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Ed and Leta Olson Receive Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award

LINCOLN Neb. – Ed and Leta Olson of Craig have been selected for the 2020 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award®.

The Burt County farmers will receive the prestigious award given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. The award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by American farmers, ranchers and foresters in 21 states. In Nebraska, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN), Cargill and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

The Olsons will be presented with the $10,000 award at a public event later this year.

“The Olsons are the epitome of the farmer-conservationists,” said Steve Martin, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN). “They create habitat for wildlife and improved the soil with innovative farming practices. Ed shares his passion for the outdoors as a mentor and instructor. This ensures that future generations are connected to nature and care about conservation.”

“The Olson’s integration of conservation into their farming practices is apparent through the many years of developing habitat for wildlife on their farm,” said Sammy Renteria, general manager of Cargill in Schuyler. “We salute their devotion to farming while providing quality habitat for wildlife and their willingness to share these resources with the surrounding community.”

“Ed Olson has been a great spokesman for conservation. He has an ethic like that of Leopold when it comes to his land and its wildlife,” said Mark Brohman, Nebraska Environmental Trust Executive Director.

“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

The 2019 recipient was Broken Box Ranch (Russ and Angela Sundstrom) of Moorefield.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Nebraska is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Cargill, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit Services of America, Audubon Nebraska, Lyle Sittler Memorial Fund, McDonald’s, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Game and Parks, Nebraska Land Trust, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, World Wildlife Fund - Northern Great Plains, and Green Cover Seeds.

For more information on the award, visit


Ed and Leta Olson epitomize what it means to be a steward of the land. When the Nebraska farmers were given a copy of A Sand County Almanac by a local wildlife biologist, they must have seen themselves in its pages.

Their land ethic is expressed by implementing agricultural conservation practices and connecting others with nature.

When many farmers were clearing trees and farming to their fence lines, the Olsons were doing whatever they could to create wildlife habitat, maintain soil health and improve water quality.

Of the 815 acres they farm in eastern Nebraska, 115 acres are enrolled in conservation programs to create filter strips, shelterbelts and pollinator habitat. The Olsons are firm believers that if every farmer took the least profitable 5-10 percent of their farm and used it for conservation, then all farmers would make more money while planting fewer acres.

“While he may not be the biggest farmer that we work with, he undoubtedly makes the largest impact,” said Andy Bohnenkamp, District Conservationist.

Ed has adopted a variety of conservation practices to decrease erosion, protect water quality and increase soil health. Cover crops of grasses, small grains and legumes are planted in the off-season to increase the soil’s ability to hold water and sediment. No-till has been used on his corn and soybean fields for more than 20 years. Terracing has made sloped farm fields more manageable.

In 2017 the Olsons were among the first landowners to participate in Nebraska’s Corners for Wildlife program that established one to three-acre plots of pollinator habitat at rural intersections. Sewn with wildflowers, these plantings benefit bees and butterflies, and they keep drivers safe during summer months when corn fields would otherwise limit visibility.

They have planted about 4,000 trees and shrubs to create windbreaks, and provide food sources and corridors for wildlife. Such efforts earned them a Legacy Award from Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015.

Off the farm, Ed has spent his entire adulthood fostering conservation ethics and a respect for the land among hunters and farmers. He co-founded the Burt County Pheasants Forever chapter and educates landowners on how to enhance pheasant habitat by planting natural food sources on abandoned farmsteads and fence lines. As owner of Olson Pearson Auctions & Realty, he donates his time auctioneering at conservation events.

His strongest passion is sharing his knowledge with youth. He teaches youth firearm safety and outdoor ethics as an instructor for the Nebraska Game & Parks Hunter Education Program, and as a volunteer with Pheasant Forever’s Youth Mentor Hunt. As a former 4-H wildlife habitat team leader he provided hands-on experience to youth building goose nests and wood duck boxes.

Generations of local children have learned to fish in the Olson family pond. The youth he first mentored in the 1990s are returning to fish with kids of their own.

Ed and Leta strive to keep their farm as aligned as possible with nature, not only to support local wildlife, but to create a vibrant landscape for the community to enjoy.

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The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).


Sand County Foundation inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

AFAN (Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska)

AFAN was formed in 2005 by the leading agricultural organizations in Nebraska to conduct outreach, promotion and provide information to consumers about Nebraska agriculture and where their food comes from. In 2015, these organizations saw another need, advancing livestock development and agriculture and food processing businesses in Nebraska. Since then AFAN has been primarily focused on encouraging the development of livestock and working with communities and Nebraska leaders to create opportunities for industries that add value to Nebraska’s agricultural output and energize the economy.


Cargill provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. Together with farmers, customers, governments and communities, we help people thrive by applying our insights and 150 years of experience. We have 149,000 employees in 70 countries who are committed to feeding the world in a responsible way, reducing environmental impact and improving the communities where we live and work. We are passionate about our goal to be the global leader in nourishing people and operating responsibly across the agricultural, food, industrial and financial markets we serve.


The Nebraska Environmental Trust was established in 1992 to conserve, enhance and restore the natural environments of Nebraska. It was created on the conviction that a prosperous future is dependent upon a sound natural environment and that Nebraskans could collectively achieve real progress on real environmental issues if seed money were provided.

Ed and Leta Olson

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