Kopriva family awarded South Dakota’s 2012 Leopold Conservation Award
Each year, the world celebrates Earth Day on April 22, but for America’s farmers and ranchers, each day is Earth Day. Caring for the environment, preserving natural resources and efficiently producing food in a sustainable manner are the cornerstones of agriculture, and ranchers are trusted stewards of the land.
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Grassland Coalition and the Wisconsin-based Sand County Foundation teamed up to recognize farm and ranch families who demonstrate outstanding conservation leadership with the Leopold Conservation Award. The award is named for renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold.
On April 12, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard recognized Jim and Karen Kopriva, and their children, Angela and Lee, from Raymond, SD, as South Dakota’s 2012 Leopold Conservation winners. The Koprivas raise Angus cattle in Clark County and have practiced the family tradition of environmental stewardship through water and rangeland management techniques, where the pastures, livestock and wildlife thrive.
Jim Kopriva commented on what the award means to him and his family, and why environmental stewardship is important in his ranching operation.
“Farmers and ranchers are the true conservationists and are charged with the honorable task of feeding the world,” Jim Kopriva said. “We are entrusted with the responsibility of prudent use and preservation of the planet’s scarce and precious natural resources. Waste is wrong – its not all about money. These resources are a gift from God and are sacred. It is our duty to cultivate, preserve, improve and develop these resources for future generations. The feeling pulses deep through our veins.”
Clearly the Koprivas’ passion for caring for the land runs deep, and the family is well-deserving of the Leopold Conservation Award. More than recognizing families for their conservation efforts, the award seeks to raise the bar for other producers and highlight the work ranchers engage in to consumers.
“The Leopold Award seeks to spread the conservation spirit to encourage more producers to raise their efforts to a higher level,” Kopriva explained. “The Leopold Award is also geared to bring this concern to consumers, so that they can realize how serious producers are about actually implementing conservation.”
Kopriva said environmental stewardship isn’t always about money; it’s about the long-term benefits of protecting the environment.
“Perhaps an economist would advise all business decisions would be made cost-investment, risk-reward analysis; they would seek to analyze how much additional profit potential it takes to justify economic or monetary risk,” he said. “The conservation-minded operator would hold his decisions to a higher standard because, to him, no level of profit would justify desecrating our environment. Our place is profit motivated. Each enterprise must turn a profit or be replaced with one that does. However, in our risk-reward analysis, potential profits are not a justification for jeopardizing our resources.”
The Koprivas follow many sustainable practices on their operation including no-till farming and planting cover crops.
“Conventional tillage uses power and machinery to beat the land into submission; it exposes the soil to wind and water erosion, placing grain production at a higher priority than conservation,” he said. “No-till farming leaves the soil protected at all times. Cover-cropping treats the soil as what it is – a living, breathing community which needs to be green and growing to build health and fertility.”
Protecting native grasslands is equally important to the Kopriva family.
“Native grasslands are strong and resilient because there are many types of plants in that population,” he added. “This biodiversity consistently produces yield because while some plants may not experience ideal conditions, the odds are many of the plants will due to the wide variety of growing seasons. A grain producer compromises this natural diversity because he reduces the population to only one plant – corn, beans, or wheat. Grain production therefore creates for itself a much higher level of risk.”
One of the first practices the Koprivas implemented was seeding grass into waterways, using water-tolerant species such as reed canary grass, which helps to protect erosion-prone areas while being frequently submerged underwater. Additionally, rotational grazing is a tool that helps maximize use of the pastures.
“Rotational grazing allows us to increase the yield and production of pastures, while at the same time improving them,” Kopriva said. “Rotational grazing is limited by drinking water therefore water development is necessary with rotational grazing. We have built about 13 dams and dugouts, put in two rural water pipelines and cleaned out seven existing dugouts. We have planted windbreak trees and worked to maintain shelter belts. Cover-cropping has been a part of this place for 15 years. It is very good for the soil and also gives the cattle an additional forage source. The fact that the cattle leave the manure in the cropland saves us the time and expense of hauling manure.”
Recognized for their hard work and dedication to preserving the land, the Kopriva family earned $10,000 for being recipients of the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award. Summing up what environmental stewardship means to him, Kopriva said it best: “We seek to preserve our resources in a sustainable pattern which will create a suitable habitat for our children and grandchildren to survive for future generations to come.”
Editor’s note: For more information on the Kopriva family’s operation, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.