'll be a lot easier to get there."

Ferreira and Schilz came together at the Water for Food conference this spring. The University of Nebraska says there's no silver bullet, as we have to double global food production by 2050 while using less water.

"We can't do things like our grandparents used to do things. Times change," Schilz said.

Antonio manages two ranches in Brazil, with about 2,000 cattle.

And while feedlots could allow him to raise more, and add weight, Brazil has been hesitant.

"Thankfully we're still not in the area we must sell to feedlots," Ferreira said. "We can still raise them and sell them to beef industry ourselves."

That aspect may differ, but environmental pressures mount.

This global issue is also a Nebraska challenge. The legislature's devoting 28 days to the topic between now and the end of the year with a new Water Task Force.

Some say it's been made worse by climate change.

Sen. Schilz says global warming is debatable, but agrees livestock producers must do better.

"Ag producers are stewards of land, they've done if for generations," he said.

And whether it's Nebraska or Brazil, livestock producers agree they can't do it alone.

Ferreira said, "We are going to need help from the city for everything with this issue."

Sen. Schilz has been a supporter of Nebraska's new water task force, something the legislature hasn't done in a decade despite the challenges on this front.