Blioux River Ranch of Castlewood has been selected as the recipient of the 2024 South Dakota 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. Given in honor of conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present Leopold Conservation Awards to private landowners in 27 states. In South Dakota, the award is presented with the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

Father and son, Barry and Eli Little, own and operate Blioux River Ranch in Hamlin County. They will be formally presented with the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in December.

Barry and Eli prioritize soil health on their 1,600 acres of cropland and 800 acres of pastures. They rotationally graze 500 heads of beef cattle on pastures of native grasses. They also graze cattle on fields of cover crops to enrich the soil.

A variety of conservation practices have produced environmental and economic benefits through better crop yields and less fertilizer and herbicide usage and expense. They have also demonstrated that grazing livestock can enhance wildlife habitat.

As active members of Pheasants Forever, the Littles volunteer their time and equipment to establish bird-friendly habitat for other landowners. The most important things for pheasant chick survival are insects of food and habitat for cover. The seed mix they plant provides cover and sequentially flowering plants to protect and feed pheasants as well as provide a water source from dew on the plant stems.

“Blioux River Ranch’s commitment to rotationally graze cattle on pastureland and cropland demonstrates how integrating livestock benefits soil structure, water quality, and habitat, resulting in prosperous yields and overall production enhancement,” said Warren Symens, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President. “Their conservation ethic promotes natural processes and management practices – securing a legacy for future generations.”

Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders from South Dakota. For more information on the award, visit

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