C. M. Payne and Son, Inc., has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for outstanding stewardship of their land.

The Payne family, represented by Kelsey Payne and his son John Payne, accepted their award as the 2009 Florida NRCS Conservation Partner of the Year at a meeting of the NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee which is comprised of federal, state and local government agricultural representatives as well as interested tribal representatives, agricultural partners and producers.

Carlos Suarez, state conservationist for NRCS, cited the Payne’s continued support of conservation of Florida’s natural resources as the main reason for the award. “The Payne family’s dedication to maintaining and preserving our natural resources is a great example to other Florida producers.”

The Payne Ranch is a 787 acre cow/calf operation located in Highlands County and has been in the family since 1959. A conservation plan was developed in January 2007, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Best Management Program (BMP).

The plan’s recommendations were completed with the help of USDA — NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost share funds with practices such as fencing to facilitate cattle rotation, pond construction for livestock watering facilities, and pasture planting to improve pasture quality.

The Payne Ranch is one of eight ranches currently participating in the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project (FRESP), a research project that is partially funded by 2 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), through NRCS. The project is designed to test the viability of a program that will pay ranchers to retain water on their land and by doing so, reduce nutrient runoff and enhance wetland vegetation for wildlife.

In 2009, C. M. Payne and Son, Inc. applied to participate in the NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) by enrolling 482 acres in a permanent easement to protect and restore some of Florida’s precious wetlands. It was previously utilized as pasture land and/or cropland for seed crops, small grains, and sod. The wetland restoration practices and plans are in the development stage.

“We chose C. M. Payne and Son, Inc. as our 2009 Conservation Partner of the Year to thank them for their outstanding conservation leadership and assistance in NRCS’s mission of ‘helping people help the land’,” said Suarez.