Loran Steinlage Receives Iowa Leopold Conservation Award
August 28, 2023
Loran Steinlage of West Union has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Iowa Leopold Conservation Award®.
Loran, who owns and operates FLOLO Farms in Fayette County, will be formally presented with the $10,000 award this December at The Big Soil Health Event in Cedar Falls.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on private, working lands.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust annually present the Leopold Conservation Award to farmers, ranchers and forestland owners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In Iowa, the award is presented with state partners: Conservation Districts of Iowa, Farmers National Company, and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Earlier this year, Iowa landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. Last year’s recipient was Seth Watkins of Clarinda.
The Leopold Conservation Award is given to farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners across the U.S. in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
The Iowa Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Conservation Districts of Iowa, Farmers National Company, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Sand County Foundation, Soil Regen, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nancy and Marc DeLong, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, and Leopold Landscape Alliance.
Loran Steinlage has the qualities that make a good land steward.
He’s open-minded to innovation, yet patient with the process of trial and error. He welcomes researchers to measure the impact and efficacy of each conservation practice he adopts on his 900-acre farm in Fayette County.
Loran is most passionate about sharing what he’s learned with others, from local youth to farmers from Iowa, Ukraine, or Australia. Whether participating in soil health field days or podcasts, he’s helping forge a new path for modern agriculture.
Loran’s the first to admit he wasn’t always this way. He was once a “conventional” corn and soybean grower focused on yields and renting as much land as possible. When he and his wife Brenda learned their son was diagnosed with brain cancer, he scaled back his rented acreage to spend more time at home. He started looking differently at the land his parents had passed on to him.
While experimenting with cover crops and no-till practices, Loran saw an improvement in his soil’s health. He realized the cover crops would be more robust and beneficial if they were planted sooner. This led him to explore ways to interseed cover crops into standing fields of corn and soybeans.
Before becoming a pioneer in the practice of relay cropping, Loran drew inspiration by connecting with farmers across the nation through social channels and peer groups. Among the farmer mentors he credits with advancing his conservation ethic was the late Dave Brandt of Ohio.
Through global travels and interactions, Loran recognized there’s no room for complacency within mainstream agriculture in the face of environmental challenges ranging from climate change to water pollution. He believes it’s up to farmers to not just be ahead of the curve but to drive the change.
In most cases, there was no blueprint for the changes Loran saw as important, nor did his practices fit within available conservation programs. Undaunted, he cobbled ideas together with his network of peers and brought them home.
Loran works with a variety of organizations to host field trials at his family’s FLOLO Farms. The data collected is used to study the agronomics of conservation practices, water quality impacts, flood mitigation, crop insurance provisions, and market viability of alternative crops and methods.
After altering a row-crop combine to be able to harvest cereal grains in his relay-cropped fields, Loran saw the need to marry agribusiness with stewardship efforts. He works with an agricultural manufacturer to bridge a gap between farmers and the engineers designing farm machinery.
In 2021, when Loran welcomed Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to survey a stream that dissects his farm, they discovered it was full of trout. Without proper stewardship in the surrounding fields, this stream would not support fish that are extremely sensitive to contaminants in water.
Loran credits growing heritage varieties of corn for a nearby brewery with making his farm ecologically and economically resilient. However, it’s not just an anecdotal success. He believes growing diverse crops, regenerating soil, and ensuring clean water, leads to increased farm profitability, environmental regeneration, and rural invigoration.
As Loran grows his 38th crop of corn this year, he’s as committed as ever to helping others see how conservation advances will impact future crops.
“The Leopold Conservation Award highlights the importance of prioritizing conservation and carries on the inspiring work of Aldo Leopold,” said Sally Worley, Practical Farmers of Iowa Executive Director. “We are honored to support an award that recognizes individual efforts towards improved land, water and wildlife.”
“The landowner plays a critical role in the conservation of America’s farmland resources. Sustainable practices not only benefit the local environment and community, but also improves the quality and value of the land as an asset for the current owner and future generations,” said Clayton Becker, Famers National Company President. “This is why Farmers National Company is honored to sponsor this prestigious award recognizing hard work and commitment to conservation.”
“One of Loran’s most important characteristics is his willingness to be open minded in conservation. It is often difficult to try new things, but Loran demonstrates that he is willing to accept conservation innovation as a challenge, not an obstacle,” said John Whitaker, Conservation Districts of Iowa Executive Director.
“Recipients of this award are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Steinlage family,” 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.”
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
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. www.farmland.org
FARMERS NATIONAL COMPANY, an employee-owned company, is the nation’s leading agricultural landowner and mineral services company. Farmers National Company manages more than 5,000 farms and ranches in 29 states comprising more than 2 million acres. The company has sold more than $5 billion of real estate during the last 10 years. Additional services provided by the company include appraisals and valuation services, insurance, consultation, oil, gas and renewable energy management, a national hunting lease program, forest resource management, and FNC Ag Stock. www.FarmersNational.com
PRACTICAL FARMERS OF IOWA is an inclusive organization representing a diversity of farmers. Farmers in our network raise corn and soybeans, hay, livestock large and small, horticultural crops from fruits and vegetables to cut flowers and herbs, and more. Our members have conventional and organic systems’ employ diverse management practices; run operations of all sizes; and come from a range of backgrounds. These farmers come together, however, because they believe in nature as the model for agriculture and they are committed to moving their operations toward sustainability. www.practicalfarmers.org
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. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
THE CONSERVATION DISTRICTS OF IOWA informs, educates and leads Iowans through our local soil and water conservation districts to promote conservation of natural resources. www.cdiowa.org