See below for on-farm videos about the conservation efforts of award winners.
Three generations of Winsors have been working since the 1940s to sustain soil and water resources on their family farm in northeastern Kansas. They have taken on the challenges of safely farming sandy flat lands bordering the Kansas River, to protecting highly erodible soils as flat lands extend into the hills between Lawrence and Topeka. Andy Winsor gives much of the credit for this award to the generations before him who initiated the farm’s conservation program. “Grandpa and Dad started conservation efforts, building terraces and waterways and farming on the contour,” Andy says. “Having those practices in place allows my brother and I to implement newer conservation techniques, such as water management and cover crops.” Andy and his wife, LaVell, farm 4,400 acres with Andy’s parents Russell and Pat, his brother Ben and his wife Emily. Ben specializes in livestock and Andy and Russell handle cropland operations.
Northeast Region Winner Cory Atkins has a “never till” mindset. The southwest Delaware farmer is 100 percent no-till on all his grain crops, and moving closer to that on his vegetable crops. While he is not using no-till at this time on his watermelons and green beans, he has had success with no-till on lima beans. “I’ve got land I call never till. I will never till it – there’s no structure on those sandy soils when they’re tilled.” Instead, Atkins is improving poor soil structure and boosting organic matter with a combination of no-till and cover crops. Atkins explains further, “Cover crops and no-till are the core of my conservation program, and to me, conservation is a big part of the total management package on the land I farm.”
John Verell farms about 4,500 acres near Jackson, Tennessee, alongside his dad Alan, and his 91-year-old granddad John, Sr. He watched how quickly technology was changing in agriculture when he was working on an associate degree in precision agriculture and later while pursuing an agronomy degree from Murray State University in Kentucky. “Back then, we analyzed soil samples and used NDVI to pick up different vegetative growth patterns in our fields. We saw the need for variable rate fertilizer, and started that while I was still in school. We still use it – to this day, Granddad thinks variable rate fertilizer has increased our yield and added to our bottom line more than any other change we have made in the operation.” Verell has also planted grass buffer strips along streams to protect wildlife and established a pollinator habitat on his operation through a new pollinator program offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.