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Veatch Farms Receives Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award

Watch their inspiring conservation success story

Veatch Farms of Campbellsville is the recipient of the 2023 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 forestland owner in 27 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.

Donald Veatch, who received $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected, accepted the award at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Convention in Bowling Green on July 11.

Veatch established and implemented several conservation practices at this beef cattle and grain farm in Marion County to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

Among the many outstanding Kentucky landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell in Carlisle County, and Mike and Tammy Wilson of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County. The 2022 recipient was Reddick Farms of Bardwell in Carlisle 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, U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Credit Mid-America, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Kentucky Pork Producers, Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, and Kentucky Tree Farm Committee.

For more information on the award, visit


Ever since his mother helped him win a conservation district’s essay contest, Donald Veatch has been quick to share the credit for his conservation successes.

As a boy, he came to appreciate the uniqueness of central Kentucky’s farmland thanks to his grandparents, Gilbert and Exie Shively. They farmed in a region nicknamed “the lagoon” for its river bottoms and prehistoric beginnings as a lake.

Donald says the public debate over erecting a dam that would have returned his family’s farmland into a lake made an impression on him. So did this simple rule from his father who farmed and worked as a county conservationist: “Never allow a gulley on the farm.”

Donald and his son Josh still grow corn, wheat, and soybeans, and raise beef cattle in the lagoon. Veatch Farms is dissected by a creek with topography ranging from wet bottomland to steep hillsides. Donald has implemented a variety of conservation practices to prevent soil erosion, improve water quality, and increase the amount of organic matter in his soil.

More than 30 years ago during a drought, Donald first experimented with no-till practices to increase his soil’s capacity to infiltrate water. He later began growing cover crops of wheat, grasses, radishes, and sweet clover. He quickly saw the benefits of not disturbing the soil and keeping fields continuously green and growing.

The cropland at Veatch Farms has developed the dual resilience of retaining water during dry spells and withstanding heavy rains with little or no erosion. Likewise, the soil’s health has improved thanks to an integrated pest management system and annual soil tests that monitor soil nutrient levels.

Timber is treated like a crop at Veatch Farms. The use of timberland stand improvement practices on woodland acres restricts the growth of invasive species. This allows more desirable species such as oak, walnut, and maple to have a larger share of the forest canopy.

Donald sees trees as a renewable resource with economic and environmental benefits. He’s planted trees along the curves of his farm’s creek to stabilize soil and mitigate flooding. The trees compliment the wide grass buffer strips he’s established. Portions of the farm are also enrolled in the federal Conservation Stewardship Program to create habitat for wildlife, birds, and insect pollinators.

Beef cattle at Veatch Farms are not allowed access to its ponds, creeks, and forests. By rotationally grazing the herd, grass is allowed to grow taller, which helps slow water runoff.

Donald has a passion for sharing his conservation ethic and knowledge with those who want to learn how to care for their own land. He’s a longtime member of Marion County’s Agriculture Development, Farm Bureau, and Conservation District boards. His peers say his willingness to voice his opinion on conservation comes from knowledge and wisdom.

Veatch Farms regularly employs students enrolled in a school-to-work program. The instructor of the course was so inspired after reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac that they asked Donald for assistance in developing a high school conservation class. At the time, neither the teacher nor Donald realized he had been nominated for an award named in honor of Leopold.

The boy from Kentucky’s lagoon has come a long way since winning a conservation essay contest.


“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is proud to once again partner in recognizing exceptional stewardship and conservation work as demonstrated by the Veatch family,” said Drew Graham, Kentucky Agricultural Council’s chair. “The winner of the 2023 Leopold Conservation Award represents lifelong work in their community to promote good stewardship and their passion for agriculture in Marion County.”

“Kentucky’s 121 conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources and we are excited to join in recognizing the well deserving Veatch family,” said Allan Bryant, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts President. “This year’s Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award recipient is truly a working family farm with a strong land stewardship ethic.”

“These award finalists 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 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."

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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, 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).

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.

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.

KENTUCKY ASSOCIATION OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS is a 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.

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.