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Worth Ranch Receives Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award

Worth Ranch of Springview is the recipient of the 2024 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award®.

The award honors farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.

Cork and Janet Worth raise beef cattle and own the 8,000-acre Worth Ranch in Keya Paha County. The Worths will be presented with $10,000 and a crystal award at the AFAN annual meeting in November.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present Leopold Conservation Awards to private landowners in 27 states. In Nebraska, the award is presented with Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN), Cargill and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Nebraska landowners were encouraged to apply, or be nominated, for the award last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The first Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Wilson Ranch of Lakeside in 2006. The 2023 recipient was Trumler Ranch of Rockville. To view profiles of each award recipient visit

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Nebraska is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Cargill, AFAN, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit Services of America, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Great Plains, Green Cover Seed, The Lyle Sittler Memorial Fund, McDonald’s, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Land Trust, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, and World Wildlife Fund-Northern Great Plains.

For more information on the award, visit


When Malvern “Cork” Worth purchased his first piece of land in 1962, he recognized the need for change.

The 1,424 acres in Keya Paha County was a far cry from the productive grassland it is today. It had been overstocked with beef cattle and horses with poor fencing and water distribution.

Cork’s intuition told him his cattle needed to be rotated through more than one pasture during the grazing season. He would embrace and improve upon that concept once he and wife Janet began practicing managed grazing in the 1970s.

“Ten acres to the cow, and never take more than 50 percent of the grass in a given year” was the hard-and-fast stocking rate they established. This simple yet stern method of grazing management has created a resilient deep-rooted plant community that can rapidly recover from drought.

“We could have run more cattle over the years but trying to squeeze every last productive dollar out of your grazing resource year after year is a recipe for failure,” Cork explained.

The Worths saw growing native prairie and perennial grass as the best use of their land from economic and environmental standpoints. With grass their only marketable commodity they stopped raising hogs, sheep, and dairy cattle to focus solely on Angus beef cattle.

“We wanted to develop some of the best Angus cattle in the industry, and it wasn’t even a question that we had to have the best grass resource to do this,” Janet said.

As the Worths expanded their ranch to 8,000 acres they installed a livestock water pipeline system and cross fencing that allows them to move cattle between 40 pastures. Each has two water tanks fed by a combination of electric submersible wells, windmills, and solar wells. The rotational grazing system has created a mosaic of habitat types for beneficial pollinators, turkeys, grassland birds, and deer.

More than 22,000 trees have been planted on Worth Ranch since 1971. Trees control wind erosion, enhance wildlife habitat, and provide livestock protection in the form of shelter belts. Drip irrigation and mulch to conserve water were added on several of the belts to encourage growth and vigor of trees. There’s also hardly a noxious weed to be found on Worth Ranch thanks to their early detection/rapid response weed management method.

Through innovative conservation practices, Worth Ranch has been able to endure climate extremes. Its well-managed and conservatively stocked pastures and meadowlands have allowed the Worths to maintain their cattle numbers during hot, dry summers without relying on outside sources for winter feed.

Through meticulous breeding and performance records, the Worths established a productive and profitable Angus herd that has helped them deal with the ebbs and flows of the ever-changing cattle market.

In recent years they have taken a step back in the beef business to help the next generation of ranchers. While downsizing their own herd, they pasture cattle for five local families during the grazing season. This allows the Worths to continue their grass management efforts while reducing their workload during the winter. It also creates awareness of how sound conservation can create abundant, resilient grassland on their own ranches.


Steve Martin, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN), comments the Worth Ranch highlighting its remarkable testament to the rewards of prioritizing land stewardship. “By defying conventional norms and nurturing their land with care, the Worth family has not only enhanced profitability but also ensured the sustainability of their land for generations to come.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Nebraska 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 recipients of this award 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.

THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, 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).

AFAN (Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska) AFAN was formed in 2005 by the leading agricultural organizations in Nebraska to support and grow the livestock industry. Growing the livestock industry adds value to Nebraska’s abundant feedstuffs and creates economic opportunities on farms and ranches and in rural communities. AFAN provides one-on-one services to producers to help them understand opportunities, works with companies to help overcome challenges, and supports the recruitment of ag-based businesses. AFAN works with our partners to inform consumers about where their food comes from. Developing a vital rural economy is the overarching goal of AFAN.

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.

CARGILL provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. Together with farmers, customers, governments, and communities, we help people thrive by applying our insights and 150 years of experience. We have 149,000 employees in 70 countries who are committed to feeding the world in a responsible way, reducing environmental impact and improving the communities where we live and work. We are passionate about our goal to be the global leader in nourishing people and operating responsibly across the agricultural, food, industrial and financial markets we serve.

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.

THE NEBRASKA ENVIRONMENTAL TRUST was established in 1992 to conserve, enhance and restore the natural environments of Nebraska. It was created on the conviction that a prosperous future is dependent upon a sound natural environment and that Nebraskans could collectively achieve real progress on real environmental issues if seed money were provided.