(BPT) - For families raising cattle, their livelihood depends on the land, and protecting the natural resources they rely on is key to sustaining both the land and the way of life. While sustainability is top of mind every April as Earth Day approaches, beef farmers and ranchers across the country have been dedicated to sustainability for decades, which is why the U.S. produces the most sustainable beef in the world[i].
While a dedication to caring for the land is common among beef producers, the practices they employ are different, developed and adapted over time to match the environment and land they depend on.
In honor of Earth Day, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, highlights three recent winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award, working to raise beef and care for the land in very different parts of the country.
The foundation: Soil health
For five generations, the Jorgensen family in Ideal, South Dakota, has depended on soil to help provide nutrients to their grazing cattle. “Soil health is a principal part of everything we do in our operation,” said Brian Jorgensen, chief agronomy operations officer at Jorgensen Land and Cattle. “So we have to do everything we can to sustain and build the health of that soil.”
Toward that aim, they practice rotational grazing, aided by modern technology: “We’ve been supplementing rotational grazing with a GPS grazing collar,” explained Nick Jorgensen, CEO. “That way, we can graze cattle where you can’t put in a fence. We can also graze spots of land on our property that we may have never used before.”
This innovative use of technology ensures no land is overgrazed — and every area is grazed by cattle that help break up the soil crust, encouraging seed-to-soil contact, stimulating plant growth and successfully converting fibrous plants into energy and protein.
“Sustainability has been an important part of our operation for decades,” added Nick. “It’s going to be what powers us into the future.”
Water is life
One mile north of the Horicorn Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, owners of Huth Polled Hereford and S&H Livestock Enterprises in Oakfield, Wisconsin, understand the importance of water.
“The Horicon Marsh is one of the largest marsh systems in the U.S.,” explained Jerry Huth, co-owner. “The challenge we face is containing the animals so their runoff doesn’t get into the streams that enter the marsh. We’re very sensitive about having grass buffer strips that absorb runoff from the fields or the cattle.”
They focus on limiting erosion as a crucial conservation effort. “One way to prevent phosphates going into your water source is to increase the forage density and limit erosion,” said Joshua Scharf, co-owner. “You’re also sequestering carbon while you’re doing that. Clean water benefits wildlife, cattle and humans.”
The company was one of the first to graze cattle on Wisconsin’s public lands, which helped manage vegetation. “When we first took cattle out there, it was woody vegetation over my head. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was burning and spraying chemicals to control it, and they’ve not done that since we’ve had cattle out there,” continued Scharf. “After the first year, you could start seeing grasses pop through. There was a lot of clover and a lot of legumes, that are desirable for cattle and also for wildlife.”
Their efforts offer a great example of people working together with state and federal agencies to create beneficial land for livestock and wildlife alike.
Restoring the ecosystem
Out west, invasive species like pinion and juniper can soak up large amounts of ground water, impeding its flow. The Fulstone family, founders of Fulstone Ranches in Smith Valley, Nevada, have learned these lessons since their family’s arrival in the 1850s.
“We’ve done a lot of work removing pinion and juniper trees, which has improved the grass and the environment for cattle and for sage grouse,” said rancher Annette Fulstone.
Their work includes habitat restoration where erosion caused previously wet meadows to dry out. “The landscape came back from being a washed-out dry creek bed to this lush meadow,” added Emily Fulstone, Annette's niece. “My dream for the future is to continue working on our regenerative practices to be more sustainable in every aspect.”
The Fulstone family aims to preserve the land for generations to come. “Our cattle are very beneficial to the land. We’re probably raising one of the best sources of protein you can in this environment,” said Steven Fulstone, Emily’s father and Annette’s brother. “It’s a renewable resource, and probably the best use of the land.”
To learn more about these and the other 2022 award winners visit EnvironmentalStewardship.org, or visit BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com to learn more about how cattle are raised across the country.
[i] UN FAO. 2021. FAOSTAT Database – Food and agricultural data. Available at: https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home