Seven ranches across the nation were recently honored as outstanding stewards of the land in the annual Environmental Stewardship Awards Program (ESAP). In the next week, we will feature one of these ranches each day.
ESAP is in its 25th year and the 25th national winner will be selected from among these cattle producers and announced in early February 2016 at the annual convention of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in San Diego.
Most, if not all, of the ranches named ESAP winners in the past quarter century are multi-generational and have long-standing records of operation, showing the connection between stewardship and ranch profitability.
ESAP is administered by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation and is funded by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tyson Foods and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Here is a “tour” of one of those ranches and some of the traits the judges thought made it so outstanding.
Kopriva Angus, Raymond, S.D.
Jim and Karen Kopriva and their son, Lee, operate this seedstock and commercial black Angus ranch with 370 cows and a hay operation.
The ranch comprises 2,700 acres of owned and leased land in northeastern South Dakota.
Among the environmentally sound practices the judges liked were these:
• Since buying the farm in 1991, the Koprivas have transitioned to no-till, cover crops and pasture.
• At one time, more than 1,200 acres operated by the family were cropped. Today, only 130 acres are farmed.
• In the early 1980s, Jim proved to himself the value of rotational grazing after hearing Alan Savory talk.
• Jim saw that he could improve grass while stocking at a rate 475 percent higher than typical for the area.
• Since then, the family has cross-fenced pastures and developed watering points on a large scale.
• Developed water sources in the form of 35 dams and dugouts, three springs and two rural water lines.
• More than one-third of their moisture falls as snow, so the Koprivas leave 18 miles of standing grass strips 4 feet wide to help catch blowing snow and let the moisture infiltrate the soil.
• Near roads, the grass strips save snow removal costs for the county and townships.
• The grass strips also provide habitat for wildlife, pollinators, song birds and butterflies.
• The family annually harvests and sells about 500 tons of hay into the horse market in North Carolina.
• Grazing management sometimes makes it possible to harvest grass seed and sell it for up to $6 per pound.
• Over 30 years, grass has been as profitable as grain for the family and with less risk.