Noll’s Dairy Farm Receives Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award
November 16, 2023
Noll’s Dairy Farm of Alma is the 2023 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award® recipient.
The award honors farmers and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.
Noll’s Dairy Farm was revealed as the award recipient at the November 16 meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. Mark, Curtis, and Scott Noll and their families receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. A video celebrating the Buffalo County farm family’s conservation success will be premiered during the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting on December 3.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Wisconsin the award is presented with Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for what he called “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
Among the many outstanding Wisconsin landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Bartling’s Manitowish Cranberry Co. of Manitowish Waters in Vilas County, Full Circle Farm of Seymour in Shawano County, and Joe Hovel of Conover in Vilas County. Earlier this year, owners of Wisconsin farmland and forests were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Sand County Foundation, Culver’s, Compeer Financial, McDonald’s, The Nature Conservancy, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, We Energies Foundation, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, and Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association. To view all past recipients of the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award, visit: www.SandCountyFoundation.org/Wisconsin.
Aldo Leopold must have had Noll’s Dairy Farm in mind when he wrote “the landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.” Perched high above the Mississippi River on Wisconsin’s western bank, it’s a masterpiece for all to admire.
Mark, Curtis, and Scott Noll and their families have long appreciated and enjoyed the natural resources in their care. Their farm consists of 400 acres of contoured corn, soybean, and hay fields managed in concert with 450 acres of adjacent forests, oak savannas, and prairies that provide timber production and wildlife habitat.
Nothing showcases their commitment to conservation like their restoration of a dry bluff prairie remnant. These ecologically rare landforms, nicknamed goat prairies, are sparsely found along the Mississippi River bluffs of western Wisconsin. The Nolls were inspired to act after learning of their significance in the 1990s.
With sweat equity from family and friends, and little monetary assistance from state or federal programs, they removed undesirable trees and brush, and conducted prescribed burns. Today they actively manage one of the largest dry bluff prairie remnants in Buffalo County.
Through this process they also restored oak savannas, which is notable because prairies and oak savannas are among the most threatened natural communities in Wisconsin, currently occupying less than one percent of their historic range. Noll’s Dairy Farm is located along a winding road that leads to a popular overlook of the Mississippi River. A roadside sign informs motorists of the rare ecosystem that was brought back from the brink.
Also noticeable from the road is the contour strip cropping system that divides the farm into 119 fields. This scenic yet practical configuration, coupled with a no-till system, helps prevent soil erosion. The Nolls also plant winter rye, turnips, and tillage radishes as cover crops to improve soil health and prevent erosion.
Given their location hundreds of feet above the Mississippi River, the Nolls understand the importance of keeping soils in place and away from surface and ground waters. Since 1969 they have installed more than 20 earthen dams and erosion control structures to prevent the formation of gullies. Manure from the Noll’s dairy cows is kept in a storage facility before its nutrients can be spread as fertilizer on fields.
Construction of the manure storage was largely financed with revenues from selectively harvesting mature timber on the farm. Since drafting their first timber harvest management plan in 1997 the Nolls have continuously improved timber stands for future generations, and enhanced wildlife and pollinator habitat.
The Nolls enrolled 735 acres in a cooperative effort with Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources in 2014 that manages deer populations at levels that support hunting and regeneration of woodlands. The Nolls have since attributed a reduction in crop damage to giving deer a choice of habitats due to dozens of different forestry projects underway.
The family annually hosts a hunter education course to ensure a conservation ethic is instilled into youth. By hosting tours for schools and conservation organizations, the Nolls show others what dry bluff prairies, oak savannas, and a strong land ethic look like.
“A commitment to land, water and animals is fundamental for a farm to thrive and Wisconsin dairy farmers have a long history of utilizing sustainable practices that help protect these elements for their communities and future generations,” said Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. “The Nolls are a prime example of this outstanding dedication to land stewardship, and we are honored to partner with Sand County Foundation to recognize the family’s conservation practices and a land ethic that fits those established by Aldo Leopold.”
“Wisconsin farmers are on the frontlines of progress when it comes to advancing conservation. Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to partner with the Sand County Foundation to recognize innovative farmers for their efforts,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Kevin Krentz. “We extend our congratulations to the Noll family on their outstanding dedication to conservation.”
“Through their farm, the Nolls have demonstrated their dedication to conservation and preserving soil health and water quality,” said Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “The Nolls are committed to educating others by posting signage, offering education courses, and hosting tours, teaching the next generation about our state’s strong agricultural industry and valuable natural resources. Families like the Nolls help ensure Wisconsin agriculture is sustainable now and into the future.”
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Noll 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.”
“These award recipients 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.
Watch their conservation success story
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD
The Leopold Conservation Award 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
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 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. www.farmland.org
DAIRY FARMERS OF WISCONSIN
Funded by Wisconsin dairy farmers, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization that focuses on marketing and promoting Wisconsin’s world-class dairy products. www.WisconsinDairy.org
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION
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
WISCONSIN FARM BUREAU FEDERATION
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is Wisconsin's largest general farm organization. It represents nearly 24,000 farms and agriculturists who belong to one of 61 county Farm Bureaus found across the state. Much like Wisconsin's diverse agricultural landscape, Farm Bureau members represent all farm commodities, farm sizes and management styles. Farm Bureau's mission is to lead the farm and rural community through legislative representation, education, public relations, and leadership development. www.wfbf.com