2019 journal article
An uncertain future: climate resilience of first-generation ranchers
RANGELAND JOURNAL, 41(3), 189–196.
Policymakers and scholars agree that the aging and declining number of ranchers is a serious problem for the future of ranching and range management. Studies show that recruiting and retaining new ranchers is difficult due to a complex mix of start-up costs, knowledge and skill requirements, and regulatory barriers. While research suggests that first-generation farmers are different demographically and require individualised information, there is limited research on first-generation ranchers (FGRs); at best they are generalised as beginning farmers in research and outreach programs. This is surprising given ranchers’ unique knowledge requirements relating to the production of food and fibre, and the management of vast areas of public and private land. Based on a rangeland decision-making survey of 507 California Cattlemen’s Association members, this paper examines similarities and divergences in socioeconomic factors, management practices, drought adaptation strategies, information needs, and values between FGRs and multigenerational ranchers (MGRs). Survey results indicate FGRs and MGRs are not statistically different demographically and have similar values; however, key differences include FGRs using fewer information sources about ranching, fewer general management practices, and fewer drought adaptation practices. FGRs are also more susceptible to drought, and are underserved by organisations. Their vulnerability is particularly concerning, as many have limited drought experience, are more likely to take risks, and are less likely to find value and/or participate in ranching organisations. The future of rangelands requires that organisations interested in conserving rangelands and supporting ranchers re-evaluate assumptions about why FGRs and MGRs have different information needs beyond simplistic demographic identity, and instead focus on their affinity as FGRs in order to understand the complexity of the processes underlying these differences. We end with suggestions for a research agenda to support the climate resiliency of FGRs and increase the efficacy of support organisations.