Since 2007, the Nakagawa family has invested heavily in conservation and sustainability initiatives. We believe that it is critical to protect, enhance and restore the abundant wildlife and habitat that resides on our properties, and are committed to utilizing the most sustainable business practices possible. Not only do our initiatives preserve the beautiful landscapes that surround us, but we also recognize that our efforts stand to substantially enhance our bottom line. Click on the links to the left to find out more about our projects and how they've benefitted our operations.
The meandering Mokelumne River abuts three-quarters of our ranch in Acampo, and for generations, has provided an abundant, reliable water supply for our operations. Equally important is the thriving riparian habitat surrounding the river, which teems with wildlife and provides a myriad of ecosystem services, including pest control, erosion management and soil enhancement.
However, much like the rest of the Central Valley, encroachment from development poses a great threat to not only these unique ecosystems, but also agricultural operations in the region. Magnifying this threat for some is the uncertainty of continued agricultural operations into the next generation, which can lead families to sell their properties, often to developers. Glenn Nakagawa, recognizing this, set out to sell a conservation easement in 2007 in an effort to preserve the family’s agricultural heritage.
Through a partnership with the San Joaquin Council of Governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Nakagawa Preserve was established, protecting, in perpetuity, approximately 280 acres of the ranch from development while still allowing farming operations to continue. Additionally, the money generated from the sale of this easement allowed us to enhance, expand and ensure our current operations into the future.
In 2010, in conjunction with the San Joaquin Council of Governments and with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we endeavored on a riparian habitat restoration project on approximately 60 acres of land on our Acampo ranch. The land, underutilized and primarily used for dry land hay farming at the time, had historically been susceptible to flooding by the Mokelumne River.
With this in mind, and an awareness of all the ecosystem services that restoration would bring, a setback levee was constructed that would protect current agricultural operations on adjacent land from flooding while still allowing for the natural re-establishment of the riparian ecosystem. Today, the restoration project serves as a true example of how agriculture and nature can coexist to serve as a benefit to each other—our hay operation provides ideal foraging habitat while the surrounding wildlife provides exceptional pest management.
Since 2006, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) has conducted an extensive, annual bird monitoring program on our Acampo ranch to document the abundant native and migratory bird species that reside on the property. PRBO’s studies highlight the importance of preserving these dwindling riparian habitats and, more importantly, serve as critical trend data when tracking species impacts due to climate change, habitat fragmentation and invasive species.
Perhaps one of the leading contributors to crop loss in alfalfa and hay operations is the elusive gopher. Although bounding coyotes and soaring Swainson’s hawks are formidable predators, overpopulation is quite simply overwhelming without a bit of human intervention.
Keeping in mind that conventional methods of gopher eradication are often laborious and can introduce toxic compounds into the environment, we opted to solicit a little help from the barn owl. In early 2011, we installed four owl boxes along the periphery of our alfalfa and hay operations and hope to observe changes in the gopher population this season and beyond.
Dilapidated fences made of barbed wire and rotting railroad ties cut through portions of our ranch in Valley Springs, remnants of the rich ranching history of this old Gold Rush town. However, such fencing conditions pose a risk to the safety of our cattle primarily given the close proximity of busy roads and highways.
The rising cost of barbed wire and the labor required to install new fencing proved to be quite prohibitive, causing us to consider an alternative method of containment. Solar electric fencing proved to be a great supplement to our existing fence line—supplies and materials were cheaper than those for traditional fencing and installation was relatively easy.
The town of Valley Springs is truly a valley of natural springs flowing above and below the ground year-round, creating ideal habitat for a particular endangered species called the California red-legged frog. Although properly managed grazing is beneficial for the frog’s habitat, excessive disturbance can be a detriment.
Thus, in 2010, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, we set out to install exclusion fencing around three major portions of our property where ideal habitat conditions existed for the red-legged frog. In doing so, we are able to limit cattle disturbance in these areas during particular times of the year.
“Why go through all this work?” one may ask. Again, it is because we believe that our ranch is only as good as the resources that reside on it. We cannot expect to have healthy crops and cattle if we do not properly manage our impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.
Water troughs installed for our cattle are often used by a variety of wildlife that reside on our property. Although these troughs generally benefit wildlife, they can also be deadly for small animals that get in but can’t get out. In 2011, we began building and installing escape ramps in our troughs. When we complete the project later this year, we anticipate these small structures will virtually eliminate wildlife mortalities and, at the same time, improve cattle health by maintaining clean, uncontaminated water.
Perhaps one of the most important practices to ensure the sustainability of our business is proper rangeland management. With a finite set of resources and volatile feed prices, never has it been more critical to effectively balance the grazing impacts of our cattle with the viability of our pastures. Currently, we are in the process of establishing Holistic Management practices on our ranch in Valley Springs, a strategy that considers environmental, economic and social factors to drive a more sustainable business model. By implementing a plan that coordinates three primary land management tools - rest, grazing and animal impact - we can maximize long-term land and animal health, which in turn results in increased profitability now and into the future.