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You deserve to be represented. The public and policymakers may have little understanding of nature or agriculture, but they have opinions. And they vote, regulate and affect your ability to operate.
That’s why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) created a way to showcase cattle producers as effective caretakers of the land. Through the Environmental Stewardship Award, winners have earned positive media coverage, influenced policy and explained how properly managed cattle production is sustainable agriculture.
In February, NCBA introduced seven cattle operations as the latest regional winners of the annual award at the Cattle Industry Convention in Houston, NCBA will name the 31st national winner in March 2022 at its annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C.
The program is sponsored by Corteva Agriscience, McDonald’s Corporation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Here’s a look at this year’s regional winners.
Mike McMahon, Peter McMahon, Neil McMahon, Ethan Supa — Homer, New York
This sixth-generation dairy farm is about 30 miles south of Syracuse, New York. EZ Acres milks 925 Holsteins, sells 300 beef cows and produces feed on 2,700 acres. The farm drains into three critical watersheds and lies just 40 feet over an aquifer that provides drinking water to cities.
To protect water quality, the McMahons shifted hillsides from corn to grass. In-season soil testing enabled a decrease in fertilizer. Concrete-lined containment holds manure, silage leachate and barn runoff. Water samples taken every quarter indicate EZ Acres farming practices have reduced nitrates in the municipal well from 16 ppm to 9 ppm; 44 ppm is considered “cautionary.”
James Vaughn — Forsyth, Georgia
About 60 miles south of Atlanta, James Vaughn and his family manage 4,000 acres of timberland and 1,165 acres in forages. Those forages support a hay business, 375 cows and up to 400 calves, stockers and bulls. The farm annually sells 20,000 small square bales.
Operating in the watershed that supplies drinking water to Forsyth, Georgia, the Vaughns are intentional in preventing stream sedimentation. To facilitate rotational grazing, they installed 40,000 feet of crossfencing, five deep wells, 9,500 feet of pipeline and 22 water troughs. They built 20 heavy-use areas to prevent erosion and three stream crossings to limit cattle access to flowing water. The family interseeds winter annuals and legumes into pastures to provide year-round grazing and soil cover.
Justin, Lacie and McKinley Robbins — Scranton, Iowa
About 60 miles northwest of Des Moines, Iowa, Robbins Land & Cattle comprises 1,500 acres of cropland, 500 acres of pasture, 200 Angus cows and an online store offering naturally raised, homegrown beef. The farm borders the North Raccoon River, a “priority watershed” of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, so the Robbins family employs several methods to hold the soil.
Justin converted marginal crop acres into hay or pasture. His rotational grazing helps maintain grass cover. Solar wells draw cattle away from streams, improving water quality for both cattle and the streams. He’s established cover crops on 50% of his farmed acres, which has contributed to a 2- to 5-bushel-per-acre yield advantage.
Carl and Pat Schlinke — San Angelo, Texas
Naming a ranch for a creek that went dry in the 1950s drought is one way to reinforce how important water is. Since inheriting the ranch in 1978, Carl and Pat Schlinke took on a series of water development projects to catch, store and distribute water. Projects include a reservoir, six storage tanks, 8 miles of pipeline and 19 troughs.
The Schlinkes grubbed mesquite and cedar on 3,000 acres to reduce competition for moisture. They aerated and seeded 2,000 acres to improved native grasses. They followed up with hand-spraying and prescribed fire to keep pastures clear. They built 10 miles of fence to divide the six-section ranch into seven pastures for rotational grazing. With less than 20 inches average rainfall, they’ve made the ranch a healthy home to both livestock and wildlife.
Chris and Gary King; Jay King; Kylie and Mitch Thompson — Winnett, Montana
About 90 miles northeast of Billings, Montana, Joe C King & Sons Ranch comprises 21,000 acres, including 5,500 federal acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and another 1,000 acres owned by the state.
Since the 1970s, the family has utilized grazing-and-rest methods to allow native grasses to recover more quickly, produce more grass and benefit wildlife, including sage grouse. The family monitors several sites on the ranch to track changes. Jay has experimented with cover crops on capped, unproductive soils to improve soil quality and grow more forage. To improve grazing distribution, the family has built reservoirs, laid pipeline and activated water wells from oil exploration. Oil has never been discovered on the ranch.
Ben Ferry, John Ferry, Joel Ferry — Corinne, Utah
JY Ferry started ranching in the Bear River Delta of northeastern Utah in 1900. Today, the family-owned business comprises 1,200 cows grazing 110,000 acres in wetland bottoms and high desert range; 3,000 acres of irrigated farmland; and a 6,500-head feedlot.
Grazing has kept phragmites, an invasive plant, to less than 1% of the family-managed wetlands. That prompted state and federal agencies to open lands to grazing. The Ferrys built 2.5 miles of levees to restore 800 acres of wetlands that capture and filter runoff. To improve grazing distribution on dry desert, they built 20,000 gallons of water storage and 6 miles of pipeline to six new troughs. The water increased carrying capacity from 700 cows to 1,200 and provides benefits to wildlife. To improve irrigation efficiency, the Ferrys laid 73,000 feet of pipeline to replace ditches.
Ed and Wanda Blair; Rich and Jeannie Blair; Chad and Mary Blair; Britton and Amanda Blair — Vale, South Dakota
In the rolling prairies of western South Dakota, Blair Brothers Angus Ranch comprises 1,000 cows and up to 2,500 stockers grazing 40,000 acres in two ranches. The Blairs also sell 450 bulls annually.
Ed and Rich Blair experimented with rotational grazing in the 1980s and then implemented it on the rest of the ranch. They continue to crossfence for smaller pastures. On the 18,0000-acre Two Top Ranch the family bought in 2014, they installed 30,000 gallons of water storage, 23 miles of pipeline and 50 water tanks. Working with the NRCS, the Blairs devised a grazing plan to promote mating and nesting of the greater sage grouse.
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