Whitney Belprez and her husband, Dan are on their ninth season of farming. Two Sparrows Farm and Dairy, a grass-based farm in Eaton Rapids, produces fresh milk, grass-fed beef and pastured pork.
Not only have farms taken a bit of a hit because of the coronavirus pandemic due to supply-and-demand issues, but the future of the beef industry is in question. Take a recent shift by Epicurious, which announced it will cease publishing new recipes that include beef. Increasingly, restaurants are beginning to pull beef from the menu. That’s very serious, considering that meat consumption nears 225 pounds per person annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Why is beef a concern? It’s a great big carbon footprint issue. Belprez isn’t denying there is a problem.
“When we talk about agriculture’s role in climate change, I think people want a really clear-cut answer,” Belprez said. “Overall, when you have restaurants going vegan and not sourcing beef, it’s overly simplistic. There’s a more complicated conversation to have.”
Belprez shares the goal of reversing climate change, especially as a farmer utilizing sustainable practices.
“As a producer, we know the meat alternatives used include plant-based and lab-grown meats. They are almost always based on monocultures,” Belprez said. “Monocultures are a single crop planted in a very large area with no biodiversity. These crops rely on large machinery, heavy fuel use, tilling and chemical sprays. There is little difference between beef and meat alternatives when we look at the overuse of chemicals, reliance on fossil fuels and soil degradation.
“It’s entirely true that we can’t address climate change without addressing agriculture, but to single out and blame beef is overly simplistic,” Belprez said. “We can produce carbon-neutral or even carbon-positive beef if we use the right practices.”
Belprez gives a nod to Michigan State University researchers and outreach specialists who are working to increase sustainable beef practices such as rotationally grazing grasslands.
“This system of grassland, we can mimic that in agriculture. We can use perennial grasses, frequently move livestock. … We can do this and allow photosynthesis to draw carbon back into the soil from the atmosphere to reverse climate change,” Belprez said.
“The question shouldn’t be if we need to remove meat from our diets. We need to eat less meat, yes, and we need to eat better meat,” she added. “Meat that is better for the environment and better for our bodies.”