Proving that sound environmental management goes hand-in-hand with operating a profitable agricultural operation has earned a foothills ranch the Alberta Beef Producers' (ABP) highest award for stewardship. The Hughes family of the Chinook Ranch are the recipients of the 2003 Alberta Beef Producers' Environmental Stewardship Award (ESA).
The Jim and Barbara Hughes, along with Stephen and Dawn Hughes ranch on 5,000 acres in the picturesque foothills near Longview. The Chinook Ranch has been in the family since the early 1950s evolving from a mixed farm to a 500-cow grazing operation today.
Many of the environmentally beneficial management practices on the ranch today were developed out of a desire to improve the bottom line. "Some of the changes we have made have been financially motivated," says Stephen Hughes. "People need to know that sound environmental stewardship can also be more profitable."
Over the last 10 years, the Hughes have focused on grazing cattle year-round. They have moved away from using machinery, seeded cultivated land back to permanent grass cover, and preserved the remaining native range. By developing a grazing management plan that mimics the patterns found in nature, the Hughes have been able to improve range condition and increase the number of cows on the ranch while keeping input costs down.
"We have applied portable electric fencing technology to our rotational grazing practices. More importantly, we have developed numerous watering sites employing different pumping technologies including solar power," says Stephen. "This allow us to move the cattle frequently, thus balancing grazing pressure throughout the ranch."
Stephen adds, "Our cattle are healthier and more productive according to the usual benchmarks such as weaning weights, conception rates, etc. More importantly, the business has certainly become more profitable and family friendly."
Besides being good for business, the Hughes' management practices have also been good for wildlife as habitat values on the ranch are protected. Riparian areas associated with streams and wetlands are in excellent condition and the uplands provide quality cover and forage for elk, deer, bear and many other wildlife species.
The ABP is proud to present the Year 2003 Environmental Stewardship Award to Jim and Stephen Hughes. Representatives from conservation and agriculture formed the judging committee. The judges examined the stewardship goals and activities of the nominees including accomplishments in land management, water quality, wildlife, animal welfare and leadership activities in the community.