COLUMNS: Letting the land be idle from human hands, or no succession plan

We have been doing a few day trips into the countryside around this beach town, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

We have been doing a few day trips into the countryside around this beach town, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The land is hot with daytime temperature  around 33-34C.

This is hot to me, and has me wondering about the prospect of more heat and drought in the Cariboo summers, which are predicted.

As we travel we see a lot of land that is undergoing ecological succession back to tropical forest. Neglected fields and pastures here need constant grooming or slashing to keep the weedy brush from closing in.

They sell a lot of machetes here which almost every land owner and worker on farms use to beat back brush tougher and nastier (thorns) than we have as ingrowth.

Frequenters of the trails in the backcountry carry machetes for cutting the rapid growth of brush and trees. When you buy a saddle here you probably get a machete

Scabbard with it. Everyone uses them.

Our cleared lands that were originally forest will return to forest if livestock, cultivating and haying equipment are employed on this land base. It doesn’t take long for the cost of returning the land to crop or forage agriculture to become close to the value of the land itself.

There may be reasons to allow hard won fields to be fallow for a while but, as farmers and ranchers, we hate to see the land go out of production.

This is unless it is building soil or providing some of the benefits of ecological goods and services, such as water quality, beneficial insect, bird and small animal habitat, pollination, and health enhancing micronutrients.

We do need to be vigilant to avoid costly degradation if that is what ecological succession (unplanned and natural) creates.

The kind of neglect I am talking about here is a result of poor land stewardship.

Another kind of neglect is the lack of effective business succession planning. We briefly visited several horse and cattle operations ranches here in this region that has seen a recent reduction from 12,000 to 5,000 head of cattle.

So we see a lot of land becoming jungle again. Such was the case on one of the places our guide took us to visit which had been a 1,000-head operation.  One needs a person of the area to help facilitate access to agricultural operations.

In this case, the ranch had ceased operation when the “old man” or father died.

He died unbeknownst to our guide, his “amigo.” There was no one to give us permission to tour the place.

“Caretakers” occupied a house on the ranch but their only task was to report squatting activities, as once squatters planted fruit or nut trees orchards or, build a substantial dwelling, it is harder to evict them.

No brushing of the ingrowing jungle was taking place. Soon bigger trees would prevail on the pastures.

The absence of a succession plan to engage the next generation in the farm may almost permanently take this ranch out of farming as a land use.  Here in Mexico this will take place much faster than in B.C., but the same phenomenon is occurring.

Without financially viable operational plans, our fate as ranching families may be one of doom.

Engaging the next generation (or generations: grandchildren too) in this aspect of the business will carry the hope of solving the dual need for older folks to slow down with dignity and successors to ease into the full responsibility.

This aspect of people and business planning  for ranches is a bigger challenge than  stewardship in my view. It is somewhat like grasping a porcupine.


If you want help getting started, TRU and South Cariboo Cattlemen are bringing Elaine Froese, a farmer and succession coach, April 4 to 100 Mile House.

For $89 plus GST you will get a lot of advice.

Before March 31 call Gillian Watt at 250-319-2367, or email her at

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake in January of 2016.