Myers Family Farm Receives Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award
January 08, 2024
Myers Family Farm of Spring Mills is the 2023 Pennsylvania 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.
Brothers Joel and Don Myers, who own and operate Myers Family Farm, received the award at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg on January 8. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Pennsylvania, the award is presented with The Heinz Endowments, Horizon Farm Credit, and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
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 Pennsylvania landowners nominated for the award were finalist Troy Firth of Spartansburg in Crawford County. Pennsylvania farmers and forestland owners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award in early 2023. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
The 2022 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm of York County.
The Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments, Horizon Farm Credit, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Sand County Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, and The Nature Conservancy.
Joel Myers has a passion for agricultural conservation, an ability to bring people together, and a willingness to teach by example.
As the driving force behind the creation of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance he was adamant that it be a farmer-led organization committed to promoting soil health practices. He even hosted its first meeting in a church next to Myers Family Farm.
Just as the Alliance remains a thriving force in the Keystone State, Joel is a highly respected authority and strong advocate for conservation practices, including no-till, cover cropping, and planting green.
Some credit Joel’s practical experience and outreach efforts as a major reason for the increased use of conservation practices in Pennsylvania. The amount of farmland acres managed with no-till rose from 20 percent in 2000 to about 70 percent today. Likewise, cover crops are now grown on 40 percent of planted acres.
Joel credits his success as a conservation practitioner and proponent to what he learned decades ago. As a boy he witnessed washouts and gullies plaguing the fields on the farm his father bought in 1946. With his brother Don, he still owns and operates Myers Family Farm where he planted 75 acres of oats and soybeans last spring.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy, he began his career as a soil conservationist in 1967 by writing conservation plans and providing other technical assistance to farmers. He rose through the ranks to district conservationist before being named Pennsylvania’s State Agronomist in the 1980s.
He gained credibility among farmers by putting emerging conservation practices to work on his own farmland. In the 1960s and 70s he experimented with contour farming, field borders, reduced tillage, and crop rotations aimed at preventing soil erosion, improving water quality, and sequestering carbon.
In the 1980s Joel was intrigued that some dairy farmers were on the cutting edge of no-till practices. He knew he had to get onboard, so he bought a no-till planter at an auction and made modifications to it. Eventually he had five different no-till planters and drills which gave him an opportunity to learn, and later demonstrate, their differences to other farmers both one-on-one and at field events.
Retirement from his day job didn’t slow down Joel’s educational and outreach efforts. Myers Family Farm still hosts many research trials, workshops, and field days for farmers, conservation professionals, research scientists, local FFA members, Penn State University students, and international groups.
What farm visitors see is how a no-till system coupled with extensive use of cover crops and sound crop rotations can greatly reduce soil losses, even on slopes up to 10 percent. Myers Family Farm’s rolling topography features deep soils in some areas, and ridge tops with exposed rock outcrops in others. This showcase of conservation practices extends beyond the cropland to include forest and stream habitat restorations that improve wildlife and fish habitat.
Joel predicts 2024 will be the last year he plants crops at Myers Family Farm before renting the land to a similarly conservation-minded farmer. One thing is certain. Before a single seed is planted this spring, Joel’s years of stewardship will be felt across his land and beyond.
Watch the Myers family's conservation success story
“The prestigious Leopold Conservation Award recognizes outstanding agriculturalists committed to ensuring a viable future of the next generation of ag,” said Tom Truitt, CEO of Horizon Farm Credit. “We’re pleased to partner with the Sand County Foundation on this annual honor and congratulate Joel and Don Myers for their remarkable leadership in the area of conservation. The Myers Family Farm has long exemplified environmental stewardship.”
“Joel Myers embodies the lifelong dedication to stewardship that Aldo Leopold lived by,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Joel’s selfless care of soil and water resources, his generosity sharing his conservation expertise with other farmers, researchers, and farm visitors, and his contagious enthusiasm for forward-thinking farm management is part of why Pennsylvania’s future is greener every year. Joel’s legacy will be clean water and healthy soil, not just on the Myers Family Farm, but on an ever-growing number of Pennsylvania farms.”
“Joel Myers’ career as a farmer and educator embodies the stewardship ethic that Pennsylvania farmers have showcased for centuries,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Chris Hoffman. “His leadership in installing and demonstrating the value of innovative conservation practices on his land has inspired countless Pennsylvania farmers to implement no-till and cover crops that have preserved and improved the Commonwealth’s land, air and water for all Pennsylvanians, whether or not they live in agricultural communities. His legacy will be a shining example to future generations of Pennsylvania farmers, and we congratulate him on the outstanding achievements for which Myers Family Farm is receiving the 2023 Leopold Conservation Award.”
“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 Myers 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.”
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 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
HORIZON FARM CREDIT is an agricultural lending cooperative, part of the national Farm Credit System, owned by its member-borrowers. The Association has more than 22,900 members and over $5.9 billion in loans outstanding. Horizon Farm Credit serves Delaware, Pennsylvania, and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia by providing farm loans for land, equipment, livestock and production; crop insurance; and rural home mortgages. Learn more at www.horizonfc.com
PENNSYLVANIA FARM BUREAU is the state’s largest farm organization, representing farms of every size and commodity across Pennsylvania. www.pfb.com
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 HEINZ ENDOWMENTS is devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Core to our work is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls southwestern Pennsylvania home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive. http://www.heinz.org/