Ed and Leta Olson epitomize what it means to be a steward of the land. When the Nebraska farmers were given a copy of A Sand County Almanac by a local wildlife biologist, they must have seen themselves in its pages.
Their land ethic is expressed by implementing agricultural conservation practices and connecting others with nature.
When many farmers were clearing trees and farming to their fence lines, the Olsons were doing whatever they could to create wildlife habitat, maintain soil health and improve water quality.
Of the 815 acres they farm in eastern Nebraska, 115 acres are enrolled in conservation programs to create filter strips, shelterbelts and pollinator habitat. The Olsons are firm believers that if every farmer took the least profitable 5-10 percent of their farm and used it for conservation, then all farmers would make more money while planting fewer acres.
“While he may not be the biggest farmer that we work with, he undoubtedly makes the largest impact,” said Andy Bohnenkamp, District Conservationist.
Ed has adopted a variety of conservation practices to decrease erosion, protect water quality and increase soil health. Cover crops of grasses, small grains and legumes are planted in the off-season to increase the soil’s ability to hold water and sediment. No-till has been used on his corn and soybean fields for more than 20 years. Terracing has made sloped farm fields more manageable.
In 2017 the Olsons were among the first landowners to participate in Nebraska’s Corners for Wildlife program that established one to three-acre plots of pollinator habitat at rural intersections. Sewn with wildflowers, these plantings benefit bees and butterflies, and they keep drivers safe during summer months when corn fields would otherwise limit visibility.
They have planted about 4,000 trees and shrubs to create windbreaks, and provide food sources and corridors for wildlife. Such efforts earned them a Legacy Award from Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015.
Off the farm, Ed has spent his entire adulthood fostering conservation ethics and a respect for the land among hunters and farmers. He co-founded the Burt County Pheasants Forever chapter and educates landowners on how to enhance pheasant habitat by planting natural food sources on abandoned farmsteads and fence lines. As owner of Olson Pearson Auctions & Realty, he donates his time auctioneering at conservation events.
His strongest passion is sharing his knowledge with youth. He teaches youth firearm safety and outdoor ethics as an instructor for the Nebraska Game & Parks Hunter Education Program, and as a volunteer with Pheasant Forever’s Youth Mentor Hunt. As a former 4-H wildlife habitat team leader he provided hands-on experience to youth building goose nests and wood duck boxes.
Generations of local children have learned to fish in the Olson family pond. The youth he first mentored in the 1990s are returning to fish with kids of their own.
Ed and Leta strive to keep their farm as aligned as possible with nature, not only to support local wildlife, but to create a vibrant landscape for the community to enjoy.