For North Dakota ranchers, every day is Earth Day. Many family ranching operations in the state can trace the sustainable growth of their businesses back four or more generations. As ranchers, our livelihood is directly tied to the health of the land that our families worked to sustain.

That multi-generational sustainability is a balancing act that requires careful attention to environmental responsibility, social diligence and the consideration of economic opportunity. The end goal is to meet the world's growing demand for beef while sustaining our families and caring for the land that provides our living.

Further enhancing the sustainable production of beef is important to ranchers in North Dakota and beyond. That work never ceases as we continue to develop new management practices that enhance the industry throughout the sector.

I'm proud of our industry's progress. A recent life cycle assessment completed by the industry and certified by NSF International confirms that beef producers are on the right path in maintaining a sustainable product.

After two years of research, the assessment found a 7 percent improvement in environmental and social sustainability from 2005 to 2011; a 10 percent improvement in water quality; a 7 percent reduction in landfill contributions; a 3 percent reduction in water use; and a 2 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

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These days, cattle are often cited as a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

But according to the EPA, they contribute less than 2 percent of the total GHG emissions in the country.

Cattle also play a positive role in sustaining our prairie grassland ecosystems. By utilizing forages to produce high-quality protein on lands not suited for farming, cattle reduce soil erosion and contribute to enhanced soil carbon storage. They're grazing presence on the state's grasslands also contributes to the stimulation of healthy grass growth and overall range

quality.

This Earth Day and every day remember that ranchers are working to provide the highest quality protein product in the world and to sustain their land and livestock for the future of North Dakota and our country.

Zenker, Gackle, N.D., is president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.