Farmers across the United States have always been big on sustainability, and are always searching for new technologies and techniques to help save water, fuel, time, and just plain money. Now, more and more farmers and ranchers are also becoming environmental champions, creating habitats, recycling materials, incorporating new environmental techniques, and much more.
They are being recognized and applauded for their great achievements, and for their excellent contributions to agriculture and society. Several publications have featured articles on farmers and ranchers for their environmental achievements, and we thought you’d like to hear about it as well!
In Ag Alert’s January 27, 2016 issue, we learned that the Sonoma County Winegrowers were awarded with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s highest environmental honor. This award was the culmination of two years’ hard work to become the nation’s first 100 percent sustainable winegrape growing region. Here are some of the accomplishments they have made:
*48% of Sonoma County’s 58,280 vineyard acres have been certified as sustainable by a third-party audit, while 64% have been self-assessed as sustainable
*18,780 vineyard acres participate in the Fish Friendly environmental program
*1,171 vineyard acres participate in the USDA Organic Farming Program
*more than 162,340 pounds of vineyard material was recycled by growers in 2015
For a vineyard to become sustainable, growers must complete a self-assessment of each vineyard that encompasses a comprehensive set of 138 practices that are rated on a scale of 1 to 4. Then, a plan is developed to document improvements focused on water conservation, water quality, energy efficiency, employee and neighbor relations, business viability and more. Once the growers complete their self-assessment, they work with an independent auditor to review their assessment, conduct site visits and evaluations, and review the improvement plan. The auditors are environmental scientists, biologists, chemists, professors, geologists, and other trained professionals. If they approve the work a vineyard has done on their self-assessment and improvement plan, then the grower receives certification. Not a simple little process!
Prather Ranch in Shasta County was given a GEELA award from the governor of California. The GEELA program recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made contributions in conserving resources,protecting and enhancing the environment, and building partnerships with the public.
The ranch was praised for minimizing waste from animal food products and for creating conservation easements to protect endangered species. They are best known for creating a premium dry-aged natural beef program, the philosophy of which is an understanding of the importance of low-stress cattle handling, responsible stewardship of the land, and a desire to provide a stable and satisfying life for those who work on the land.
Prather Ranch operates across almost 35,000 acres, over 50 percent of which is held under conservation easements to provide pools, riparian areas surrounding waterways, and other habitat areas for deer, elk, wild turkeys and the endangered bank swallow.
Kin and Matt Altman of Altman Specialty Plants in Vista, CA were recognized for their incredible water and energy-efficient irrigation systems that have reduced water use by 50 percent per acre. As one of the nation’s largest horticultural growers, they specialize in drought-resistant and water-efficient plants. They also raise 5,000 plant species using an integrated pest management program, controlling pests in a way that minimizes impacts on the environment.
In 2014, the Altmans created a massive water recycling program that captures irrigation runoff, treats the water, and then allows reuse of that water. As a nursery growing thousands and thousands of plants, over a million gallons of water were being used a day. Now, that water is being recycled and reused!
The Hafenfeld Ranch has been recognized for their certified organic beef program, as well as for their efforts in erosion control, wildlife-friendly water systems, and improvements to irrigation infrastructure. They have also begun a conservation program on their 500,000 acre ranch that will provide preserved habitats for many species including turtles, butterflies and a bird called the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Sustainability and environmentally-conscious farming and ranching are becoming more and more important to farmers across the United States. Huge improvements are being made every year in water conservation, farming techniques, chemical usage, and in providing habitat for wild animals. And, farmers and ranchers are learning how to share their accomplishments with the public, to demonstrate their true love for the land and for the hard, important work that they do.
Keep your ears open for all of the sustainable and environmentally friendly practices that our farmers and ranchers practice. Let us hear about it when you learn something new.