PICKENS COUNTY FARM WINS NATIONAL CONSERVATION AWARD
MONTGOMERY, Ala., April 30 -- A Pickens County row crop and cattle farm today received the U.S. Department of Agriculture's highest award for conservation during a ceremony at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery. This is the first time an Alabama farm has received the national award, the highest honor presented by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
|Mike and Annie Dee of Dee River Ranch accept the 2008 Excellence in Conservation Award. From left are USDA/NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Conservationist Richard Coombe, Mike Dee, Annie Dee, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Gary W. Mast and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks.|
Mike and Annie Dee, brother-and-sister partners of Dee River Ranch near Aliceville, were recognized by USDA Deputy Under Secretary Gary W. Mast and Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks with the 2008 Excellence in Conservation Award during the national observance of Soil and Water Stewardship Week, April 27-May 4.
"True conservation of our natural resources can be achieved only when groups and individuals put their commitment to conservation into action," said Mast. "Annie and Mike Dee share their knowledge of conservation with communities and individuals across Alabama regularly and with distinction."
The Excellence in Conservation Award is given to only one group or individual one time per year. The award recognizes the voluntary contributions of individuals or groups that develop and implement conservation programs and promote good stewardship practices.
"(The Dees) are the epitome of a family farm, and certainly they are worthy of this national award," Sparks said. "They've gone the extra mile to establish soil conservation practices, and they strive to be good stewards of the land."
Sparks commended Alabama farmers like the Dees for keeping the fields green, the skies blue and the water pure. He said the Dees are proof, "Farms don't only produce good animals and good food; they produce good people."
Dee River Ranch covers about 10,000 acres and includes a commercial beef cattle herd as well as soybean and grain production. Mast said the farm's nomination "reads like an encyclopedia of best management practices."
In addition to extensive use of conservation tillage, the family has installed forest and riparian buffers to protect streams and wildlife habitat. They also use cover crops to reduce erosion, and they've put gravel in high-use areas to improve the environmental impact of their livestock operation."
Always eager to embrace technology, the Dees utilize global positioning systems (GPS) to reduce fuel use and soil compaction. They also have used the technology to improve the productivity of their land and reduce erosion. One of the more innovative aspects of the ranch is an on-farm biodiesel plant that allows the Dees to generate their own fuel and feed from oilseeds grown on the farm.
The Dees, who are active in a number of state and local farm organizations including the Alabama Farmers Federation, said they would not have been able to achieve their goals without the help of researchers, USDA technical experts and the support of farm groups.
"It's not one thing that's been done on our farm or one person that's helped us, but it's a whole community coming together to get us to where we are today," Annie said.
In addition to implementing conservation practices on their farm, the Dees work to educate others about stewardship and the importance of agriculture by hosting tours and serving as a training facility for the University of Alabama Rural Medical Scholars Program.
NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Zona Beaty praised the Dees for their leadership in the community.
"It has been a great pleasure to work with these folks over the course of the years," said Beaty. "Their knowledge and expertise in using innovative technology have positioned them to be leaders in the agricultural community in Alabama. We are very pleased their communication and outreach efforts are being recognized by this award."
Mike currently serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation's State Soybean Committee, and Annie is a former member of the State Wheat and Feed Grains Committee. Mike and wife Shannon, were named the Federation's Outstanding Young Farm Family in 2004. They have three girls, Victoria, Isabella and Lilly Catherine. Annie is married to Dr. Ed Sikora, a plant pathologist with Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.