With great fortitude and commitment, Gary and Sue Price have worked tirelessly over more than 40 years to protect several hundred acres of Texas native grass prairie while building and developing a beef ranch to be proud of. Sustainability is an important driving force behind their vision.
This special tallgrass landscape, where the Prices’ ranch is located, is part of the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Its soils and climate make it ideal for crop production, which has led to the loss of 99% of this important habitat, making it the most endangered large ecosystem in North America.
Gary and Sue, along with their son, Gary Lee, manage 2,600 acres in the Blackland Prairie region, which takes its name from the dark, rich soils that are a feature of the area.
The Price family has a clear vision of its role to protect the prairie through regenerative grazing practices. The Prices aim to be a least-cost beef producer while focusing on key principles of beef sustainability, by using transparent production methods, engaging in crucial partnerships and improving their ranch’s natural resources.
The ranch operates a rotational grazing policy, which has numerous advantages over continuous or set-stocked grazing. The system involves moving their cattle through a series of pastures, which can also be further subdivided in periods of high grass growth. This system mimics the grazing pattern of buffalo, which helped form the biodiverse habitats of the plains.
The Prices are working in cooperation with Texas A&M University AgriLife Research and have installed three water monitoring devices on the ranch. To date, these devices have collected five years of data on rainfall, runoff, infiltration and soil moisture. Data is then analyzed to compare the differing effects of grazing, grass cover, ground temperature, brush density and brush species and their impact on water absorption. The data is helping Gary and Sue make more informed decisions around pasture management and grazing. The information will be used to help demonstrate to other ranchers and producers that their management decisions can have a positive impact on water conservation and ranch productivity.
Native grasses of the prairie spread their roots far below the surface and help withstand soil erosion from wind, rain or flash floods. With this in mind, the Prices have taken areas of the ranch affected by soil erosion out of production and seeded them with a mix of grasses and forbs to create a riparian buffer zone. These vegetative zones border waterways and reduce water pollution. These areas further act as additional wildlife habitat, promoting a higher level of biodiversity.
The rotational grazing policy employed by the ranch also has additional benefits for the soil. The practice fixes key nutrients in the soil, holds soil in place against wind and water erosion, promotes native/noninvasive plants, returns nutrients to the soil and optimizes carbon sequestration.
The rotational and targeted grazing methods used on the ranch support the return of native plants and animals. This increases biodiversity and helps to protect and enhance the fragile environments and habitats of the tallgrass prairie region. The family has also converted further acreage into a large wetland, further boosting biodiversity by providing a wildlife corridor for ducks and other species.
Gary and Sue are working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to reintroduce the Bobwhite Quail onto the ranch. The program translocates wild-caught birds onto the ranch with the hope they stay and start to reproduce. Biologists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are monitoring bird populations on the ranch and have found clear evidence that the birds are staying and beginning to reproduce.
In addition, Gary and Sue have worked with numerous organizations, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Holistic Management International, to acquire the knowledge and skills to identify important forbs, grasses and wildlife species that are important indicators of rangeland health and biodiversity.
The Prices’ aim is to protect and improve animal health and welfare at all times.
For example, all calves are weaned, vaccinated and kept on the ranch for an extended pre-conditioning period. This benefits the calves’ health and welfare as they are not transported and additionally stressed close to weaning. The system also means cattle have one or two fewer lifetime movements.
Profitability and sustainability go hand in hand on the ranch. As well as livestock production, the Prices focus on diversifying income through developing and maintaining native habitats and protecting the natural environment. They have partnered with organizations such as the Noble Research Institute, which brings together experts from a variety of areas of expertise to provide a holistic approach to agricultural innovation.
The aim is to create and develop a sustainable business to support the next and future generations.
The Prices partner with multiple private, public and governmental organizations – many of which are mentioned throughout this “Key Areas of Sustainable Practice” section – to help inform, explore and share innovative concepts that farmers can incorporate to improve day-to-day farm management. For example, the Prices work closely with the Noble Research Institute through its Land Stewardship Program. They also serve as a pilot for its Ecosystem Service Marketplace model, which aims to quantify the economic and ecological return on investment from managing land with a stewardship-based approach. Their input into industry bodies and their collaboration and sharing with other ranchers help create an accessible body of knowledge that supports farmers and ranchers across the U.S.
Although Gary and Sue always take responsibility for what happens on their ranch – their successes and some things that may not have been – they are never “going it alone.” They make a distinct effort to find and work with knowledgeable experts who aid their projects and share their passion. They also seek out these experts and peers for guidance on creating and developing new projects.
“We started the ranch 42 years ago from scratch, with nothing but the desire to succeed. We want to leave the ranch to our son, Gary Lee, who wants to build on what we have started and to be his best. We love ranching… it’s our life.”