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JRS Angus Farm Receives Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award

JRS Angus Farm of Lawrenceburg is the recipient of the 2020 Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award®.

The prestigious award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and management of natural resources by American farmers, ranchers and foresters in 21 states.

In Kentucky, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Kentucky Agricultural Council, and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts.

James R. “Buddy” Smith receives $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. He has implemented a rotational grazing program and other conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality at his beef cattle farm in Anderson County.

Ky Smith

“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is proud to once again partner with the Sand County Foundation and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts to recognize exceptional stewardship and conservation practices among Kentucky’s many private landowners,” said Mark Barker, Kentucky Agricultural Council’s chair. “The winner of the 2020 Leopold Conservation Award represents a lifelong work in his community to promote good stewardship and his passion for agriculture in Anderson County.”

“KACD and conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources and we are excited to join Sand County Foundation and the Kentucky Agricultural Council in recognizing these well deserving landowners in Kentucky,” said Shane Wells, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts President. “The Association and conservation districts work daily to assist private landowners in their efforts to adopt sound soil and water conservation practices on their land that benefit us all. This year’s Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award recipient is a community leader with a strong land stewardship ethic.”

“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.”

“We are pleased to present this award to James R. ‘Buddy’ Smith for his outstanding application of innovative grazing practices, conservation practices in his crop operation along with his dedication to the land, soil and livestock they steward,” said John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and Chief Executive Officer. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

Among the many outstanding Kentucky landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Graskop Farm of Nonesuch in Woodford County, and F.L. Sipes Farm of Ekron in Meade County.

The 2019 recipient was Dr. James W. Middleton of Munfordville in Hart County.

The Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to the generous support and partnership of American Farmland Trust, Kentucky Agricultural Council, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts, Sand County Foundation, U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kentucky State University College of Agriculture, Communities and the Sciences, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Farm Credit-Mid-America, Kentucky Cattlemen's Association, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, Kentucky Pork Producers, Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board, Kentucky Tree Farm Committee, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

For more information on the award, visit


Aldo Leopold observed, “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.”

James R. “Buddy” Smith has been painting his portrait on Kentucky’s Inner Bluegrass Region for more than 50 years. He and wife, Sandra, purchased a home and 189 acres in 1969. Acquiring three more tracts expanded their canvas to 385 acres near the border of Anderson and Franklin counties.

For 30 years Buddy would rise early to feed his beef cattle before leaving for his job as a transportation engineer in Frankfort. The Smiths and their three daughters (Vicki, Annette and Julie) grew a tobacco crop on the weekends. Today, working with his grandson Austin Goodpastor has re-energized Buddy’s love of farming.

Much of his land is now pasture for their 100-head purebred Angus cow-calf herd. Bull and heifer calves are sold to other farmers. Processed beef is sold directly to local families and at a farmers’ market. They sell hay from 30 acres of alfalfa to area horse farms, and grow about 5,000 pumpkins to be sold at a road-side stand. Diversification has been important, but Buddy says the farm’s survival depends on passing his land ethic to the next generation.

Over the years Buddy has implemented conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. He developed a rotational grazing program with a watering system of pipeline to tanks instead of relying on ponds and streams. Cattle are moved to fresh pasture between 15 paddocks every three to four days. This system reduces overgrazing, builds soil organic matter, encourages greater plant biodiversity, and infiltrates more water making pastures more drought-resistant.

Whenever possible, Buddy schedules hay harvesting and pasture mowing to accommodate wildlife nesting periods. Such efforts earned him the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ Outstanding Cooperator of the Year in 2017.

Grass filter strips are used as buffers around pastures and hay fields. Buddy uses the no-till method of planting corn to reduce soil loss and compaction. By grazing standing field corn in the fall, cattle naturally re-distributed on the field. Leaving corn residue on the fields reduces erosion during the winter.

With year-round grazing as a goal, hay is usually needed for feeding fewer than 60 days each winter. With assistance from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Buddy built a concrete pad where cattle are fed during the winter to protect soil and water from erosion. Stored manure from the winter feeding pad is applied each spring to reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer needed for crops.

JRS Angus Farm serves as model for the NRCS’s recommended practices on farm productivity, manure management and no-till seeding methods for grasses and legumes.

Buddy credits attending the Cooperative Extension Service’s Master Series courses on fencing and grazing for giving him the tools to leave his land better than he found it. The former student now makes his mark as the teacher by mentoring young farmers, hosting field days for landowners and lawmakers, and serving on boards for a variety of agricultural organizations.

JRS Angus Farm

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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.


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.


The Kentucky Agricultural Council is a 501(c)(3) organization consisting of some 80 agricultural organizations representing all sectors of Kentucky agriculture. The membership is composed of commodity groups, state and federal agricultural organizations, agricultural trade organizations and the state’s institutions of higher education that serve Kentucky agriculture. The KAC functions as an umbrella group and hub for its members, disseminating information and promoting coordination among all agricultural organizations and sectors. Since 2006, the KAC also has served as the “steward of strategic planning” for the future of Kentucky agriculture and Kentucky’s rural communities.


The Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts is 501(c)(3) organization consisting of Kentucky’s local conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts. KACD encourages the exchange of information relating to the administration and operation of conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts; to affect cooperation between districts and agencies and organizations concerned with any and all phases of soil and water conservation; to promote the welfare of conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts and the people therein; and to maintain strong and active membership in both KACD and the National Association of Conservation Districts.