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.
Valley View Farms, Harrisonburg, Va.
This beef operation is managed by Mike and Susan Phillips in the Shenandoah Valley, about 100 miles west-southwest of Washington, D.C. The 310-acre farm has been in Mike’s family for more than 100 years.
It includes spring- and fall-calving commercial cows, stockers and seasonal poultry houses. It also is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where regulatory pressure has raised water-quality concerns.
Here are some of the Phillips’ practices the judges liked:
• Fenced and planted riparian buffers to protect water quality.
• No-till farming and mixed-species cover crops reduce erosion and build soil health.
• Rotational grazing, summer annuals and stockpiled fescue provide about 280 days of grazing.
• Clean water for cattle in 28 pastures comes from 21 frost-free troughs and 13,000 feet of pipeline.
• They wean, overwinter and background cattle in confinement to capture manure for use.
• Planted trees, shrubs, warm-season grasses and food plots to restore quail habitat.
• Established permanent pollinator habitat.
• Sell some natural beef through local cooperative to restaurants and retail stores.