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Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award Finalists Selected

Three finalists have been selected for the 2024 Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award®.

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.

Named in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, this award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Kentucky, the $10,000 award is presented with Kentucky Agricultural Council and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts.

The finalists are:

  • Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell in Carlisle County: The Kelleys utilize no-till practices and plant cover crops to conserve soil and moisture. This enhances the soil for the next year’s crop. Their farm features 48 acres of filter strips, and 17 acres of grassed waterways and rock chutes to mitigate erosion. Solar panels produce electricity and provide the farm with another source of income. Wildlife and pollinator-friendly habitat has been established on 800 acres.
  • John and Randy Seymour of Upton in Hart County: The Seymours have actively managed their woodland for timber and wildlife habitat since the 1970s. Overtime they converted a tobacco, hay, and beef cattle farm into native seed production. In addition to a 100-acre savanna restoration they efforts protect a large cave that hosts thousands of gray bats in their breeding season. By creating the Roundstone Native Seed Company they provide the means for others to establish native grass and wildflower habitats.
  • Michael W. Wilson of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County: Michael Wilson implements rotational grazing in the summer and bale grazing in the winter to reduce soil erosion, prevent overgrazing, recycle nutrients, and increase plant regrowth and biodiversity. By equipping soil with greater organic matter, he’s making it more resilient to drought and extreme rainfall events. Michael served as chairman of the Anderson County Conservation District.

Kentucky farmland and forestland owners were encouraged to apply, or be nominated, for the award. An independent panel of Kentucky agricultural and conservation leaders reviewed the applications.

The award recipient will be recognized at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Convention in July.

“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is once again honored to recognize private landowners across the state who practice exceptional stewardship and conservation practices,” said Dr. Tony Brannon, Kentucky Agricultural Council Chair. “Kentucky farmers have for many years been innovators in protecting our natural resources to ensure the long-term success of food and fiber production.”

“KACD and conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources, and we are excited to recognize these well deserving landowners in Kentucky,” said Allan Bryant, 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.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Kentucky award finalists,” 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 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.

Last year’s award recipient was Veatch Farms of Campbellsville in Marion 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, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Farm Credit Mid-America, Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Pork Producers, Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board, Kentucky Tree Farm Committee, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, and University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

For more information on the award, visit

Steve Kelley and Family

Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell in Carlisle County

John left and Randy right Hat Seymour

John and Randy Seymour of Upton in Hart County

Mike Wilson

Michael W. Wilson of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County

THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, 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.

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.