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James Anderson probably wasnít looking for fame when he was named the 1999 National Cattlemenís Beef Association (NCBA) Environmental Steward. But attaching his face and farming practices to NCBAís environmental stewardship survey results may beef up credibility of the report.

"We plan to use the survey results throughout the next few years, and it helps to use a specific example from a producer to present them," explains Julie Quick, NCBA director of public affairs. The NCBA survey, which is done about every five years, was conducted by Aspen Media & Market Research with a representative sample of U.S. cattle producers. NCBA released the findings on Earth Day in April.

"Sometimes it is hard to wrap your mind around a bunch of numbers so real life examples are easier to make the point," Quick says.

Survey results were compiled and summarized in a news release targeted at environmental and outdoor reporters, as well as traditional ag media. The release lead with "The struggle between cows and condominiums continues to rage across the U.S., but cattlemen arenít giving up. Thatís because cattle producers are working hard to ensure that natural resources under their care are protected so both cows and wildlife have wide, open spaces to call home."

The survey found 85 percent of farms and ranches have areas that support wildlife, 71 percent leave cover for wildlife and 68 percent have man-made stock ponds. Additionally, 64 percent provide food for wildlife in the winter, 62 percent plant native grasses, and 40 percent plant feed for wildlife. About 38 percent had trees planted within the last five years, 37 percent have wetland areas, 31 percent delay hay harvest until after nesting season for waterfowl and upland game birds, and 24 percent have land set aside for habitat.

NCBA uses examples from Andersonís farm to illustrate these survey results. Anderson has constructed three ponds to collect runoff and tail-water, creating wildlife habitat for multiple species of waterfowl, including Canada Geese and Blue Heron. He also planted hundreds of trees to prevent soil erosion, which has the added bonus of creating habitat for wildlife such as deer, rabbits, eagles, hawks and pheasants.

"The survey shows that a majority of cattle farmers and ranchers monitor natural resource conditions and participate in conservation programs," Quick says.

Add Anderson to that list, too. NCBA highlights his priority for effective management of manure generated from the feedlot. The farm conducts soil tests to monitor nutrient buildup and uses proper storage and manure application techniques to avoid water contamination.

"We often get asked the types of questions the survey answers, so we need to have solid data to provide to the media and other interested parties," says Quick. For example, 64 percent of cattle producers report condition of their range or pastureland is better than 10 years ago.

"We are interested in knowing statistically whatís happening on the land," Quick explains. "We have a lot of information from our members, but one canít take a number of examples and assume the same thing happens everywhere."

Itís possible the survey has other advantages as well. "Our Environmental Stewardship Awards Program, which is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, is our producer education tool to encourage stewardship," Quick says. "I donít think the survey is the driving factor behind beef industry stewardship - it is a measurement of stewardship. But if it does encourage stewardship, that is an extra benefit." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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