DENVER – Munson Angus Farm, in Junction City, Kan., The Flying Diamond Ranch in Kit Carson, Colo., and SFI, Inc., in Nemaha, Iowa, has been selected as three of six regional honorees of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The award, announced during the 2017 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting July 13, 2017, recognizes the operation’s outstanding stewardship and conservation efforts. This year’s regional winners will compete for the national award, which will be announced during the Annual Cattle Industry Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., in February 2018.
Established in 1991 by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to recognize outstanding land stewards in the cattle industry, ESAP is generously sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
“Cattlemen and women everywhere understand that the land, air and water resources in their care are the cornerstone of their success and they are only stewards of those resources for a short time,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden. “Each of us understands the importance of improving those resources and leaving them better for future generations. This year’s nominees are outstanding examples of what is possible for the beef industry and they serve as an inspiration for producers everywhere to continue improving their stewardship practices now and in the future.”
Founded in 1907 by Charlie Collins, who would later serve as president of the National Cattlemen’s Association, the Flying Diamond Ranch has been in the same family for more than a century. Today, the ranch operates a commercial cow-calf herd, a replacement heifer operation and bull development on 50,000 acres, half of which is deeded acreage, and the other half leased. The ranch is led by Charlie’s great-grandson, Scott Johnson, and his wife Jean with the active help and ownership of their four children and their families.
“It’s all about cattle, ranch and family,” says patriarch Scott Johnson. “My family all along has understood what we really have out here, the natural resources we’ve been entrusted with. It’s pretty special, and if you work with it and you listen it’ll take care of you and we’ll be well prepared for the next generation.”
The ranch is dominated by shortgrass and sandsage prairie, with an average precipitation of just 13 inches per year. The Johnson’s overall goal of working with nature led them to adopt a holistic approach to managing their ranch. They adjusted their calving season to better fit their available forage and implemented a high density, low frequency rotational grazing system in the early 1990s.
All of the family members continue to educate themselves on new and innovative management practices from all over the country to help improve their land. The ranch also enjoys a continued long-term relationship with their land grant institution, Colorado State University (CSU).
Dr. Kevin Pond, Head of the Department of Animal Sciences at CSU, says “The family is a product of the best that Colorado has to offer. Their recognized stewardship of the land has been over generations. As early adopters of technology and drawing from experiences from around the world, Flying Diamond Ranch has always searched for new and proven methods to improve sustainability. The newest generation has received further training at schools across the nation giving the ranch additional advantages to ensure success. Education is very important but successful sustainability of a ranch for several generations speaks for itself.”
“The desire to leave the land better than they found it is a common trait among cattle raisers,” says Dave Owens, beef marketing specialist with sponsor Dow AgroSciences. “You certainly see that in action at the Flying Diamond Ranch . They’re making a real, on-the-ground difference in protecting and improving the environment.”
The family enjoys sharing their ranching history and land management strategies with others and works with their nearby urban community to explain how ranchers’ efforts can benefit everyone. They frequently host tours that range from local elementary students to FFA chapters to an upper level economics class from Colorado College, sharing everything from their business model to information about their environmental practices.
Munson Angus Farm is located in the Flint Hills region of the Tallgrass Prairie, where the family has been in operation for nearly 150 years. The family raises cattle, operates a small feedlot and runs a cropping operation.
Over the years, the Munsons have worked with state and local agencies to improve the health of the land. The family has implemented a rotational grazing system to protect their valuable grass resources. On the crop side, the Munsons switched from conventional tillage to a no-till system to reduce erosion and improve soil health. Today, the ranch is operated by Chuck and Deanna Munson, and their two children David and Michelle play an active role in the operation.
“You certainly learn to realize that quantity is not nearly as important as quality and doing it the right way, and I think that’s always been the number one philosophy of the Munson family and the product that’s produced,” said Deanna Munson.
The Munson family has built an outstanding reputation for doing things the right way in their community, and their dedication to protecting and improving their natural resources is always a primary consideration when making management decisions.
“One of the things that has always impressed me has been their care for the environment and the natural resources,” said Chuck Otte, Kansas State University Extension Agent. “They’re always concerned as much about taking care of the resource as making a profit. If something was going to bring more profit but at the expense of the natural resources and the environment, they wouldn’t do it.”
For example, in 2006, the nearby Smoky Hill River was identified as an area of concern for erosion. Chuck Munson worked to unite neighboring landowners along the river to apply for streambank stabilization funding to help address this critical issue.
“We were losing up to five acres of land a year to stream bank erosion along the river banks and until this project was available and came along we didn’t have much choice but to just watch the land cave into the river,” said Chuck Munson.
David Munson says the change improvements were tremendous once the erosion was stopped.
“We stopped the eating of the river bank, we stopped losing trees. And the best part about it, we saved valuable farm ground that would have been lost. That land would have been lost and river bottom farm ground around here is very valuable. We’ve saved a lot of land through our stabilization work.”
“The desire to leave the land better than they found it is a common trait among cattle raisers,” says Dave Owens, beef marketing specialist with sponsor Dow AgroSciences. “You certainly see that in action in the Munson family. They’re making a real, on-the-ground difference in protecting and improving the environment.”
Operated by the Smith family, which consists of Lynn and Joy, son Seth and his wife Etta, SFI, Inc., is in the heart of the Upper Raccoon River watershed, where Lynn Smith’s family settled in 1886. Lynn began farming at SFI, Inc. in 1971 with Seth, following in his footsteps in 2001. Today, the farm consists of 1,900 acres of row crops, 510 acres of pasture, a 500 head feeder-to-finish hog barn, 210 cow-calf pairs and a 2,200 head feedlot.
“My dad’s dad came here from Illinois,” said Lynn, “and they settled a little west of here, so they’ve been there ever since. I think it’s been 130 years that the Smiths have farmed, or put a crop in.”
Lynn has been using conservation tillage on the farm since 1977, and SFI, Inc., operates on a “closed loop” of enterprises that support each other. The Smiths converted erodible land to pasture and rotationally graze to optimize efficiency. SFI, Inc., has cover crops that also provide fall and spring grazing worth $40 to $60 per acre. The farm is able to greatly reduce nitrate losses thanks to the use of in-season nitrogen applications, cover crops and composted feedlot manure.
The family planted 4,000 feet of windbreaks around the feedlot to protect the cattle, provide a habitat for wildlife and improve the aesthetics. SFI, Inc., also has monoslope feedlot barns that keep rain off the cattle and manure to reduce runoff. Corn stalks provide bedding for the feedlot, and, when composted with manure, provides SFI, Inc., with most of their fertilizer. Water from the feedlot lagoon is recycled via an irrigation pivot onto row crops and serves as fertilizer as well, and a wash bay with a pit captures nutrients from trucks and equipment for recycling.
“The Smiths are just great stewards of the land,” said Jim Frederick, a retired assistant state conservationist for NRCS, “and it’s going to be generational. They’re always willing to teach, and always willing to learn; that’s a good combination to have.”
“The desire to leave the land better than they found it is a common trait among cattle raisers,” says Dave Owens, beef marketing specialist with sponsor Dow AgroSciences. “You certainly see that in action in the Smith family. They’re making a real, on-the-ground difference in protecting and improving the environment.”
SFI, Inc., is located in the drainages, which were targeted by the 2015 Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, which blamed farmers for high nitrate levels in the water. The suit has since been dismissed, but even before the suit the Smiths were focusing on efforts to improve water quality. The Smiths have surpassed regulations to build a double containment system for fuel and feedlot manure. The system has kept containments from streams, even when a tornado opened a valve.
The Smiths are also always looking for ways to share their stewardship story, even providing the beef for the burgers served at a nearby restaurant with a menu that educates consumers about SFI, Inc., and its environmental practices.
The Smiths continue to implement and try new stewardship practices every year, knowing that the changes they implement today will help ensure their farm is around for generations to come.
“I feel like we owe that to the generations prior to us that did a lot of these things that we get to enjoy,” said Seth. “It’s our job to continue that, to pass that on so that every generation that comes along makes things a little better.”