FREDERICKSBURG – The first Bennett Trust Women’s Natural Resource Conference was conducted recently in Fredericksburg, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service organizers said the overwhelming success has them already setting event dates for 2016.
The women’s conference is an extension of the Bennett Trust Land Stewardship Conference, which has been held twice in Kerrville, said Dr. Rick Machen, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist in Uvalde. Both conferences are devoted to helping landowners manage natural resources in the Edwards Plateau
“We in AgriLife Extension recognize there are more and more ladies starting to take over land management not only here in the state of Texas, but also all over the U.S.,” said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension Bennett Trust specialist in College Station.
“And we recognized we did not have a program developed just for ladies who might have a lot of questions about how to manage their piece of property,” Redmon said. “So we’ve developed a program that will be held in Fredericksburg every year.”
The next Bennett Trust Ladies Conference will be Oct. 3-4 at the Inn on Barons Creek in Fredericksburg. The Bennett Trust Land Stewardship Conference, which is open to everyone, will be April 14-15 at the Inn of the Hills Resort and Conference Center in Kerrville.
The first women’s conference attracted more than 75 participants, who heard speakers discuss everything from stewardship and resource management to the cattle markets to prescribed burning, legal issues and nature tourism.
“It’s been enlightening to see the passion these ladies have for stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to them,” Machen said. “Many of these ladies have bought property or inherited property and moved back home after a successful career and raising a family maybe away from the property they have come back to.”
Anna Ochoa recently inherited a ranch in Val Verde County with her mother and sister.
“We are completely new to all of this, so it has been such a blessing to have the Bennett Trust Foundation have these conferences,” Ochoa said. “The speakers are so knowledgeable, but they are also so approachable. It’s just been a wonderful experience to walk in knowing nothing and get a foundation.”
She said the conference helped prepare them to conserve the land and understand terms like “carrying capacity,” which is the number of stock a land area can feed without destroying the resource base.
“Terms that I’ve never even heard of, I’m now familiar with. My sister and I spent summers with my grandparents on the ranch, but we had no idea how you would even run a ranch,” she said. “So when we inherited it, it might as well have been land in China; we had no idea what to do.”
Going to the Bennett conferences has changed that, Ochoa said.
“It’s been such an eye-opener as far as considering options with what you can do with land in Texas,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to learn about ecology and ecosystems and saving the type of nature we have in Texas.
“Also, we have hunters out there and they’ve (the speakers) helped us learn things to think about as far as feeding deer, and the ratio of wildlife to cattle or anything else you might be doing on the ranch. They’re great at helping you start to get ideas on what you can do on the land and help you take that next step.”
Claudia Parker, a retired teacher and fourth-generation rancher, said ranching is not new to her, but “there’s always something new to learn. Science changes, information changes and I’m always looking for a new way, a new angle, a better way to maintain the land and maintain the wildlife.”
She said the workshops help her move forward: “When I get an opportunity to meet other people and hear new ideas, I can take home another five pieces of information to help me revitalize the property and get us back on track.”
Donna Schuster took over her ranch in Kinney County after her father died. She runs cattle, sheep and goats and wanted to attend the conference to stay on the cutting edge of the agricultural business, learn new techniques, and learn about new chemicals and brush work.
“I want to be able to keep my family going and hopefully have something to pass on to my children.”
Kaete Edington, a fourth-generation rancher in Frio County, inherited the family ranch and wanted to learn as much as she possibly could to keep the land in her family and pass it on to her kids.
“My dad has made the majority of the decisions and now he is passing that on,” Edington said. “I want to know what the latest techniques are. Things are changing in agriculture and I want to make sure I know what the best and greatest is.
“I think I’m learning how to maximize what we can do with the amount of land we have. To protect the land properly and to keep it protected legally, environmentally and practically, logistically and tax-wise and financially is just really important to me. I want it to stay in my family for the next multiple generations.”
Redmon said the conference is meant to empower ladies to make their own financial and stewardship decisions.
“It doesn’t matter if you are young and going to inherit some property or older in life and just came into possession of some property, we’ve got a program for you,” he said.