Did you know that grasslands evolve by being grazed? And that taking grazing out of the equation damages the environment? I didn’t until I sat down with Jeff Smeenk, one of six Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners announced during the Cattle Summer Industry Conference. Smeenk explained that on his ranch, cattle serve the niche of grazing the land and helping to keep the grasslands healthy and thriving.
The ESAP program recognizes cattle producers with outstanding environmental and conservation practices and I asked Smeenk how he came to be such an environmental steward and role model.
He answered that he was very fortunate to have parents that when he came back to the operation allowed him to run the operation the way he saw fit. “But I just started to become very environmentally conscious at a young age and I think the next generation of Americans are extremely environmentally conscious. I think it’s very important that we as producers do the right thing and then make sure that we let consumers know that we are doing the right thing.”
Listen to my interview with Jeff Smeenk here:Jeff Smeenk Talks Environmental Ranching
In South Dakota, where Smeenk’s family ranch is located, water is the limiting factor in his area, which has been in a drought for eight years. His ranch partnered with NRC and they helped him add a well, put in a pipeline, storage tanks, and water tanks. Utilizing other partners, he also fixed up some dams that had been damaged and now during drought years, water shouldn’t be such a make or break factor.
Conservation doesn’t necessarily pay itself back right away, but Smeenk said he is looking long-term and planning for several generations in the future. In his case, over the long-term his environmental and conservation efforts will not only save him money- but might even save his ranch.
Photos from the conference are posted to this photo album: 2011 Cattle Industry Summer Conference Photo Album.