Blioux River Ranch preserves South Dakota

Blioux River Ranch of Castlewood has been selected as a recipient of the 2024 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.

The $10,000 award honors ranchers, farmers and forest owners who demonstrate superior performance in managing soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working lands.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust Presented Leopold Conservation Awards to private landowners in 27 states. In South DakotaThe award is presented by the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

Father and son, Barry and Eli Little, own and operate Blioux River Ranch in Hamlin County. They will officially receive the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award at the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association annual meeting in December.

The award is given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and recognizes landowners who inspire others with their commitment to improving the environment. In his influential book “A Sand County Almanac“Leopold called for a “land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Barry and Eli Little value the health of the soil on their 1,600 acres of farmland and 800 acres of pasture. They take turns grazing 500 cattle on pastures planted with native grasses. They also graze cattle in fields with cover crops to enrich the soil.

A variety of conservation practices have resulted in environmental and economic benefits through improved crop yields and reduced use and costs of fertilizers and herbicides. They have also shown that grazing livestock can improve wildlife habitat.

As active members of Pheasants Forever, the Littles volunteer their time and equipment to create bird-friendly habitats for other landowners. The most important thing for the survival of pheasant chicks is insects for food and habitat for cover. The seed mix they plant provides cover and successive flowering plants to protect and feed pheasants, while also providing a source of water from dew on the plant stems.

“At Blioux River Ranch, their focus is soil health on every acre of their crops and pastures. They also want to work to regenerate their land,” said Brett Nix, chair of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. “We look forward to highlighting their conservation story throughout the year.”

“Blioux River Ranch’s commitment to rotating cattle between rangeland and cropland demonstrates how livestock integration impacts soil structure, water quality and habitat, resulting in good yields and an overall increase in production,” said Warren Symens , president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association. “Their conservation ethics promote natural processes and management practices, ensuring a legacy for future generations.”

“The recipients of this award are examples of how alive and well Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is today. Their commitment to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, president and CEO of the Sand County Foundation.

“As a national sponsor of the Sand County Foundation Leopold Conservation Award, the American Farmland Trust recognizes the hard work and dedication of the South Dakota recipient,” said John Piotti, president and CEO of AFT. “At AFT, we believe environmental stewardship in agriculture requires a focus on the land, practices and people, and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

South Dakota landowners were encouraged to apply or be nominated for the award last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of South Dakota agriculture and conservation leaders. The first South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award was presented in 2010.

The Leopold Conservation Award program in South Dakota was made possible through the generous support of the American Farmland Trust, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, the Sand County Foundation, the South Dakota Farmers Union and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks; South Dakota State University College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Great Plains, Bad River Ranches, Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, Blair Brothers Angus Ranch, Cammack Ranch, Daybreak Ranch, Ducks Unlimited, First Dakota National Bank, Jim and Karen Kopriva, McDonald's, Millborn Seeds, North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Professional Alliance, South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust, South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, South Dakota Pheasants Forever, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, South Dakota Soybean Association, The Nature Conservancy, Todd Mortenson Family, US Fish and Wildlife Service-Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Wagner Land & Livestock.

For more information about the award, visit -South Dakota Grasslands Coalition

Anna Harden

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