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Franklin County Ranch Family Receives Rangeman's Award
Nebraska Ag Connection - 11/27/2019

Each year the Nebraska Section Society for Range Management (SRM) recognizes a rancher, or ranch family, who exemplifies a strong land ethic that is the heart of the Society's mission. The Choquette family of Upland was recently recognized by the Society during the Section's 2019 annual meeting.

The Choquette family has been farming and ranching in south-central Nebraska for nearly 130 years. From the late 1880's, through the Homestead Act Era, the Dust Bowl Era and beyond the family's farming and ranching practices have evolved and adapted, allowing their operation to survive and thrive.

About 30 years ago, the ranch began a new focus to foster soil health and move away from grazing the way it had always been done. Today, the 5th generation builds on the work of previous generations. They have moved to a management strategy that allows them to graze cattle efficiently, cost-effectively and holistically. Cover crops and rotational grazing are two of the most critical parts of the success of the ranching operation's endeavor.

JT Choquette is continuing the family legacy with his dad, Jim. The operation tries to maximize what nature provides to boost profits, increase soil health, and improve overall sustainability. The Choquette's management focus is to mimic nature as much as possible. For example, large pastures all have been divided into smaller paddocks via portable fenceline, and cattle intensively graze their paddock before moving to the next paddock, similar to how bison herds once grazed the Great Plains. By allowing the grasses and plants time to recover and renew, the land is more productive and allows for more significant gains in the cattle herd. At the same time, labor and equipment costs have been significantly reduced and profits come from cutting the costs of expensive farming equipment. "Our focus is to spend less and grow more," says James Choquette. "We are managing our operation to compliment and work with nature, to work with the natural prairie environment."

Some other sustainable grazing and soil health practices that the Choquettes have implemented include:

- Reseeding areas that are low in productivity with a diverse mix of plants, legumes, and pollinators to feed not only the soil and microbes, but also nature and wildlife.

- Adding plants that increase the amounts of soil carbon to armor the soil. The mixture of plants include some plants that cattle may not like to eat but which provide soil health benefits. Perennial grasses are included as they provide the best filters and the best long-term benefits.

- Managing grazing to minimize disturbance and optimize root systems.

The Choquette family believes in changing practices but not principles and their management of the land has a two-fold purpose: To build biological wealth and to promote biological health. Their philosophy has allowed the ranch to successfully integrate management principles that are not only ecologically, but also economically, sustainable.

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