Last week, a southwest Iowa beef producer was chosen as Region 3 winner of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).
Nichols Farms LTD of Bridgewater, Iowa, an internationally known seedstock producer, cow-calf operation, and Iowa Master Farmer will compete for the national ESAP title with six other regional winners. The national winner will be announced during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio, Texas, in February 2015.
This family farm operation, managed by Dave Nichols, Phyllis Nichols, and Lillian Nichols, covers Adair, Adams, and Cass counties – part of the Hungry Canyons region of western Iowa, known for its deep cut gullies and stream trenching. Over 70% of the land on Nichols Farms is designated as highly erodible. While it's typical for the area to have row crops grown on nearly 70% of the land, Nichols Farms has 46% in row crops, and 54% in grassland and pasture.
Dedication to conservation
In the 1960s and'70s, Dave and his brother Lee outlined a plan to include livestock production to stabilize the soil and reclaim the land's productivity. "Managed livestock production is a crucial component to rebuilding highly erodible land that has been mismanaged," Dave says. "It took at least three to ten years of both commercial fertilizer and manure applications to get the land to be marginally productive."
Between owned and rented farmland, Nichols Farms has 1,480 acres that has been in no-till for 34 years. There have also been 35 ponds and 50,860 feet of terraces built, and over 2,700 acres of refurbished pastures. As their soil's health shows, these practices have paid off – tests show 7% organic matter compared to less than 3% in much of the surrounding area.
Prior to winning the ESAP regional award, Nichols Farms received the Iowa Master Farmer award in 2013, an award presented annually by Wallaces Farmer magazine. Nichols Farms is one of the largest seedstock operations in the U.S., and the largest in the Midwest. Each year Nichols Farms sells over 800 bulls by private treaty, and about 60,000 units of semen from Nichols bulls are sold annually. They have exported semen, embryos, and live cattle to 30 foreign countries.
NCBA developed ESAP in 1991 to recognize beef producers who make environmental stewardship a priority on their farms and ranches while also improving production and profitability. The ESAP award is sponsored by USDA-NRCS; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Dow AgroSciences; the National Cattlemen's Beef Association; and the National Cattlemen's Foundation.
Iowa Cattlemen's Association members have won 16 regional ESAP awards and three national awards. All winners have the desire to leave the land in better shape than they found it, and a passion for inspiring the next generation of land stewards.
Other regional winners announced last week are from Valley Ford, California; Lowry, South Dakota; Bosque County, Texas; LaGrange, Kentucky; Thonotosassa, Florida; and Ordway, Colorado.
"The cattlemen and women of this country take seriously their responsibility to the environment. Each of these award recipients serves as a shining example of how the beef industry is working to preserve open space and leave the land better than they found it," says NCBA President Bob McCan. "The ESAP award serves as a showcase for the practices used by farmers and ranchers to improve air, land and water quality. Those practices, in turn benefit the land, improve fish and wildlife habitat and serve as an outstanding example to their fellow producers."