The Victor Ranch Receives Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award
March 01, 2021
The Victor Ranch of Afton has been selected as the recipient of the 2020 Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award®.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat resources in their care.
In Oklahoma the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, ITC Great Plains, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Grant and Donna Victor and their three sons own and operate Victor Ranch. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. The Ottawa County ranchers were announced as the award recipient at the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Meeting.
“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of Oklahoma's recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
“The Victors put their passion for conservation to work on their ranch and by promoting it through leadership and outreach,” said Hugh Aljoe, Noble Research Institute Director of Producer Relations. “Success is not just what you accomplish in your life; it’s about what you inspire others to do. The Victors inspire others to be better tomorrow than they are today.”
“The Victor Ranch is a great example of a conservation leader that goes the extra mile to address conservation on their land to ensure that benefits can be realized by everyone that uses nearby resources. Their dedication and commitment to conservation makes them deserving of this great conservation achievement and recognition,” said Gary O’Neill, Oklahoma State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Passionate best describes Grant Victor,” said Trey Lam, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “Passion for farming and ranching for sure, but an even greater passion for protecting and restoring Oklahoma’s water and soil. From the first time we heard Grant speak about conservation, we all recognized that he was a born leader. This well-deserved award hopefully will provide Grant the opportunity to tell the story of Victor Ranch’s legacy of making this a better place for future generations.”
“ITC Great Plains congratulates Victor Ranch on being selected as the recipient of the 2020 Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award,” said Brett Leopold, ITC Great Plains President. “At ITC we are committed to environmental responsibility and applaud the Victor family for their hard work and dedication to being good stewards of the land and our natural resources.”
“The Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture is proud to help recognize the outstanding conservation efforts of Grant and Donna Victor and Victor Ranch,” OKFB Foundation for Agriculture President David VonTungeln. “By utilizing production practices including rotational grazing, cover crops, no-till and others, the Victors are a shining example of Oklahoma agricultural producers who wisely steward the natural resources under their care.”
“Stewardship is a non-negotiable fundamental characteristic of Oklahoma beef cattle farms and ranches. The Victor family exemplifies this industry commitment so very well,” said Michael Kelsey, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President. “On behalf of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, we extend congratulations to the Victor family and genuine appreciation to them for allowing us to highlight their family as a model of conservation stewardship.”
Earlier this year, Oklahoma landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
The first Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Jimmy and Ginger Emmons in 2017. Russ and Jani Jackson received the award in 2018. The Chuck and Ruth Coffey family received the 2019 award.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, ITC Great Plains, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, McDonald’s, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 22 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
The Victor Ranch
“I can remember when I was a boy, my grandfather showed me an eroding field with muddy water running off the land. Then he showed me a field protected by grass, and how clean the water was coming off of it,” recalls Grant Victor. “That was the start of my conservation training.”
Grant and his wife Donna are passing a land ethic of voluntary conservation to their three sons. They know healthy soils store more moisture for plants, and a continuous cover of native vegetation helps protect Oklahoma’s water.
The Victors raise 900 head of beef cattle on 2,500 acres, and grow wheat, oats, soybeans, grain sorghum and corn on another 1,200 acres. On what was once tribal land, their ranch was established as a result of the Dawes Act in 1892.
Grant’s grandfather, James Victor was one of the first landowner cooperators with Ottawa County’s Conservation District in 1946. Grant serves on the same board of directors today, and is dedicated to serving those who protect and conserve natural resources. His commitment to improving water and air for those downstream and downwind is unmatched.
Victor Ranch hosts water and soil quality research projects and agricultural educational events. Its diverse landscape is home to native pecan groves, grasslands and Little Horse Creek, which feeds into Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. To preserve the creek and watershed’s health, the Victors installed more than 27,000 feet of fencing around 178 acres of riparian area. Expanding the pecan orchards with new trees is creating quality wildlife habitat and a new income stream.
Grant has reduced soil erosion from wind and water by combining cover crops with no-till farming practices since the 1980s. With 3,000 acres enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program, brush management and herbaceous weed control have helped improve wildlife habitat across the ranch. With technical and financial assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Victors have converted 600 acres of highly erodible cropland to pasture.
Through rotational grazing, their beef cattle herd mimics the natural patterns of bison, which graze intensely and move on quickly. The cattle benefit the prairie ecosystem by stimulating plant growth, pressing seeds into the soil with their hooves, and providing natural fertilizers with their waste. Moving cattle around the ranch is possible thanks to the installation of 15 water tanks and 20,000 feet of pipeline that diverts excess water from a pond dam. The Victors also manage their calving season to coincide with natural forage availability.
It’s their appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between agricultural production and natural resources that earned Victor Ranch national recognition from the National Endowment for Soil & Water Conservation in 1986. All these years later they still believe, “If you listen to the land, it will tell you what it needs.”
Fortunately for Oklahoma’s natural resources, the Victors are still listening.
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. www.farmland.org
ITC GREAT PLAINS is a transmission-only utility operating in the Southwest Power Pool region. The company operates approximately 470 circuit miles of transmission lines in Kansas and Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains maintains regional offices in Dodge City, Topeka and Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains is a subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp.’ the largest independent electric transmission company in the U.S. For further information, visit www.itc-holdings.com. ITC is a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., a leader in the North American regulated electric and gas utility industry.
NOBLE RESEARCH INSTITUTE LLC is an independent nonprofit agricultural research organization dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges. Headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Noble Research Institute conducts fundamental, translational and applied research; offers no-cost consultation and education to farmers, ranchers and land managers; operates seven research and demonstration farms; and educates students of all ages about science and agriculture. The Noble Research Institute was founded by Lloyd Noble, an Oklahoma oilman and philanthropist, in 1945 as The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to advance agriculture and land stewardship. www.noble.org
OKLAHOMA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION represents the interests of Oklahoma's cattlemen at the Oklahoma Legislature. The OCA has continued an aggressive course of action supporting proactive legislation and challenging anti-industry legislation and regulations. The OCA exists to support and defend the state and nation's beef cattle industry. www.okcattlemen.org
OKLAHOMA CONSERVATION COMMISSION provides assistance to Oklahoma’s 84 conservation districts and the public to foster a sense of stewardship and conservation management of Oklahoma’s renewable natural resources. This is accomplished through soil and water conservation, land use planning, small watershed upstream flood control, abandoned mine land reclamation, water quality monitoring, environmental education and wetlands conservation. www.ok.gov/conservation/
OKLAHOMA FARM BUREAU FOUNDATION FOR AGRICULTURE was formed to enhance awareness and understanding of agriculture’s contribution and importance to the state of Oklahoma. www.okfbfoundationforagriculture.org
USDA NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS) is a federal agency committed to helping private landowners care and make healthy choices for the land and water, while using them productively. Through voluntary incentive-based programs, the NRCS works directly with farmers, ranchers, forest owners and other land stewards to provide technical expertise and financial assistance to make conservation work on private lands. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ok/home/