The Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) is one of the U.S. beef industry's most visible and celebrated honors.

Now in its 18th year, seven regional honorees were chosen from industry organization nominations. From these, one will be named the national winner at the 2009 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Phoenix, AZ, Jan. 28-31.

“The seven regional winners have made extensive efforts to work closely with their local communities and government agencies, and conservation and wildlife organizations to assist in the development of conservation practices and protecting valuable rangelands,” the 2008 ESAP selection committee writes.

The committee consists of past award winners, university faculty, government agencies and environmental organizations. Administered by the National Cattlemen's Foundation, sponsors include Dow AgroSciences LLC, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nominations are open for the 2009 ESAP and will be accepted until Feb. 25. Nomination packets can be found at www.environmentalstewardship.org.

Region I

Sennett Cattle Co.,
Waynetown, IN

Clark Sennett returned to the family operation after graduating from Purdue in 1970 with an animal science degree. Working alongside his father, he was able to acquire the farm in the mid 1980s. His son Lance joined the operation in 1995. Together, they've built a multi-dimensional operation that includes a feeding, registered and commercial cow-calf and farming operation.

Sennett Cattle Co. markets 1,800 head of feeder cattle in Indiana and 500 head in Kansas. In addition, the operation runs 115 head of Limousin and 115 head of commercial cow-calf pairs while farming 7,000 acres.

Ongoing work with the NRCS has allowed Clark to seek technical assistance in planning and implementing run-off storage facilities from the feedlot to not only protect waterways, but also utilize his grazing management plan and apply agronomic rates across his fields semi-annually.

Other notable environmental efforts include rotational grazing, manure management, wildlife-habitat restoration and minimum/no-till planting practices.

Sennett is an active member of the Indiana Cattlemen's Association and Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Program. Serving on committees or providing valuable financial advice for fellow farmers or ranchers is not unusual for Clark.

“Dad's love for raising cattle is shown in everything he does,” Lance says. “From serving as a spokesman for the cattle industry to being engaged at all levels of the beef cattle association, Dad gives much of his time and money to promote beef production and consumption.”

Region II

Yon Family Farms,
Ridge Spring, SC

Established in 1996, Yon Family Farms is family-owned and operated by Kevin and Lydia Yon and their three children. The farm includes 1,500 acres of cropland, hay and pastureland. It's also a diversified Angus seedstock operation that incorporates income from the sale of seed and feed for livestock, freezer beef and the children's sweet corn sales.

By partnering with USDA-NRCS and the Saluda Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the Yons have utilized technical and financial assistance to install practices and easement through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Forestry Incentives Program, Conservation Security Program and Grassland Reserve Program. With such partnerships, the Yons have implemented no-till practices, rotational crop planning sequences, nutrient and pest management, forage and soil sampling that have enabled them to become grass farmers.

In cooperation with the NRCS and the Saluda SWCD, the Yons developed a comprehensive plan to increase forage production and reduce sedimentation and erosion. This has been accomplished by installing 28 water troughs, 55,352 ft. of cross-fencing and 34,616 sq. ft. of heavy materials to protect from erosion.

Yon Family Farms is host to many activities, which include producer tours, education studies and conservation programs. They've been able to share their passion and love for the cattle industry and land through hosting international students and conducting internships.

Region III

Guge Family Farm,
Estherville, IA

Mark and Norma Guge own and operate a commercial cow-calf, feedlot and farming operation, which runs on owned and long-term lease acreage. With family roots in the area dating back to 1891, the Guge family has developed a love for the land as short-term tenants with aspirations of passing on the traditions to the next generation.

The Guges' conservation ethic began with Myron Guge in 1944. Now partnering with the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council and USDA-NRCS, the Guges have implemented rotational grazing plans for their pastureland and crop rotations that utilize contour farming to maximize profitability. This has been a practice for 50 years on the Guge Family Farm.

They have transitioned into a no-till drill to seed soybeans into cornstalk residue and leave soybean stubble undisturbed until immediately prior to planting, when manure from the feedlot is added to the soil as fertilizer.

When reconstructing their 300-head feedlot, the Guges implemented a manure catch basin. Berms were built below the feedlot with a slotted-gate system for settling out the solids from feedlot runoff. Below the settling basin, an area of grasses has been seeded, which helps reduce runoff and lessen erosion. This area is left primarily ungrazed and makes an excellent wildlife habitat.

The Guges have hosted pasture walks with business and industry peers. In working with the Iowa Lakes Controlled Grazing project, they have hosted more than 1,000 people for grazing education and demonstration projects, as well as made statewide presentations with 1,400 producers in attendance.

Region IV

Bradley 3 Ranch,
Memphis, TX

Located in north Texas near the Red River, the Bradley 3 Ranch is owned by Minnie Lou Bradley, her daughter Mary Lou Bradley-Henderson and son-in-law James Henderson. The ranch operates on 11,500 acres, which sustain the purebred registered cattle operation and wildlife.

Maintaining productive forage lands and improving native pastures has been one of the top priorities for the Bradley 3 Ranch, since it is a year-round grazing operation. When Mary Lou became ranch manager in 1997, she consulted with range-management advisors from NRCS and Texas AgriLife Extension. Their advice was to implement an aerial-spraying program to control mesquite, but do so at a time when it would not affect neighboring cotton farms. In 2004, the ranch began mechanical removal of redberry juniper on a limited basis to open pastures.

In working with the local FFA chapter, the Bradleys utilized Global Positioning Service collars to track the grazing patterns of their cattle to determine the use and grazing capacity in its current forage state. In analyzing the data, they determined that mesquite and juniper removal was crucial, along with strategically developing watering units in areas that would not only benefit the cattle, but wildlife as well.

They have developed 26 automatic watering systems for birds, and a total of 24 watering sources have been developed, made up of windmills, solar-powered pumps, pipelines from submersible pumps and a rural water line. The Bradley 3 Ranch has begun supplementing income with wild game hunts, which have become abundant due to environmental improvements.

Region V

Veseth Cattle Co.,
Malta, MT

The Veseth family has been involved in conservation since arriving in the area in 1886. Four generations now live and work on the operation. The ranch has operated as a cow-calf operation, which runs Red Angus composite females and utilizes an intensive artificial insemination program.

Since 1905, the ranch and its conservation partners, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), NRCS and Ducks Unlimited, have developed 156 reservoirs/pit-dams. These water developments help distribute livestock and reduce the impacts on traditional riparian areas, while enhancing wildlife habitat.

With hunting regulations and well-managed resources, the area is known today for its ample wildlife. In fact, Phillips County, where the Veseths operate, is home to 12 of the 13 endemic grassland birds of North America.

As one of the founding operations of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, the Veseths serve as leaders in the cattle industry, conducting operation tours and developing opportunities to increase sustainability.

In working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Dale Veseth developed an incentives program using the 60,000-acre Matador Ranch that had been purchased by TNC. They developed conservation values to reward ranchers for providing wildlife habitat on their own ranches for prairie dogs and sage grouse. The program is designed with incentives for noxious weed prevention and eradication, provides a moratorium on converting native rangeland to cropland, and encourages certification in the Undaunted Stewardship Program. This program is known as the “Matador Grassbank.”

Region VI

Babacomari Ranch,
Sonoita, AZ

Located five miles from the Mexican border, the Babacomari Ranch is a family-owned operation purchased by the Brophy family in 1935. The Brophys were the third owner of this history-rich land once owned by the King of Spain.

The Babacomari Ranch is the longest continuous section of land in the state of Arizona. Spanning 26 miles in length, the ranch varies in elevation from 5,600 ft. to 4,000 ft. and comprises 28,300 acres.

Today, the ranch is a unique ownership structure of 57 family members. The ranch is led by managing partner Ben Brophy and ranch foreman Doug Ruppel. The stocker-cattle enterprise runs a combination of feeder steers and a bred-heifer development program.

By partnering with NRCS and the Natural Resources Conservation District, the Brophy family developed 25 monitoring transects throughout the ranch in 1996 for trend analysis and management implications. In addition, they are currently involved in two EQIP contracts covering brush control, water development and fencing, and a Watershed Habitat Improvement Program contract to improve and protect critical spring water ecology and the endangered Gila Chub fish.

Through one of the EQIP contracts, the Babacomari Ranch has been able to implement root plowing on 2,000 acres, which opened up the land to increased water saturation and decreased sheet erosion while increasing forage production. Partnerships do not end there for the Babacomari Ranch. In partnering with TNC, the Brophys are working to place 16,000 acres of the ranch into conservation easements held by the BLM.

Region VII

Hovde Ranch,
Alexander, ND

Owned by Lynn and Patti Hovde, Hovde Ranch consists of a commercial cow-calf, backgrounding, feedlot and heifer-development program. Homesteaded in 1907, the Hovdes raise cash crops of spring wheat, malting barley and safflower.

In 1978, the Hovde family researched and developed a dam to hold water for irrigation purposes. The project was developed with the McKenzie County Soil Conservation Service and North Dakota Water Commission. In 1995, the irrigation pond began to also serve as a storage pond for the feedlot and met all necessary codes required by state and federal laws with the assistance from NRCS. The pond began to serve even more purposes, including a water reserve for the irrigation systems, a feedlot runoff and habitat for waterfowl.

Additional environmental enhancements include no-till farming, shelterbelts and a nutrient-management plan. By working with NRCS through an EQIP grant, the Hovdes are creating shelterbelts. The effort includes removal of dead tree rows from the 30-year-old shelterbelt to improve forage production and interim protection from the cold winter winds.

In addition to their water storage pond, the family also has the Arnegard Dam, a recreational body of water, on their ranch. The McKenzie County (ND) Park Board holds the easement to the land surrounding the manmade lake. In working with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the state Water Commission, they restocked the dam with adult Northern Pike, as well as made environmental and cosmetic repairs to the dam.