Regulatory pressures, erosion prevention, water management and wildlife protection are representative of the challenges met by this year's National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners. Each operation exemplifies the long-term thinking and foresight that caught the eyes of program judges.

"This year's winners prove that proper land management and incorporating proven management strategies contribute to environmentally sound, profitable operations," says Clark Willingham, NCBA president.

Winners will be honored during the annual NCBA meeting in Charlotte, NC, February 10-14. The national winner will be announced then.

The award is presented by a committee that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Farmland Trust, The Nature Conservancy American Sportsfishing Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Protection Agency and academia and beef industry representatives.

The award is sponsored by Dow AgriSciences, LLC.

Concentrated livestock operations are under increasing regulatory and political pressure in the U.S., but the Greig Family of Estherville, IA, has always been ahead of the curve.

John Greig Sr., started his seedstock farm and feedlot in 1936 and began to invest in a total manure management system in the early 1940s. Sons Hugh and John Jr. have taken over that progressive attitude of stewardship.

Today, the farm includes a 2,500-head capacity feedlot, 200-head cowherd and 300 stockers. They use an anaerobic lagoon, wastewater holding pond and a wastewater irrigation system. Feedlot manure is used as an economical source of fertilizer, freeing 600 acres from the use of chemical fertilizers, increasing soil fertility and maintaining clean streams.

All marginal land (more than a 4% slope or lying in a floodplain) has been pastured. These are rotationally grazed and regularly interseeded to provide more feed for cattle and habitat for deer and geese.

Fences protect the Des Moines River, while spring-fed ponds have been dug and fenced away from the cattle. These ponds are stocked with fish and are nesting areas for wildlife. The overflow provides water for the controlled grazing paddocks and calving barn, as well as water, heat and air conditioning for the family home.

Surrounding the newest feedlot pens, the Greigs have planted several species of pine and hardy flowering shrubs to serve as cattle windbreaks and to reduce any odors between the feedlots and town. In addition, the areas that adjoin the windbreak were planted to switchgrass creating habitat for pheasants and wild turkey.

In the early 1990s, Greig and Co., Inc., participated in a feedlot runoff control project, jointly sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa State University Extension Service. The farm was used to demonstrate feedlot runoff control structures, their operation and maintenance requirements to livestock producers from across the state.

In their on-going efforts to cooperate with environmental, conservation and cattle groups, the Greigs have hosted hundreds of farm tours, including guests from Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, Europe and North, South and Central America.

Minimizing erosion, improving water quality and protecting riparian areas are a priority for Poplar Hollow Farms and its owners - Carl and Edna Bryson, their son Charles and his wife JoAnn.

Located in the western North Carolina Appalachian Mountains, the Bryson family operation grazes 80 cattle on the river bottomlands and uplands along the French Broad River. To improve water quality and protect riparian areas, the Brysons limit the cattle's access to streams and the French Broad River.

Cattle also utilize a gravity-fed watering trough fed from a spring and encircled by a concrete slab to prevent mud. In areas without springs, they've built seven cattle watering ramps to limit access to streams and creeks, while meeting the cattle's need for water.

Concrete slab feeding pads are used for winter feeding. The Brysons also use them for manure collection and to control soil erosion. Manure collected from the feeding pads is spread on pastures to promote vegetation growth and reduce fertilizer costs. Feeding cattle on the pads also reduces cattle stress and weight loss by eliminating deep mud around the feeding areas.

Stream bank stabilization has been a constant effort along the eroding banks of the French Broad River and its tributaries. Banks are lined with stone riprap to prevent serious erosion and water degradation. The Brysons have participated in riverbank stabilization projects and experiments that use naturally adapted vegetation to hold the banks and benefit wildlife and fishery resources at the same time.

The Bryson Family has hosted tour groups to share with their visitors how they care for the land.

Reforestation and water management projects are just part of the long-time stewardship program of Rally Farms. A registered Angus beef and crop farm owned and operated by Jesse and Gayle Bontecou, the operation includes a total of 120 cows, 30 replacement heifers and four bulls.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) built a 100-acre lake on Rally Farms to provide a greater water supply and create an aesthetically pleasing recreation spot and fish habitat.

Birds have flocked to the site, including several blue heron, snowy egrets and several eagles. There is also a riparian buffer strip maintained along the lake, which is being protected in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program.

Contour strip cropping is used on Rally Farms, allowing them to produce small grains to a greater degree and provide a rotation beyond just corn to hay. Soils are subject to less erosion and wildlife graze field edges without having to walk through the fields.

Most of the farmed acreage at Rally Farms is gently rolling with some steeply sloped pastureland. The farm was reconfigured by some of the longest diversion ditches ever constructed by the NRCS in 1949. Today, these same ditches have greatly enhanced the cropping ability of the soils while providing excellent erosion control. Grouse, quail and pheasant use the ditches as cover while deer use them for grazing.

The Bontecous have reforested 38 acres of upland on Rally Farms. The plan involved planting 1,200-1,500 white pine, Norway spruce and larch trees on one field, while black locust were planted on another field.

Hunting and fishing are allowed to a select number of individuals in exchange for their labor on Rally Farms. This gives the individuals a chance to learn the farm boundaries and provides them with a greater understanding of the farm operations.

Ensuring an adequate water supply on wide expanses of upland prairie was a challenge for Tom Jones when he established his farm near Midland, SD, 106 years ago. It's still a major focus for his grandson, Ralph "Shorty" Jones, his wife Maxine and their two sons, Scott and Barry.

The Jones Family Ranch drilled an artesian well in 1980 and installed 16 miles of pipeline with two stock dams tied into the system. Using stock dams to store and widely disperse the water sources over the range, pipes pierce the dam grades for gravity flow to tanks below the dam, protecting pond hedges and improving watering conditions for the cattle.

Trees and shrubs are grown along the riparian areas. They also defer grazing on riparian areas until winter and early spring to maintain and promote grass cover on streambeds.

The Jones Family participates in the Upper Bad River Demonstration Project. The project brings water and cross-fencing together to better utilize the upland prairie and re-establish native trees and shrubs, as well as reduce the amount of oil sediment that reaches the Missouri River.

To capture snow for additional moisture during the coming crop season, the Joneses leave foot-wide strips between every swath when cutting prairie hay.

Their stewardship has provided an abundance of wildlife on the ranch. The Jones Ranch provides habitat for deer, antelope, pheasant, grouse, songbirds, hawks, eagles and coyotes.

Optimum use of the grass resource, protecting threatened species and maximizing wildlife habitat are three focal points of stewardship for Ray Marxer. A 24-year employee of the Matador Cattle Co., Marxer has managed the ranch since 1990.

Owned by Charles and David Koch, the Matador Cattle Co. maintains a cattle herd of 6,400 to 6,900 cow/calf pairs and 800 stocker cattle.

In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Sierra Club and Montana State University (MSU), the Matador Cattle Co. implemented a rest-rotation grazing system 23 years ago. The system is a three-pasture rest rotation where 1/3 of the range is rested each year and seasonal use of the land is alternated.

The program has been a success, increasing vegetation and reducing erosion. It also supplies winter range for a number of elk, mule deer and moose, and is a popular fishing and hunting location.

Working briefly with the U.S. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Bureau of Land Management, Marxer is working to re-establish fish habitat for the threatened West Slope Cutthroat Trout.

Along more than two miles of Bear Creek, the Marxers and cooperators are reseeding stream banks and temporarily fencing portions of the waterways in coordination with the existing federal land management plan.

Marxer conducted a study to scientifically measure the effects of livestock grazing, wildlife grazing and natural geologic function on streams and nearby vegetation on a portion of the ranch. Through intensive photo monitoring and consultations with MSU plant and animal science professionals and U.S. Forest Service and Resource Concepts, Inc., Marxer successfully defended their environmentally friendly Forest Service grazing practices. The results of that study are published and available through MSU-Bozeman.

The Matador Cattle Co. is a key sponsor, host and advocate for Conservation Day. Coordinated by the Beaverhead Range Science Committee, Conservation Day teaches the area's seventh graders "on-the-ground" lessons in conservation.

Besides giving local tours and workshops on the ranch, Ray and his wife Sue have hosted World Wide Country Tour's "Big Sky Tour" since 1989, hosting an average of 200 guests per summer.