Richard and Sara Grim Receive 2020 Hugh Hammond Bennett Award for Conservation Excellence

Submitted Photo
Richard and Sara Grim on their ranch in Gregory County. The 3,600 acre ranch has
been in Saras family for generations.

Richard and Sara Grim have been named the winners of the Conservation Producer 2020 Hugh Hammond Bennett Award for Conservation Excellence for their outstanding conservation efforts on their ranch, Grim Ranch, in Gregory County.

The National Conservation Planning Partnership (NCPP) recognized the Grims at the National Association of Conservation Districts 75th Annual Meeting. In describing their accomplishments, Mike Brown, Executive Director of the National Association of State Conservation Agencies and co-chair of the NCPP said, “Richard and Sara Grim are true pioneers in their conservation efforts. Their desire to uphold the highest standard of conservation is evident in every decision they make for their ranch. If I were starting out in ranching tomorrow, these are the two people I would want as role models.”

“Beef, its what’s for dinner” sign on Grim ranch.Grim Ranch is located in south central SD, west of the Missouri River, near the Nebraska state line. The 3,600 acre ranch has been in Sara’s family for generations. The land is rugged and good for raising livestock if there is a nearby water supply and high-quality forage.

Ranching can be difficult under any circumstances, but the Grim Family and many of their neighbors have found themselves fighting a battle with a formidable enemy the past few years – the eastern red cedar. These trees are rapidly infesting open lands and choking out native grasses, changing the ecology and amount of grazing land available in many areas of the state. To help control the invasive cedars, Rich and Sara pioneered prescribed burns in their area. 

Because of the positive outcomes of the prescribed burns, the Grims joined with like-minded neighbors, conservation professionals, and partners to establish the Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association. This association is the first of its kind in the state and has successfully raised grant dollars to treat 2,000 acres annually. Sara is proud to serve as the association’s secretary/treasurer.  

Richard and Sara were early adopters of cover crops and have also incorporated other innovative practices like tissue sampling to ensure their nutrient application is more precise and effective. They have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Gregory County Conservation District for years on a comprehensive and flexible resource management plan that integrates conservation practices to improve pasture design and utilization, combat invasive plants, reduce erosion, improve water access, improve forages, and manage nutrients. 

The couple is eager to learn and share their experiences. In addition to hosting numerous tours and workshops, they serve as mentors for those who need help in building healthier soil, crops, or livestock. They are proud members of South Dakota’s Grasslands Coalition and Soil Health Coalition. You can hear their success story in the YouTube series called “Our Amazing Grasslands“ .

Brandon Walter, NRCS Biologist and former District Conservationist in Gregory County says, “I had the privilege of working with Rich and Sara to plan and carry out numerous practices over many years as part of their conservation plan. They are conscientious operators with the integrity for doing what is right and good, not only for their business, but for the health of our natural resources. I can think of no one more deserving of this award.”

The local field staff in Gregory County will be recognized as part of this award acknowledging their technical assistance in helping the Grim Family develop and implement their conservation plan. Congratulations to Andrew Steffen, NRCS District Conservationist, Brandon Walter, NRCS Biologist, Kenneth Steele, Gregory County Conservation District’s Manager, and Tina Schonebaum, Gregory County Conservation District’s Secretary.

The Hugh Hammond Bennett Award is named in memory of the man credited with raising awareness about the critical importance of soil conservation during and after the Dust Bowl. Bennett believed that real and lasting change on the land comes from developing and following a conservation plan that is designed exclusively for a plot of land based on the available resources, resource issues, and producer’s goals. The NCPP was established in 2015 to emphasize the critical role that conservation planning plays in advancing voluntary conservation efforts on private lands. The NCPP is made of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Association of State Conservation Agencies, National Conservation District Employees Association, and National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils. For more information visit

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