Frank “Sonny” W. Williamson Jr. and Frank “Wes” Williamson III of Williamson Cattle Company in Okeechobee, FL, and Faunsdale, AL have been selected as the National Winners of the 2004 National Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The family was recognized tonight at the annual ESAP Reception during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio, Texas. The prestigious award program recognizes cattle producers across the nation, whose stewardship practices are progressive, cost-effective and contribute to environmental conservation.

“The Williamsons’ operation is an exemplary picture of environmental stewardship, while demonstrating the ability and willingness to work with the public to help promote the overall goals established by the ESAP,” says Dave Petty, Iowa cattle producer and chairman of the award selection committee. “They will certainly continue the impressive legacy established by the other national winners, and they are an outstanding example for all cattle producers to emulate.”

In its 14th year, the awards program is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences L.L.C and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA and administered by NCBA. The Williamsons were this year’s regional winners from NCBA Region II, which consists of eight southeastern states. They were nominated by the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

“Today’s cattle producers are innovative environmentalists,” explains Stacey Katseanes, NCBA’s associate director of Environmental Affairs, “They spend their lives working the land and embody the true nature of conservation. The ESAP is a great opportunity for the industry to showcase families like the Williamsons, who utilize creative technologies and innovations to run a profitable, environmentally-friendly business.”

“This family has put forth an outstanding effort to conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources,” says Petty.  “They have taken a proactive approach to working with the public and are successful in helping others better understand how the cattle industry, conservation, and the environment fit together.”

The Williamson Cattle Company is a diversified operation uniquely designed to weather market fluctuations. Situated on nearly 9,000 acres, the ranch is home to approximately 2,300 commercial Brangus cows. The Williamsons utilize the Alabama operation to breed replacement heifers for the Florida operation. In addition to their cow-calf business, the Williamsons grow oranges and grapefruit. Since 1983, they have been developing a catfish farming operation in Alabama, now consisting of over 1,200 acres of water.

“The Williamsons’ natural resource stewardship practices are a major contributor to enhancing environmental protection on their south Florida lands,” said Victoria Tschinkel, Florida State Director of The Nature Conservancy, in their application.  “This third-generation ranching family’s commitment to ensuring and enhancing the future of their lands for the benefit of the environment and the long-term financial stability of their operation serves as a model for other ranchers. By establishing a variety of model conservation and agricultural programs on their lands, they illustrate how to balance economics with practical land management.”

Since the Williamson Ranch sits in the basin that feeds the everglades, water conservation practices have been of particular importance to the operation. By restoring wetlands on the property, water is returned to a more natural cleansing cycle while enhancing wildlife habitat and controlling erosion at the same time. The white-tail deer population is controlled with specific hunting quotas, and overall diversity is fostered with food plots and other wildlife enhancing techniques.

The Williamson family considers their natural resources to be an inheritance from their forefathers, and a gift for the children. This philosophy has made the Williamson Cattle Company a leader in the community and across the Southeast, combining progressive cattle production with strong environmental practices, while maintaining a seamless union between profitability and production. The Williamsons have also volunteered to work with other environmentally friendly organizations to establish the best practices possible, including the Nature Conservancy, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, South Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, and more.

“We are extremely proud to have selected the Williamson family as this year’s winner, and we look forward to another active year working with cattle producers, government officials, biologists, environmentalists, and news reporters from across the country to promote this positive message about our industry,” says Petty. “Enthusiasm for the ESAP continues to intensify— with last year’s national winner featured on national television and in numerous news publications.” 

NCBA is now accepting applications for the15th annual award program. Any group or organization is eligible to nominate one individual/business who raises or feeds cattle. The deadline for this year’s applications is March 4, 2005. For more information on the Williamson family, the 2004 regional winners, or how you can become a winner, contact Stacey Katseanes in NCBA’s Washington D.C. office at 202-347-0228.