News Releases

Date: 7/12/2006

Title: News Releases on Each of Seven Regional ESAP Winners

WASHINGTON - Bill and Fran Blight of Blight Family Farms in Albion, Michigan are one of seven Regional Winners in the 16th annual Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).  The award program recognizes cattle operations that are proven stewards of the land, dedicated to natural resource conservation through the use of innovative, cost effective stewardship practices.

Located in south central Michigan, Blight Family Farms was selected from entries submitted within  National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region I, which includes nine states from Kentucky to New York and were nominated by Michigan State University Extension.

“The Blights are proactive environmental stewards who are concerned about conservation on their farm and make a continuous effort to assure future generations understand the importance of good stewardship,” explains Stacey Katseanes, coordinator of the program. “This family understands the bigger picture and is dedicated to long-term land preservation efforts.”

The Blight family operation spans three generations including Bill and Fran’s two sons Art and Ken, their families, and their grandson Stan.  The farm started with 319 acres in 1965 and has grown into a diverse enterprise of 2,200 acres today.  The Blights feed 570 feeder steers every 6 months and have a farrow to finish hog operation with 110 sows, turning out 1700 market hogs each year. 

“After many years of working to best manage runoff, much their cattle feeding operation has been converted from dirt lots into open sided barns with sloped concrete floors to eliminate outside runoff,” explains Katseanes.  “Additionally, they have planted grass filter strips and windbreaks to catch runoff from dirt lots still in use.”

Their environmentally friendly, no-till cropping system allows for more organic matter to be left in the soil and the fields drain more efficiently during wet seasons while maintaining a higher than normal water holding capacity for their area of the state. The farm was recently given the highest stewardship standing in the state, becoming Environmentally Assured through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

The Blight’s farm also includes 130 acres of forest land which had been over cut in the past, and they are coordinating with a local forester to initiate reforesting projects.  In addition, the Blights are currently constructing a five acre wildlife habitat area for game birds using native warm-season grasses.   

“There is an abundance of wildlife surrounding the family farm, including ducks, geese, deer, pheasant, coyotes and turkeys,” say the Blights.

The family is extensively involved in community service and land use planning. They work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to seek technical assistance in planning and implementing windbreaks, conservation tillage, nutrient and pesticide management, woodland improvement, filter strips and animal waste management.

 “Working with the Blights has always been a learning experience, as they continue to come up with innovative ways to do things better,” says Daniel Kesselring, past USDA-NRCS district conservationist.

Members of the family have served in numerous associations and governing boards including the Michigan Cattlemen’s board of directors, the Beef Industry Commission and the Innovative Farmers of South Central Michigan.  They are active with their local 4-H clubs and lend their farm to cooperative research and educational projects with Michigan State University.    

“The only way to continue thriving in agriculture is to recognize agriculture’s value to our national economy and continue to make it a strong priority,” says Ken Blight. “Land needs to be conserved by each farmer and policy must be implemented to achieve this.”

Georgia Ranch Wins Top Environmental Award

Hayston Farms is ESAP Region II Winner


The Greer family of Mansfield, Georgia has been selected as one of the seven Regional Winners of the 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The national award program is administered by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and recognizes cattle producers across the nation that utilize inventive, cost effective stewardship practices that contribute to environmental conservation.


Located in north central Georgia, just 45 miles southeast of Atlanta, Hayston Farms was nominated by the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and represents NCBA’s Region II, which includes eight southeastern states spanning from Louisiana to North Carolina.


“The Greer family exhibits tremendous stewardship in regards to wildlife preservation, grasslands enrichment and timber management,” explains Stacey Katseanes, coordinator of the program. “They’ve made a lifetime commitment to preserving open landscapes that have gradually become the outskirts of a huge metropolitan area.”


Hayston Farms covers 1,255 acres in Georgia’s Newton, Oglethorpe and Wilkes counties. Their property is diverse, featuring everything from open pasture to dense forestland.  They own 90 Brangus cows that calve in both fall and spring.


“The Greer family pays careful and complete attention to the health of their pastures,” says Katseanes. “By keeping low stocking rates, ensuring that practices are in place to limit erosion and conducting rotational grazing, they ensure that the pastures stay green and cattle always have access to enough high quality grass.”


Abiding by a “more grass than cattle” rule, Mr. Greer combines pasture seeding, fertilizer application and pest control measures.  Additionally, he consistently tests his soils and closely observes water quality, adjusting pasture use accordingly to maintain the operation’s balance.


“Mr. Greer has planted food plots, created corridors for wildlife movement and maintained habitats for sheltering wildlife on the farm,” says Katseanes. “He has even actively designed safeguards to prevent poaching on his property and meticulously observes the tree population.”


The work of Fred and Peggy Greer has guaranteed homes for innumerable wildlife including deer, bobcats and countless birds. Planting, thinning and harvesting are rotated to maintain the aesthetically pleasing landscape for the Greer family and the public. In addition, Hayston Farms actively works to embrace the public and educate them about land preservation and agriculture.

“The Greers are solution-oriented cattle producers who regularly open their home and operation for conservation field days and demonstration events,” states Jim Strickland, president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association.  “Any signs of the eroded cotton farm from the 1940’s have been replaced by permanent pasture grasses and Brangus cattle; designated wildlife areas, pasture rotation and fertilization based on continuing soil test recommendations and selective timber harvests complement the overall conservation and maintenance plan at Hayston Farms.”


Hayston Farms works closely with the Farm Services Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to achieve their land conservation goals. They have also taken an active role in the community, working with the county government on issues that affect agriculture and the environment. Mr. Greer was a founder and former Chairman of the Board for the Georgia Agribusiness Council.


“Why do we do it? Because it is the right thing to do,” Greer explains. “It’s been part of my blood and heritage and love from an early age.  Our living came from the soil, water and forest. The better we cared for it, the better it cared for us.”


Iowa Farm Wins Top Environmental Award

Clan Farms is ESAP Region III Winner

The Hunt family of Clan Farms in Atlantic, Iowa is one of seven Regional Winners in the 16th annual Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).  The award program recognizes cattle operations that are proven stewards of the land, dedicated to natural resource conservation through the use of innovative, cost effective stewardship practices.

Located in southwestern Iowa’s East Nishnabotna River bottom, Clan Farms was nominated by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. They were selected from entries submitted within National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region III, which includes Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

“Our program acknowledges producers like the Hunt family who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to preserve natural resources,” explains Stacey Katseanes, ESAP coordinator. “The Hunt family demonstrates how today’s ranchers can utilize innovative approaches to problem-solving while maintaining an environmentally-friendly business.”

Nick and Sue Hunt and daughters Liz and Carolyn are the fourth generation of a farm family that has tended the land and its natural resources since 1868.  The 2,400 acre farm exemplifies environmental stewardship in the management of a 3,400 head feedlot as well as a 120 head cow-calf herd and farming operation that includes corn, soybeans and alfalfa. 

“The Hunts actively work to preserve their natural surroundings and maintain a viable operation in the East Nishnabotna River watershed,” says Katseanes.  “Water conservation is a top priority, and the family has worked with state and federal agencies to create riparian buffer strips and to plant hundreds of trees to prevent soil erosion along the operation’s waterways.” 

Most recently, the Hunt family completed a conservation project in their feedlot which includes an 11-acre basin to capture all feedlot runoff water which is used fertilize and irrigate their 120 acre corn field.  Because of these efforts, the feedlot is certified by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as ‘totally contained’ for rainfall runoff. 

“The environmental enhancements made throughout the many facets of Clan Farms make the Hunt family a model for other farms and ranches to emulate,” says Katseanes.  “And, many nearby ranchers are taking notice.  Following the Hunts’ lead, many area operators have adopted similar approaches to soil and water management.”   

The Hunt family not only proactively manages the natural terrain around them but is also dedicated to efforts in the surrounding community.  They are in close contact with neighbors and employ practices such as drop down irrigation nozzles to minimize odor. Clan Farms also maintains an acutely accurate nutrient management plan.  “As farmers, we need to be upfront with our neighbors.  We need to discuss with them why we do the necessary things to operate our farms efficiently, such as applying manure to crop ground, or building large storage basins to prevent any pollution of our waterways,” says Nick Hunt.

"Four generations of Hunt families have served as role models for community improvement,” says neighbor David Nichols. “When Cass County community projects are proposed, you can bet the farm a member of the Hunt family will have their sleeves rolled up, ready to help." 

“Good stewardship is important for economic benefit and can greatly add to your bottom line,” says Hunt.  “But even more importantly, good stewardship is crucial for maintaining the farm for future generations, and maintaining a positive public perception of farmers.”

Texas Ranch Wins Top Environmental Award

San Pedro Ranch is ESAP Region IV Winner

The Fitzsimons and Howard families of San Pedro Ranch in Carrizo Springs, Texas are one of seven Regional Winners in this year’s 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The annual award program recognizes cattle operations that are proven stewards of the land, dedicated to natural resource preservation through the use of innovative, cost effective stewardship practices.

Located near the Texas-Mexico border, the San Pedro Ranch was nominated by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. They were selected from entries submitted from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region IV, which includes Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“This Environmental Stewardship Award Program gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the people of San Pedro Ranch, who have made a lifetime commitment to land conservation,” explains Stacey Katseanes, coordinator of the program.

San Pedro Ranch has been in the family since 1932.  Brother and sister Joseph Fitzsimons and Pamela Howard have maintained the ranch and the entire management team now includes: Joseph and his wife Blair; Pamela and her husband Ryland; and manager Daniel Boone. The ranch covers 24,000 acres of Texas rangeland, with plant life ranging from savannah grasses to mesquite brush. Their cattle operation features registered and commercial Beefmasters, specifically selected for their ability to thrive in a harsh climate.

“In order to maintain the ecological integrity of their rangeland, the San Pedro Ranch practices a variety of management techniques that contribute to conservation,” says Katseanes. “Rotational grazing is used as an integral part of their stewardship program. The cattle are bred to calve within a couple months, and all of the cattle are kept together in a single herd and move through a 17 pasture system. Pastures are given recuperation time based on rainfall and forage growth.  Such practices have increased forage diversity and generally improved the health of the pastures.”

Because of careful attention to environmental conservation, wildlife on the San Pedro Ranch has increased in number and quality. The rangeland abounds with dove, quail, white-tailed deer, turkey and rare species such as the Texas tortoise and the Texas horned lizard.

“Pasture improvement has led to increased ground cover by a variety of plants,” explains Katseanes. “In turn, rainfall absorption by the land has improved and runoff has been reduced. The San Pedro spring, the last in a 50 mile radius, has benefited from these ecological enhancements, exhibiting stronger flow now than in the past.”

“The families manage the ranch holistically by setting goals, analyzing the impacts of all decisions, testing those decisions and practices against the goal,” says C. Wayne Hanselka, Professor and Extension Program Leader for Rangeland Ecology and Management at Texas A&M. “The results over the past 20 years are enhanced rangeland health, decreased bare ground, and increased plant and animal biodiversity. The resulting mosaic is excellent habitat for cattle and a variety of wildlife species. Long dormant springs are now flowing and riparian creek drainages support high successional plant species while retaining water yearlong.”

The families have conducted field days and tours to promote community interaction and regularly work with a variety of organizations including: theTexas Department of Agriculture, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Holistic Resource Management and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“San Pedro has been more than willing to share their success and management techniques with other individuals and groups through field days and tours,” says NRCS wildlife biologist Stan Reinke.

“The team at San Pedro Ranch is dedicated to the conservation of tens of thousands of acres in south Texas,” says Katseanes. “Americans can be thankful that ranches like San Pedro are taking care of our nation’s open spaces and preserving our natural resources for generations.”

Wyoming Farm Wins Top Environmental Award

Thaler Land & Livestock is ESAP Region V Winner

Thaler Land & Livestock of LaGrange, Wyoming has been selected as one of seven Regional Winners in the 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).  The Annual ESAP Awards recognize ranchers who demonstrate innovative and cost-effective approaches to land stewardship on their working cattle operations.

Located in southeastern Wyoming, Thaler Land & Livestock was selected to represent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region V, which includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.  They were nominated by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“Thaler Land & Livestock and the entire Thaler family have proven their commitment to range and resource preservation on their Wyoming cattle operation,” explains Stacey Katseanes, coordinator of the program.  “I am honored to recognize them for their outstanding commitment to resource enhancement and conservation.  Not only does their commitment to the land embody the true meaning of environmentalism, but it serves as an exceptional example for ranchers throughout Wyoming and across the nation.”

Homesteaded in 1916, Thaler Land & Livestock has been active in area conservation efforts since its founder, Joe Matje, worked to establish the South Goshen Conservation District nearly a century ago.  Today, the third and fourth generations are represented by Dennis and Sandra Thaler along with daughter and son-in-law, Brandy and Kevin Evans who together operate the 1,500 head commercial cattle ranch.

“One of the most important natural resources to Thaler Land & Livestock is the native range,” says Katseanes.  “Their pioneering efforts in pasture irrigation, rotational grazing and preservation of the nearby Ogallala aquifer have become an example for area cattle producers to follow.”

The spread of noxious weeds is an increasing concern for land owners in their area of Wyoming and across the West.  Among their environmental accomplishments, the Thaler family has worked in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies to minimize a leafy spurge infestation that once spread over 200 acres to less than 50 acres.

“Utilizing carefully managed irrigation and rotational grazing, Thaler Land & Livestock has worked to convert their pastures back to the native grasses that once existed,” says Katseanes.  “With only two pastures left to convert to native range, the Thalers are proof that managed grazing is a powerful tool in restoring and enhancing rangeland conditions.”

In addition, Thaler Ranch uses gated pipe irrigation, low pressure center pivot sprinklers, and flood irrigation practices to irrigate orchard grass, regar brome and alfalfa.  This allows them to let the native pastures go unused until September 15th.  This practice reduces over grazing and provides more feed for their cattle herd during the winter months.  Recently they received an award from the Wyoming Chapter of Soil and Water Conservation Society for their efficient grazing system and irrigation accomplishments.

The Thalers have also managed environmental challenges that come with owning a feedlot and backgrounding operation.  “With the cooperation of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) they have designed a feedlot that ensures all runoff is contained by a dike, and eventually it is used to fertilize a nearby meadow,” says Katseanes.  “A windbreak was planted to provide shelter for the cattle and serve as a buffer against soil leaching.  They have an integrated nutrient management plan that outlines uses for animal waste byproducts.”

“One of our biggest conservation accomplishments has been transforming a 200 acre parcel of land that was over run with leafy spurge into the best haying ground we own, says Brandy Evans.  The family collaborated with the Goshen County weed and pest supervisor and constructed a plan to eliminate the spurge. “It definitely had a positive environmental impact,” says Brandy. “Now, we use no chemicals on the ground, and we are able to put up 5 tons of hay per acre.

“In addition to the land reclamation from the leafy spurge and their efforts to restore and enhance the native rangeland, the Thalers have set their sights on leading by example,” explains John Etchepare, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, “the Thalers have been outstanding leaders in Wyoming in not only talking about environmental stewardship, but by setting the example for agriculture producers throughout the state.”

“Through coordinated resource management and devoted stewardship, Dennis Thaler and his family have improved the landscape in southeastern Wyoming,” states Terry Cleveland, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  “He has successfully brought all interests together, including neighbors, sportsmen, wildlife interests and local, state and federal agencies, and the entire community has reaped the benefits.”

Arizona Ranches Win Top Environmental Award

Diablo Trust Ranches are ESAP Region VI Winner

The Prosser and Metzger families of Coconino County, Arizona are one of seven Regional Winners of the 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).  In its 16th year, the award program recognizes cattle operations that are proven stewards of the land, dedicated to natural resource conservation through the use of innovative, cost effective stewardship practices.

Located in north central Arizona, the Diablo Trust Ranches cooperative operation was nominated by the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association. They were selected from entries submitted within National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region VI, which includes California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

“The families of the Diablo Trust Ranches have distinguished themselves through their unified and far-reaching commitment to natural resource conservation,” explains Stacey Katseanes, coordinator of the program. “Combined, the families are dedicated to managing approximately 426,000 acres of rangeland in an innovative and environmentally-friendly manner.”

The Diablo Trust Ranches are comprised of the Bar T Bar and Flying M Ranches. The Bar T Bar Ranch is home to Bob, Judy, Warren and Spencer Prosser. The Flying M Ranch is home to Jack, Mandy, Kit and Jane Metzger, and Diana and Alan Kessler.  276,000 and 76,000 acres are leased from the U.S. Forest Service and Arizona State Land Department, respectively. The remaining 74,000 acres are privately owned. There are about 1,500 cows in the herd.

“To manage their own lands, Diablo Trust has developed a zone rating system that they use to define different areas of their land,” explains Katseanes. “By defining these ecological zones, the ranches can carefully monitor the health and viability of the land. Furthermore, management targets are developed and implemented to ensure the land is being properly utilized. These targets include desired presence of certain flora and fauna, soil condition standards and cover percentages, and varying game habitats. This system is a clear demonstration of the Diablo Trust Ranches’ commitment to conserving the environment.”

The collaborative relationship between the Bar T Bar and Flying M Ranches began in the 1950’s with the sharing of equipment, ideas and labor. The Diablo Trust was not officially formed until 1993, when the profitability of the ranches was under siege from several urban and environmental movements. The coalition combined forces to initiate research, educational and stewardship programs.

“The stewardship practices of these ranches go beyond maintenance, they also take a proactive approach on research and range use,” says Katseanes. “In 1984 the families joined up with a variety of conservation and wildlife advocacy groups to form the Forage Resource Study Group, designed to integrate range and wildlife monitoring with management. From this group has sprung a wealth of information useful to coordinate wildlife use and livestock grazing. Their willingness to participate in often controversial discussions is a testament to their holistic view of sound land management.”

“The ranches have been leaders in land restoration using a variety of management techniques to accomplish goals for range, livestock, watershed health and wildlife habitat restoration; in each case fitting the techniques to the site and the objectives,” says Richard Miller, Habitat Program Manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They are unique in their use of collaboration to achieve land management goals on these diverse lands.”    

Another innovative stewardship initiative developed by the ranches is the development of the Rural Planning Area (RPA). Facing significant threats from urban sprawl, the ranches sought legislative assistance to aid in protection. The resulting RPA project produced a demonstration plan by which ranchers can protect the economic value and integrity of their rangelands.

“The intent of the RPA is to enable the ranchers to keep ranches intact, to preserve the traditional uses, and to create a situation where long term stewardship and land improvement is at the forefront,” explains Bill Towler, Coconino County Community Development Director. “The County will continue to work with the Diablo Trust ranchers to help achieve the goals of the RPA and to further the collaborative effort.”

North Dakota Ranch Wins Top Environmental Award

Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch is ESAP Region VII Winner

The Brown family of Bismarck, North Dakota has been selected as one of seven Regional Winners of the 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The annual award program recognizes cattle operations that are proven stewards of the land, dedicated to natural resource conservation through the use of innovative, cost-effective stewardship practices.

Located just a few miles east of Bismark, North Dakota, Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch was nominated by the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and selected from entries submitted within National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Region VII, which includes North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

“The Brown family’s dedication to responsible stewardship practices makes for a scenic drive on Interstate-94 in central North Dakota,” says Stacey Katseanes, ESAP coordinator. “For this North Dakota family, conservation is a lifetime commitment that has greatly rewarded them. The beauty of the Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch comes after years of hard work.”

The ranch covers 4,000 acres, including over 1,500 acres of native rangeland, 600 acres of alfalfa, and 465 acres of wildlife cover. The Brown family management team is made up of Gabe and Shelly Brown and their children Kelly and Paul. The diverse cattle operation runs Gelbvieh and Balancer cattle, raises bull calves, and also manages a feedlot where they maintain 100 to 300 animals on diverse homegrown feedstuffs.

“The Browns have practiced zero-till farming since 1994, and since then the soil health has improved, water infiltration and utilization is enhanced and wildlife species have increased both in diversity and population,” says Katseanes.

The family has earned Conservation Security Program (CSP) Tier III status, the highest level attainable, on their entire ranch because of their environmental stewardship practices. They have developed an extensive planned grazing system, rotating cattle every three to seven days on 46 different pastures.  A shallow pipeline system supplies water to 25 tanks in the pastures. Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), they conducted a study regarding the quality and quantity of forage production and soil heath when seeding different legumes in different pastures.

“The Browns also maintain a 465-acre plot specifically for wildlife use and production,” states Katseanes. “This provides a habitat for white-tail deer, ducks, grouse, turkeys, pheasants, and other wildlife.  In addition, Gabe and Shelly have planted more than 30,500 feet of trees and have prepared the ground to plant an additional 38,200 this year.”  

“Over the past several years, Gabe has made himself and their ranch available for tours and training sessions too numerous to mention,” says Jeff Printz, State Rangeland Management Specialist for North Dakota. “Gabe has made countless presentations in various states to a wide variety of audiences.  At each and every tour, presentation or training session, Gabe always does an outstanding job of representing the livestock industry and advocating sound, sustainable management of our natural resources.”

Gelbvieh Ranch is committed to education and outreach regarding environmental stewardship practices. The Brown family works to encourage sustainable management through their participation in the Grazing Management Mentoring Network, and works with a variety of organizations to maximize their conservation efforts. The NRCS and Burleigh County Soil Conservation District helped Browns develop their management systems, shelter belts and forage seedlings.  Ducks Unlimited has also assisted in their efforts to enhance wildlife habitat.

“By partnering with NRCS and Ducks Unlimited, they were able to document and analyze a variety of forages and legumes to increase production, enhance grazing and improve soil quality, while at the same time benefiting wildlife with additional nesting habitat and ground cover,” says Tracey Koester of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

“Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch has a strong emphasis on conservation practices and persistent commitment to both agriculture and quality wildlife habitat,” says Jeb Williams of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

The Environmental Stewardship Award Program, now in its 16th year, is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences LLC and USDA’s NRCS and is administered by NCBA. The 2006 National Winner will be selected from of the seven ESAP Regional Winners and revealed at the 2007 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tennessee next February. For additional information, contact NCBA’s Washington D.C. office at 202-347-0228.   

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