Success Stories Miles of Stewardship - the Dee River Ranch I Alabama
Miles of Stewardship - the Dee River Ranch
Dee River Ranch is a family owned and operated multi-commodity farming operation located in Pickens County, Alabama, which borders Mississippi. Daily operations of the farm are controlled by Mike and Annie Dee, a brother/sister management team. They are assisted by Annie's son Seth. Income from this progressive 10,000 acre ranch is derived from 3,500 acres devoted to corn, wheat, and soybeans; 2,500 acres for forages and cattle production; and 4,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (600 acres of trees and 3,400 acres of native grasses). The cattle operation is made up of 650 cows producing feeder calves and Angus X Brahman commercial females.
The philosophy of the Dee River Ranch operation is to insure that all land is used in a manner for which it is best suited. The ranch operates within three resource management goals:
To protect the pastureland through management of native and existing grasses and careful introduction of improved varieties
To prevent soil moisture loss and erosion from croplands by using cover crops and conservation tillage methods
To protect highly erodible land by taking it out of agricultural production and planting trees and/or native grasses
The Dees realize that land is the most valuable manageable natural resource available to them. They have incorporated stewardship practices on all three components of the ranch: cropland, highly erodible and environmentally sensitive land; and hay/grazing land. All three are important to the long-term sustainability of the ranch and overall profitability of the farming operation. The Dees have taken advantage of current technologies to maximize crop and beef production:
Global positioning system receivers on tractors, combines, and sprayers -- these devices, combined with yield monitors, guidance systems, and variable rate-spray nozzles, improve the accuracy of the cropping enterprises to inches rather than acres.
Increased use of winter cover crops as part of a conservation tillage cropping system.
Improved pasture management and installation of erosion control practices such as heavy-use pads. Monitoring indicates that little, if any, soil erodes from pastures.
Poultry litter is used to supplement commercial fertilizer for hay fields and pastures, reducing production costs and improving the sustainability of the ranch.
Dee River Ranch takes the philosophy of using the land wisely, serious. Much of the land managed by Dee River Ranch is best suited for pasture. Mike says, "the cattle operation is an integral part of our whole operation. It helps us utilize our acreage that is not hospitable to row crops. Some of our land is very suited to grow forage and that's the best use of the land. To be able to harvest that forage with the cattle is the most efficient use of the land."
To combat high fuel prices and with an increased awareness of global warming, the Dees are making use of vehicles powered by alternative fuels. In cooperation with Auburn University Natural Resources Management and Development Institute, an on-farm alternative fuel production plant will be installed using soybeans, sunflowers, and canola grown on the farm.
Mike and Annie Dee are active participants and leaders in local, regional, and state conservation programs. They are involved in efforts to improve stewardship among the agricultural community and to enhance the public's perception of the farming industry. Dee River Ranch is always available for producer tours. The Dee family takes pride not only in showing the benefits of the stewardship practices that they have implemented, but they also gladly share the lessons that they have learned over the years.
Dee River Ranch has taken advantage of the many conservation partners available to assist them. They make full use of the technical and financial assistance available from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The ranch has been an active participant in the deer management programs offered by the Alabama Department of Natural Resources. They participate in a surface water monitoring program coordinated by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. They make heavy use of the USDA-National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, the Auburn University Agronomy and Soils, and the Auburn University Biosystems Engineering Departments, as well as the Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems Crops Team for assistance with the geospatial technology used on the ranch. The Auburn University Animal Sciences Department and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Animal Science and Forages Team provide similar support to the beef cattle enterprises.
Dee River Ranch was recently selected as a regional winner in the Environmental Stewardship Awards Program (ESAP). Sponsored by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Dow Agro-Sciences, and USDA- NRCS, the annual ESAP awards honor cattle producers whose stewardship practices are inventive, cost-effective, and contribute to environmental conservation. The national winner will be selected in October and presented at the national meeting in January 2008.
(l-r) Terry Williamson, NRCS District Conservationist in Pickens County, Alabama; Mike Dee; and Annie Dee discuss sunflowers, a new crop grown on Dee River Ranch to produce bio-diesel on the farm. Once the sunflowers have been pressed for the oil, the meal serves as a good protein source for the cattle.
Annie Dee (l) and Mike Dee know the value of conservation tillage. They depend upon residue to help conserve water, provide nutrients to the plants, and improve the organic composition of the soil.
The ends of some of our fields were not productive and it was difficult to turn the equipment. We squared off the fields and planted those areas to trees, which creates wildlife habitat."
While economics is the driving force behind any business, Mike and Annie Dee have gone the extra mile to ensure that their farming operation is not only profitable but also environmentally sound. They have incorporated conservation practices into their farming operation that have enhanced the productivity of the farm, reduced soil erosion, improved moisture retention in the soil, and provided wildlife habitat. As recognized industry leaders, the impact of the Dee family on environmental stewardship in Alabama is remarkable.