Dwane Roth - 2021 Kansas Leopold Conservation Award
Grow crops with less water. That challenge spurred an ever-expanding land ethic in Dwane Roth.
Dwane knew of the declining water level in the Ogallala aquifer he farms above. He felt he was already doing his part by increasing crop yields with reduced equipment and labor costs. Then a cropland landlord challenged him to look into irrigation technology.
Despite droughts and sandy soils prone to wind erosion, he quickly met the challenge and became a sought-after expert on the role of soil moisture management technology’s role in water conservation.
As one of Kansas’ first “Water Technology Farms” he began demonstrating emerging irrigation technologies, cropping patterns, and management techniques in 2016. Energy-efficient bubblers, probes, cameras and drones delivered irrigation, measured soil moisture, and enabled seamless data collection. Dwane acquired an insatiable appetite for information that showed how innovation could extend the aquifer’s lifetime while improving his soil’s health.
Dwane soon volunteered more of his 6,000 acres of farmland for the project. Testing irrigation technologies would ultimately lead to adoption by other farmers, but he wasn’t willing to wait. He spearheaded an effort that resulted in other area farmers saving more than 35,000 acre-feet of water per year.
With a knack for getting others to see themselves as a community of water users, he organized a summit in 2019 of food supply chain interests in Finney County. With a goal of making the county a model of sustainability in food production, his leadership sustained the effort through 2020’s shutdown.
Dwane serves as a technology farm advisor to universities, state agencies and Syngenta. He also works to identify ways to streamline conservation cost-share programs and simplify decision-making processes for farmers. He regularly attends GreenBiz events that bring together companies, cities and industries to drive technology and sustainability initiatives. It’s there where corporate leaders value hearing directly from this innovative fourth-generation Kansas farmer.
Dwane and wife Kim have three daughters. His land ethic has rubbed off on their daughter Grace. Her FFA project began the Kansas Youth Water Advocates Program, which teaches high school students to appreciate and advocate for local water resources.
Dwane is aware that water availability is not the only challenge facing Kansas agriculture. Poor water quality from increasing salinity and heavy metals harms soil and crops. High density cropping with limited crop diversity impacts the region’s wildlife. In response, he’s seeking other ways to improve the entire ecological community.
He has utilized the Conservation Reserve Program to plant native grasses on more than 100 acres of field corners to improve wildlife habitat. Dwane is experimenting to determine which cover crops provide cattle feed while improving soil health and erosion control in his region. His farming practices have also caught the interest of companies whose mission is reversing climate change.
More than three decades into his farming career, Dwane has begun transitioning ownership of some of his farmland to his nephews. The greatest motivation of this tireless agricultural conservation proponent is making sure the next generation has a chance to grow food while improving the landscape.