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Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland

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Many of the men and women doing today’s most consequential environmental work—restoring America’s grasslands, wildlife, soil, rivers, wetlands, and oceans—would not call themselves environmentalists; they would be too uneasy with the connotations of that word. What drives them is their deep love of the land: the iconic terrain where explorers and cowboys, pioneers and riverboat captains forged the American identity. They feel a moral responsibility to preserve this heritage and natural wealth, to ensure that their families and communities will continue to thrive.

Unfolding as a journey down the Mississippi River, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five representatives of this stewardship movement: a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman. In exploring their work and family histories and the essential geographies they protect, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.

394 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2016

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About the author

Miriam Horn

3 books9 followers
Miriam Horn is the author of two previous books, including the New York Times best-selling Earth: The Sequel. She works at Environmental Defense Fund and lives in New York City.

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5 stars
98 (28%)
4 stars
151 (44%)
3 stars
74 (21%)
2 stars
17 (4%)
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2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Kendra.
131 reviews5 followers
February 7, 2017
I'm really glad I saw this author speak and that I read her book (Rancher Farmer Fisherman) at this time. She went to the red states, interviewed large-scale farmers (not small-scale organic farmers) and found that they were just as concerned with conservation as people in the blue states. She found common ground in what from the outside looked like a completely divided country. Her book was a reminder that we can all work together for a common good -- something that I really need right now!

Also, they were screening the documentary based on this book at Sundance. Unfortunately I didn't get to see it, but hopefully I will soon!
Profile Image for Rick Jackofsky.
Author 4 books5 followers
March 9, 2018
(Aristocratic) Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman

First off, let me say I have tremendous respect for all the “rancher, farmer, fisherman” business people profiled in this book, but I wouldn’t call any of them environmentalists or heroes of conservation. Sturdy pioneers who are doing their best to lessen the environmental impact of their operations, yes, but guardians off the natural world; no.

This book is well written and a wonderful homage to some big commercial land users who are willing to do whatever it takes, even work with environmental groups, (gasp) to make sure that their businesses stay profitable for themselves and future generations. Early into this book I started, to think that this was all about convincing big land owners and businesses, that some environmentally friendly practices might be economically beneficial to their businesses as well as the local quality of life. Most of the ‘folks” showcased in this book are rural aristocrats, ranchers with 20,000 acre spreads and cattle grazing on federal land, a farmer who drives a $350,000 combine, sprays Round Up and uses GMO seed . . .

When Horn cited the work of AIlan Savory, who extolls the benefits of cattle grazing, I lost any hope that this book was anything but a propaganda piece. Savory’s work has been roundly dismissed by scientists around the world.

from Wikipedia:

"Praised by beef industry supporters, his controversial ideas have sparked fierce opposition from academics, environmentalists, and scientists.”

"Understandably, given his adherence to scientifically questionable conclusions in the face of evidence to the contrary, scientific institutions have not gone out of their way to work with Allan Savory. As a result, Savory has built his own institutions. From the Center for Holistic Management (later the Allan Savory Center for Holistic Management) to the Savory Center to Holistic Management International to the Africa Centre of Holistic Management, Savory has kept his ideas in motion.”

Wondering if there was some kind of hidden agenda at work here; I looked for information about Ms. Horn and the Environmental Defense Fund. Though I had heard of the EDF, I was unfamiliar with their work. What I found out was that the group is closely tied to major corporations, retailers like Walmart and McDonalds as well as the big producers that supply them. It seems to me that they are more like advocates for agro business than the environment.

from Modern Farmer dot com:

"By day, Horn works at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a non-profit environmental advocacy group, which often works with big farms and commercial fisheries in order to protect the environment—from grasslands to wildlife to soil—on a massive scale.”

from Grist dot com:

"EDF is widely viewed among greens as the sellout organization that helps corporations and politicians greenwash their records. This is the group, for example, that takes money from oil and gas companies and pro-drilling foundations to produce research that shows lower methane leakage from fracking than other credible studies.”

I guess the lesser of two evils or baby steps in the right direction can be a good thing . . . that is if we keep moving toward a more complete solution, but people tend to lose interest and movements lose steam when they think that markets, technology, and common sense will self correct our behavior before we destroy the planet. I understand that convincing big corporations to clean up their act can be a good thing, but concessions to big commercial land users, and the businesses they supply, usually ends up hurting small, local, farms, businesses, and the environment. In the end conservation has to come down to consuming less, not producing more.
Profile Image for Martin Rowe.
Author 31 books57 followers
October 21, 2016
The glass is more than half-full in this well-written, evocative, deeply embedded, and admiring set of profiles: of a rancher in Montana, a wheat and soybean farmer in Kansas, a haulage company owner on the Mississippi, a shrimper advocate in Louisiana, and a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Horn's book concentrates on these individuals' lives, celebrating their (American) virtues of self-reliance, grit, bedrock honesty, and indefatigable commitment to their community and the biome that they utilize.

Horn's expressive prose can occasionally overwhelm, and there are some bare patches amid the occasionally overly fruited plains. We hear virtually nothing about the CAFOs that dominate American meat and dairy manufacturing, nor the fact that the vast majority of wheat and soy grown goes to animal feed. We scarcely touch on collapsed fisheries or the pollution involved in aquaculture, and rarely glimpse the massive political and economic subsidization that allows Big Ag to survive. Environmentalists are kept at arm's length by the protagonists and Horn; Washington, DC, is far away and alien; governmental agencies are either inept, meddling, or (in the case of the Army Corps of Engineers) downright dangerous; and the book wholly accepts the premise that it's Big Ag's job to feed the world.

Given Horn's emphasis on the heroic pluck of these decent men and women—and, to be clear, they are all profoundly committed and serious professionals—it comes as something of a surprise to read that all of them are still barely getting by: having to confront resource scarcity, climate change, and lack of money combined with the costs of doing business. This gives the book a tragic ring, and I can't help but feel that the book would have benefitted from Horn pressing the protagonists more on their choices and ideologies rather than dwelling so much on their biographies. Nonetheless, for all my skepticism about what ultimately Horn's message to readers is meant to be, her book is a wonderfully descriptive, personally engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable mixture of investigative journalism and biography.
Profile Image for Khalid Hajeri.
Author 1 book18 followers
May 3, 2022
Take a journey alongside America's most important people in the businesses of ranching, farming, and fishing, as they show what it is like to continue what they do best and at the same time commit to the highest environmental standards!

In "Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman", Miriam Horn thoroughly documents the lives of the American people directly involved in the said businesses to an extent that readers will feel like they are present on their respective sites of work. Written in a way that resembles a television documentary, Ms. Horn does a great job in exploring each subject in great depth and at the same time in a manner that helps readers relate to the struggles each person has in their businesses.

The author manages to bring out a sense of humanity in each of the individuals she encounters on her research. We get to view their world in a very personalized lens that is filled with struggle, laughter, tension, and active cooperation with their allies as well as their rivals. Even more intriguing is the fact that the subject matter in this book presents an opportunity to explore both sides of the story; despite the mainstream narrative that negatively portrays the ranches, farms, and fisheries as being responsible for damaging the environment, there is proof in this book that not all is solely the fault of these man-made systems. Rather, it is when the balance in the systems becomes unbalanced that things go awry. That is why these businesses are taking bigger steps to ensure they can help tip the scales backwards in favour of the environment, and even utilize their systems to directly help this cause.

The book also contains a wealth of information regarding the human aspects of the businesses. The chapter that stands out to me is the one about the American fisheries business because there is a sense of real struggle with the sailors out on the boats who have to catch a certain amount of fish while taking care not to catch unwanted sea creatures that are at risk to being endangered. A beautifully explored story about a Vietnamese-American woman who rises in the ranks to become America's top businesswoman in the shrimp fishing industry is told in breathtakingly personal detail. Almost all the stories of the people are emotionally charged.

I would say the weak point in this book is when things get too technical, specifically in the farming chapters. I was surprised to see quite a bit of jargon that I had to look elsewhere for the meanings of the phrases and words. Those parts of the book could slow down the pace of reading, but thankfully this is the only chapter where such complexities are found. The remainder of the book is really interesting and offers richer perspectives than the one-sided viewpoint of the subject found in mainstream media.

"Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman" is a great informative book that minimizes the bias surrounding the topic of the said industries using a good amount of open-minded research. This is a work that deserves more recognition since it contains things you would not normally find in mainstream media. Recommended for students and other readers wanting to find out the bigger picture behind the business of ranching, farming, and fishing.
Profile Image for Douglas.
3 reviews
March 13, 2017
the 3 situations Horn picked are all very conservative people who survive by living off the land. She shows in detail how devoted they are to finding and implementing the most sustainable practices while not embracing the language of environmental activists. The lessons here, for me, are how do we break boundaries of perceived community to support one another moving toward the most successful: ranching, farming, and fishing techniques. This is critically important during the administration of President #45. Horn shows why his efforts to undermine policies that protect our air, soil, and water will not be endorsed by those who make a better living when they embrace practices that mirror natural systems.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
112 reviews
August 29, 2017
I really enjoyed this book that took an in-depth look at a rancher in Montana, a farmer in Kansas, a riverman on the Missouri/Mississippi rivers, a shrimper in Louisianna, and a fisherman in the Gulf.

This sentence just barely begins to explain what the author spent years investigating; her book gives a broad and yet detailed sense of how each area has its own battles and issues, each of which affects the others in the story. And it tells how often feuding groups have to come together for the benefit of the herd in order to thrive, survive and improve their situations now and for future generations, especially in light of climate change and how it has affected, already, each of these areas.

Detailed histories of each family and long-held beliefs and practices for each industry are provided and each becomes a hero of sorts in helping to preserve their livelihoods and environments. Not an easy task, as you can imagine.

I heard about this book when I realized that Discovery Channel has a special airing on August 31...I can't wait to see these people "in person." This is a hopeful book and well worth a read and a possible reread!

From the jacket cover: The most powerful, compelling, and eloquent solutions for our problems come from the inside. In this lush, gorgeously written book, Miriam Horn shows men and women preserving the natural world around them - not out of an abstract sense of environmentalism, but because they love the land and water, their communities and way of life. A profoundly hopeful book.
Profile Image for Jess.
415 reviews30 followers
February 6, 2017
This book is a compendium of reasonable people. It highlights five such people whose livelihoods are all inextricably tied to the land (and who all happen to be connected by the Mississippi river system). These people did not start out as conservationists, yet they have all come to the conclusion that to nurture the land they rely on is the way to survival.

It is extremely refreshing, in this sea of extreme voices on both ends of the debates on conservation all clamoring to be the most strident, to read about sensible people who are willing to look at reality, research the issues scientifically, understand that all courses of action include trade-offs, and compromise with people who may have very different priorities in order to protect the most important thing we have: the land. It bolsters hope to know that there are conservation methods that not only protect resources, wildlife, habitat, and our soil, but that also include human priorities of relying on sound economic practice, providing not only a livelihood for now, but the promise of one for tomorrow as well.

It's like the best news I've heard, ever, and I just want to tell everyone. Guess what? That thing you've been fighting over? Well YOU BOTH GET TO WIN. EVERYONE WINS! We just all need to start working with nature instead of fighting against it.
99 reviews
November 14, 2017
Non-Fiction is not my favorite category, but as I get older I find myself reading a lot more, especially when it comes to nature, conservation and the environment, sometimes politics. This book though, just did not thrill me, though it did give me some hope. Ms. Horn seems to want to make a point: environmentalists are too extreme in their demands, and deniers are putting us at risk, so let's find a third way, a way to make this conservation stuff work for the people on the front lines, that want to be part of the solution. She does a good job of demonstrating that you can do good and still do well in business/farming/ranching, but it is not necessary to go deep into all the family histories? Oversharing IMHO.
Profile Image for Fay.
370 reviews13 followers
March 17, 2021
Edit: changed rating to 3/5

So, the first thing I want to say is that, there is a big difference between commercial fishing/farming & fishing/farming that is done small scale. Small scale farming for example is almost always a family or small business operation, farmers & homesteaders understand the value of the land and of course want to preserve it for their children and future generations. Fishermen that operate on a small scale have the same ideology. Fishermen that are local to an area are very familiar with the fish populations & ecosystems, they know how much they can and can’t take and of course understand the value of their local ecosystems & wish to preserve them for future generations as well (or what’s left anyway, depending on where you’re from).

Commercial scale farming and fishing is where conservation takes a backseat. This is where you see large corporate farms where animal abuse, pesticides, land that has been rendered unusable due to irresponsible farming practice. Commercial scale fishing includes whaling ships, shark finning, reckless use of fishnets, literally people out here taking as much as they can (god, there’s so many examples for this one guys) the oceans, lakes and rivers are not as densely populated as they were 25 years ago, even 50 or 100 years ago. The unfortunate thing is that everything we do on land affects our water, but before I turn this into a rant, I wanted to say that I think the message the author was trying to convey is a very noble one, but holayy this book was a snoozefest. I’ll be honest, I think I got halfway through.
I think I want to go ahead and say that Miriam herself doesn’t know much about these lifestyles. I don’t think she’s ever worked in these industries, I think she decided to write this book for fun or for means of education for herself and perhaps others. Her perspective very much seems like that of an outsider’s.

I think it is really important to educate the public on the importance of these industries, I don’t think it is proper to say that these industries are in-and-out 100% all about conservation, but they most certainly could be. Certain sectors very much are, as I stated above, but unfortunately, for anyone to say in a matter of fact way that they are, is wrong.

I am giving this book a 4 out of 5 for the idea and the message, but the book itself was very bland, and almost perpetuating of a certain stereotype that I was not a fan of.
Profile Image for Scott Lupo.
391 reviews12 followers
August 12, 2022
I am conflicted in writing a review for this book. Honestly, I got bored about 3/4 of the way through. It ended up repeating the same thing over and over again. While storytelling is a compelling way to get points across to people, I think it has its limits. The message felt like "Yeah, we know we are killing the environment but..." and then lists a number of reasons why it is a necessary evil. And then it goes on to try to convince the reader that there are mitigations that can happen that will make everyone happy. Meh. First off, it is American-centric to think what we do here is somehow going to save the entire world. Does anyone think China, Japan, Europe, and India are all going to follow suit? Second, the idea that we can still scale companies to immense sizes AND be environmental stewards is a crack pipe dream. I actually feel bad for the ranchers, farmers, and fishers who are tying to turn the tide. I'm thrilled there are those people out there but they are such a small part of the bigger picture that it feels like this book is written just to try to make people feel good that something is happening. It really is a greenwashing book. Our situation is dire. More and more weather related tragedies are going to happen and its going to negatively affect food supplies. We need to take drastic and unprecedented action if we are to mitigate even a small portion of the misery to come. Every one of these conservation heroes are still only worried about making money and allow that fact to drive their motivation and decision making. That alone is the main impediment to making real efforts at conservation. Another reviewer mentioned the Environmental Defense Fund and how it is a front for large corporations to act like they are environmental stewards. It is true. The only thing they are defending is the right to make ungodly profits while destroying the environment. This book is kind of a puff piece, a feel good read, a smoke screen to the real situation.
Profile Image for Russel Chiodo.
5 reviews
February 1, 2018
Miriam Horn traveled across the United States to see how those who make their living from the land and sea are working to pass the resources on the next generation. From rancher to farmer to fishermen, her subjects are determined to leave it all better than it is today.

Horn works at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), so she brings a deep understanding of federal regulations, processes, and philosophies to the table. She knows how the game is played in Washington, but in this book she heads to ground zero to see how legislation and enforcement hits real people, real families, and their legacies.

The urban conservation activist must meet the majority of Horn's subjects somewhere in the middle. While each is desperately connected to the survival of perpetuation of the natural resources, they're still trying to make ends meet when the season is over. As they develop high-minded ideas into Master Plans and strategies, it must all be adapted to let them put food on the table in the here and now. The point is clearly made that if ranchers, farmers, and fisherman can be trusted to be the most dedicated watchmen of the nation's resources, then they must be allowed to make their livings in order to stay on guard.

Critics of market-based conservation tactics favored by conservative politicians and economists will find this book challenging. EDF often champions these approaches, and it feels as if the view from the other side is either missing or hollow throughout much of the book.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. I found accessible and informed insight into the realities of conservation when livelihoods and communities are at stake as much as species and bio diversity. The book focuses on the real human effect of what happens on the mega-scale of federal legislation, and I think it's a good read for anyone interested in moving sweeping conservation efforts forward.
164 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2017
Good description of five different parts of the food supply chain, highlighting solutions to complicated environmental problems. The author shows how progress is made when diverse groups of knowledgeable people work together - getting engaged, listening to one another, pooling their knowledge and energy, and compromising.

The author sometimes implies, rather defensively, that these producers are taking the "right" paths to improve the food system. Each of the five producers she profiles - the rancher, farmer, riverman, shrimper, fisherman - are heros, and we should all applaud their efforts. They are all making their part of the world more resilient and more productive.

The food system is vast and complicated, however, and there are many ways to improve it. Small-scale solutions are just as valid as commercial-scale solutions. Farmers trying to make a positive change shouldn't criticize other farmers who take a different path to a better food system. Just as we need diversified investment portfolios, we also need a diversified portfolio of food producers and supply chains. All solutions are good if they chip away at today's food system that is reliant on only a handful of large companies.
Profile Image for Kelly Massey.
94 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2017
Miriam Horn takes the accounts of five people who work the land and animals for their livelihood; people who care about what they do and how they do it. Their stories attribute poor land management to a government and environmentalists who are out of touch and are limited in their knowledge as they haven't worked the fields, the mountains, the river, or the gulf for generations like they have. The ranchers in Montana, farmers in Kansas, river men on the Mississippi, shrimpers out of Louisiana, and the fishermen of the Gulf have stood up for their professions and the ecology they work in while working with the government and environmentalists to protect the land and the species they care so much about without disrupting their livelihood. At the end of the day, they want to sustain not only themselves and their families, but also the ecosystem that allows them to do what they do. They show that it takes dialogue and compromise to make things work, something that is sadly lacking in today's political discourse.
399 reviews2 followers
February 1, 2017
Up to date account of the state of conservation and the land owners and in a couple of cases the fisherman. Turns out the farmer is located about 60 miles from here and although I pretty much knew all that was presented, it was very interesting to read the journey of how Justin came to where he is. Insightful in all cases reading how much work and time (decades) it has taken to get many to the table and that compromise and solutions to environmental & industrial concerns can be found. Doesn't mean everyone is on board, but in the broad spectrum of opinions, there is a good central core. The specifics presented in ranching and fishing, family history, and way of life were very informative and gives one pause for thought. To know that there are these groups in each industry working together is quite hopeful. And whether anybody really thinks about it, they are certainly all interconnected and an indirect conclusion or summary of the book.
27 reviews
August 8, 2019
This was all right, but as somebody trained as an environmentalist/in the sciences and have done jobs where I have worked with landowners, all I have to say is "Duh." I felt like maybe the author and other environmentalists were surprised that anybody but themselves could possibly know anything about conversation. It really isn't a big surprise that involving people whose lives depend financially on what you're trying to conserve to make things better, as a collaborative effort, works better than trying to bash them over the heads with legal battles and regulations. Yet somehow, repeatedly, this book makes it sound like it was to so many conservationists.

I think these stories would have worked better in a much smaller style, as a booklet or small book that should be part of training in these specific types of jobs, especially at non-profits, and thrown at the heads of USFWS lackeys.
295 reviews
January 26, 2018
An inspiring book that I have recommended to all of my patient friends. The author covers large scale conservation movements in communities in the Mississippi River basin from Montana to the Louisiana gulf. In each case, preservation of resources was the common goal that brought stakeholders with a variety of programs together for the common good. The author does a wonderful job of making the main characters in each area real in a non-judgemental way.

I also think this book should be required reading for our political leaders as to how to work together to resolve seemingly unbridgeable differences.
Profile Image for Kirsten Cutler.
244 reviews27 followers
January 12, 2019
A fascinating narrative about individuals directly involved in ranching, farming, captaining barges up and down the Mississippi, and fishing the Gulf waters who all have had to adapt to a damaged environment to try to enable its recovery for the benefit of their immediate livelihoods and also its long-term survival for future generations. These individuals did not come out of the environmental movement but instead have developed a conservation mindset from the realization that their way of life is threatened. The author has performed a valuable service to her readers by presenting clearly with much detail the lives of her interviewees and their unique paths to conservation.
Profile Image for Paulcbry.
203 reviews6 followers
November 25, 2016
An interesting look at the environment as told from the perspective of a rancher, a farmer, and a fisherman (among others). Living in a small rural town, I related to the farmer more than the others. The farmer practiced no-till farming techniques after exhaustively studying the process and subsequently becoming an expert at it. This is where the author shines explaining the processes used by these hands-on professionals who fortuitously became champions of the environment (usually after compromising with other interested parties).
May 8, 2017
One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. As a farmer and environmentalist, I thought I knew what would be sad but I was constantly asked to reassess my values and convictions and think about the broader context. This book forced me to think about the environment and conservation in deeper, more meaningful ways while also educating me on important issues. Love, love, love this book. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Gail.
47 reviews5 followers
June 17, 2017
Beautifully written true accounts of Americans at the forefront of environmental activism, but who do not define themselves as environmentalist, in fact they are often at odds with the green movement. These are the real people who work the land and water and know first hand the dire need to transform the way we use up and destroy the riches of our planet. Eye opening, important and a call to conscientiousness.
266 reviews5 followers
September 6, 2017
This book should be the standard for anyone interested in solving environmental problems. Instead of shouting at each other or trying to dictate your point of view to others, get together and try to reach a consensus. To often we allow ourselves to be divided on unimportant issues, while things of greater importance are taken from us.
6 reviews
July 9, 2018
Explores conservation from the perspective people who make their livelihoods from the land and are important and overlooked stakeholders in environmental issues. Too often the debate is between nebulous 'business' interests and out of state'activists' and implemented by a remote bureaucracy in Washington.
Profile Image for Eric.
3,475 reviews21 followers
September 27, 2018
Horn takes a hard look at the subject of caring for the environment in which we all live and has given us some very interesting views of what we do. I do note that he never quite made the connection that much of what motivates the worst of what we do stems from raising animal protein on which we feed.
246 reviews
September 12, 2017
A thoughtful well-written book, which presents a model for grassroots change. Through profiles of those who work on and for America's land and water, Horn shows how those once considered adversaries, like environmentalists and hunters, can work together for common goals. Imagine??!!
1,108 reviews3 followers
March 22, 2017
Took me a while to finish this book-- text is a bit thick and unfocused. The first chapter was the hardest-- I enjoyed several of the other chapters much more (notably the shrimper chapter, which didn't even make the title, unless you classify "shrimper" as "fisherman"). The book could have used a stronger editor, as it is filled with run-on sentences, vague allusions to other works, largely apropos of nothing, and poor focus on the specific story (sort of like Krakauer's approach: see, this observation reminds of the time that....and veers off into some other story line). I endured because this book will be discussed in a book club that I'm joining.
708 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2017
Long and appropriately so. Honest efforts all around, really. Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, Reporter.
Profile Image for Rowan.
328 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2017
A hopeful and intelligent look by an EDF staff member at what sustainable food systems can look like in the U.S.
370 reviews
February 11, 2018
Wonderful to read what people are doing to bring back our land and water. Learned MANY new things. Well written
Profile Image for Mossy Kennedy.
107 reviews17 followers
April 27, 2018
Clever device of following the watershed in telling the story. While there was a linking of the stories, I wanted more development of the connection.
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