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Soil Health Makes Environmental and Economic Sense

"When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation."

Aldo Leopold's words from more than 70 years ago still ring true today. This symbiotic relationship he describes plays out on farms and ranches where landowners are committed to the health of their soil.

The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the voluntary efforts of conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and foresters. Their efforts to improve soil health also leads to better water quality and habitat for wildlife.

In the following profiles, you’ll meet four families who received the award in 2018 from Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. While no two farms are ever the same, these four show that building soil health makes environmental and economic sense.

Described by some as “pioneers” when it comes to demonstrating the importance of soil health, North Dakota's Jeremy and Sarah Wilson are showing that agricultural conservation can profit while improving the productivity of their land.

By mimicking nature with a diverse, regenerative, no-till cropping system, the Wilsons are building soil structure and their farm’s resilience to survive changes in weather and commodity markets.

Business and political leaders, scientists and journalists from around the globe have visited their farm to learn the value of what they are doing.


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JEREMY WILSON: "The soil has been here long before me and will be here forever. It's perpetual. I can either destroy it, or build it, and I've chosen to build it." Photo by Sarah Wilson

Missouri farmers John and Sandy Scherder work to implement conservation practices that preserve and create wildlife habitat, and promote the soil’s health and productivity while reducing erosion.

Their innovation when it comes to cover crop mixes, seeding methods, and crop rotations have been the focus of farm tours. They have also constructed grass waterways, terraces, and sediment basin structures. A field’s soil and location determine whether no-till, minimal or precision tillage practices are used.


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JOHN SCHERDER: "The land that we have, there's no way to replace it. You can help it or you can hurt it. I feel it's our responsibility to make it better than what it was when we got it." Photo by Kari Asbury

Wisconsin dairyman David Geiser is passionate about learning how to best manage the fragile karst topography that his family has farmed between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago for more than a century.

He and wife, Deb Reinhart, witnessed how grazing his cattle allowed plants and soil to retain water rather than running off and compromising water quality. They grow cover crops to feed their cattle and soil. Geiser's reputation as a respected farmer and conservationist stems from his devotion to improve the health of soil, water, plants and cattle.


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DAVID GEISER: "Cover crops and no-till can be an excellent marriage. Once you get a system established you have organic matter that's in the soil surface for that seedbed." Photo by Casey Langan

Achieving soil health through the use of no-till farming and cover crops is nothing new to Edward (Myrel) Trunnell, who began farming in Kentucky more than six decades ago.

Today his family uses cover crops to build organic matter in soil, feed microorganisms, break up compaction, scavenge nutrients for future crops, shade out weeds, and provide food for wildlife. Their costs to grow corn, soybeans, hay, fruits and vegetables have been reduced by the use of soil testing and precision farming technology.

Myrel received Kentucky's No-till Hero Award in 2007.


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MYREL TRUNNELL: "I hope this soil health is a wave that never stops." Photo by USDA-NRCS of Kentucky

For more on the farmers, ranchers and foresters who have received the Leopold Conservation Award and champion soil health, click here.