Conservation and Transitions — Rick Aufdenberg 

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Conservation & Transitions with the Aufdenberg Family, 2022 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award Finalists

Rick Aufdenberg has been farming near Jackson in #AgriReady Cape Girardeau County for over 40 years and has seen his farm through major transitions. In the 1970s the farm was converted from grassland to crop land to capitalize on growing demand for crops. Rick experimented with no-till planting on the hillier areas of the farm in the 1990s. Years of research, trial and error convinced Rick that no-till practices would be more sustainable for the soil and help the family farm business succeed. By 2010, all crops were planted by no-till that could be and Rick began to experiment with planting cover crops. Cover crops protected the soil and reduced the farm’s need for commercial fertilizers and herbicides by adding nutrients back into the soil and suppressing weed growth. With these management transitions, Rick’s crop yields began to increase, and erosion has been minimized. Today, Rick uses custom cover crop mixes based on the nutritional needs of the crops he intends to plant.

Times have changed, and the Aufdenberg farm is experiencing transition again. With conservation goals in focus, Rick is leading the transition of a large portion of the farm back to grasslands, with the goal of helping ensure the success of the next generation of the family farm. Rick’s emphasis is raising quality beef. He rigorously chooses beef breeds and genetics for the farm that will increase pounds of beef produced per acre while using fewer cows. Rick uses rotational grazing, a process where his cattle graze specific areas intensively and then are moved to a new area, to maximize pastures and encourage the regrowth of the forage. He has protected highly erodible land on the farm by planting warm season grasses and legumes. The result has been a sea of grass which has invited wildlife back to the farm that had been absent for some time.

Aufdenberg Photo

Rick says his greatest accomplishment is what he sees and hears from a bench outside overlooking the farm. The Aufdenberg farm now has habitat for many wildlife species including deer, turkey, quail, rabbits and even bald eagles. Rick utilizes conservation programs and practices in cooperation with local, state and federal organizations including Quails Forever, local extension, NRCS and others because he recognizes the interconnectedness of successful farming operations with soil, water and wildlife quality.

Rick does not keep what he has learned about operating and transitioning his farm to himself. He is active in agriculture advocacy and regularly hosts large groups on his farm. Hundreds of people have become more informed about agriculture on the Aufdenberg farm. The farm has hosted the NRCS Soil Health Trailer Dinner, the Southeast Missouri Electric Open House about the introduction of fiberoptic internet, the Cattlemen’s Summer Picnic, State Grazing School, collegiate classes on genetics and facility management, and countless 4-H and FFA members, just to name a few.

Rick was the County Soil and Water Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2006 and completed the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program verification in 2016. He is an active member of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Corn Growers Association, and the Missouri Farm Bureau, all of which are partners of Missouri Farmers Care.