Pennsylvania 2023 Myers Family Farm Spring Mills Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

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 conservation success story of Myers Family Farm

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