Tom and Mimi Sidwell Receive New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award
November 01, 2023
Tom and Mimi Sidwell of Tucumcari have been selected as the recipients of the New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award®.
The $10,000 award honors ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.
The Sidwells, who own and operate JX Ranch in Quay County, will be formally presented with the award at the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau’s Annual Meeting on November 17.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In New Mexico, the award is presented with New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Quivira Coalition, New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Working Lands and New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold called for what he called “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
Earlier this year, New Mexico landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
Among the outstanding New Mexico landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Lanford Livestock of Truth or Consequences in Sierra County, and Philmont Scout Ranch of Cimarron in Colfax County. Last year’s award recipient was Sid Goodloe, the owner of Carrizo Valley Ranch who passed away in July.
The New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Quivira Coalition, New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Working Lands, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services of New Mexico, American AgCredit, John Duncan and Anita Sarafa, and Taos Ski Valley Foundation.
One statistic encapsulates Tom and Mimi Sidwell’s conservation success: It used to take 58 acres of grass to annually feed a cow at JX Ranch, but now takes just 27 acres. It’s the result of a willingness to manage land differently with rotational grazing practices.
Over the course of 20 years, the Sidwells transformed an arid landscape at JX Ranch that was over-grazed and over-run by invasive species. They first bulldozed mesquite trees and juniper shrubs, and later installed fencing and water distribution to create 30 pastures.
When cattle only graze a pasture for three to five days, the grass is then given more time to recover between each grazing. Rather than reseeding their pastures, natural grasses began regrowing on once bare soils. More ground cover led to better water infiltration, less erosion, and improved soil health and forage production.
Rotational grazing created a resilient ecosystem that is better able to retain moisture and mitigate drought in a region that typically receives less than 16 inches of annual rainfall. More living plants on the ground pull more carbon from the atmosphere and stores three to four tons of carbon per acre.
Although the Sidwells graze their cattle year-round, the forage assessments they conduct each fall allow them to rate each pasture’s production and estimate the next year’s stocking rates.
The ability to graze far-flung corners of JX Ranch’s 7,000 acres is made possible by a series of six wells that pump drinking water for cattle. Solar pumps move water through 10 miles of pipeline, and storage tanks can hold about 100,000 gallons of water. Water evaporation is prevented by covering storage tanks and placing black plastic shade balls in drinking tanks.
Improved forage and water resources for cattle also provide unmeasured benefits for wildlife including quail, turkey, antelope, and elk.
JX Ranch in Quay County sits between 4,300 to 5,000 feet in elevation. The Caprock escarpment found in eastern New Mexico features rolling terrain and steep canyons. The Sidwells chose a breed of cattle to fit these rugged conditions. They breed Angus with Spanish Creole cattle known for being tough and healthy, but smaller in stature.
A guest ranching enterprise and direct marketing their beef to customers provide buffers against sometimes volatile beef prices. This allows the Sidwells to maximize income earned from the ranch so they don’t have to raise more cattle to the detriment of the land.
Tom Sidwell grew up on a small ranch and began ranching on his own elsewhere in New Mexico and Nebraska, before buying JX Ranch. He’s dedicated his life to improving the health of the land and has served in numerous civic and governmental roles. JX Ranch often hosts research trials and tours, and Tom regularly shares his knowledge and experience with other ranchers.
Tom is willing to share them with others to show how conservation leads to improved profitability. If financial statements and stocking rates don’t convince you, satellite imagery shows JX Ranch’s healthy land conditions in dramatic contrast to neighboring landscapes.
“Tom and Mimi are a great representation of a strong conservation ethos among the New Mexico cattle growers community. The way they care for their cattle, while also caring for the land, sets the exemplary example of our community. They are wholly deserving of this award,” said Sarah Wentzel-Fisher, Quivira Coalition Executive Director.
“Tom and Mimi Sidwell understand the meaning of soil health and water conservation,” said Willard Hall, New Mexico Association of Conservation District President. “They have hosted many ranch tours and serve as mentors to many conservationists.”
“Farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of our land, water, and natural resources, and our working lands play a central role in providing solutions to some of our most pressing problems,” said Larry Reagan, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau President. “We are happy to support the New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award in recognizing landowners for their innovative and dedicated efforts and extend congratulations to the Sidwells for this well-deserved prestigious honor.”
“These award finalists are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of Tom and Mimi Sidwell,” 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.”
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LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM
The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
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 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. www.farmland.org
NEW MEXICO ASSOCIATION OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS
The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts’ mission is to facilitate the conservation of natural resources in New Mexico by providing opportunities and quality support to local conservation districts and partners through representation and leadership. www.nmacd.org
NEW MEXICO CEWL
New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Workings Lands is a network of groups and individuals whose purpose is to support and enhance ongoing efforts to improve the health and productivity of New Mexico working lands that support agriculture and the environment. Its focus is to increase soil health, biodiversity, and hydrologic function wherever possible. www.nmcewl.org
NEW MEXICO FARM & LIVESTOCK BUREAU
New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau’s mission is to strengthen and serve agriculture to enrich the lives of all New Mexicans. www.nmflb.org
The Quivira Coalition builds soil, biodiversity, and resilience on western working landscapes. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration. www.quiviracoalition.org
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION
Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers 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