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F.L. Sipes Farms Receives Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award

F.L. Sipes Farms of Ekron is the recipient of the 2021 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 23 states.

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

Fred L. Sipes, who received $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected, accepted the award at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ 77th Annual Meeting in Lexington.

Sipes implemented a rotational grazing program and other conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality at his crop and beef cattle farm in Meade County.

“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is proud to once again partner with the Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust 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 2021 Leopold Conservation Award represents lifelong work in his community to promote good stewardship and his passion for agriculture in Meade County.”

“KACD and conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources and we are excited to join Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust 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 true working family farm 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 CEO. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Kentucky recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

Among the many outstanding Kentucky landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Reddick Farms of Bardwell in Carlisle County, and Donald Veatch of Campbellsville in Marion County.

The 2020 recipient was JRS Angus Farm and its owner, James R. ‘Buddy’ Smith, of Lawrenceburg in Anderson 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, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, Kentucky Tree Farm Committee, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Kentucky Pork Producers, Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board, and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

For more information on the award, visit


Farming land his grandmother once owned, Fred L. Sipes says he’s a caretaker of a precious resource.

Fred began growing 50 acres of burley tobacco, fresh out of high school in 1994. Even then, conservation was important to him. He knew consistent improvement and diversification would be critical to his farm’s survival.

As he acquired and rented more land to raise beef cattle and grow soybeans, corn, wheat, produce and hay, he adopted conservation practices with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Determined to leave the land and water better than he found it, he joined the Meade County Conservation District’s board, and was an early adopter of a Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Plan.

Fred established a rotational grazing system with cross fencing for his cattle. Watering facilities and feeding pads were constructed to prevent erosion. The herd’s calving season is managed to coincide with ample forage availability and avoid over-grazing. Pastures with native grasses and wildflowers, riparian buffers, and new and repaired grass waterways slow erosion of topsoil while providing habitat for wildlife, aquatic life and insect pollinators.

Given the prevalence of sinkholes in the area, Fred uses buffer strips to prevent groundwater contamination. Establishing buffer strips for conservation purposes also controls input costs by removing unproductive and highly-erodible acres from crop production.

Fred credits no-till practices and cover crops with improving the health of his soil. Cover crops of wheat and rye hold soil in place over the winter and spring. When the cover crops are terminated in the spring, they return organic matter to the soil which nourishes that year’s soybean and corn crops. Cover crops also help reduce a field’s compaction.

Partnering with agronomy experts on soil sampling and plant tissue testing determines a crop field’s specific nutrient needs. Drift-reducing nozzles and GPS-targeted herbicide applications save money and reduce the potential for over-application and water contamination.

Fred has installed and repaired several waterways, including one on a farm he purchased in 2020. It’s one of the improvements he’s made since receiving a regional American Soybean Association Conservation Legacy Award in 2019.

Like many farmers, Fred rents some of his cropland from other landowners. He views his landlords as partners, and therefore keeps them informed on crop conditions and conservation improvements, and maintains their fencerows.

Just as Aldo Leopold wrote about the “ethical relationship between people and the land that they manage,” Fred is inspired to share his conservation story with consumers. He does so through leadership positions with the Kentucky Soybean Association and Meade County Farm Bureau. He also organizes and hosts field days sponsored by the University of Kentucky Extension Service and local conservation district.

“He exemplifies who today’s farmer should be – eager to learn and serve. And more excited to educate others about what he has learned,” said Andy Mills, Meade County Extension agent.

Fred and his wife, Stacey, are parents to four-year-old twins, Joe and Sam. Parenthood has made him even more conscious of the environmental footprint he’ll leave on the land.

“There is nothing more important to me than preserving and improving the land for these boys,” he said.

F.L. Sipes Farms

Freddell And Cows


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, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, 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 empowers 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.