Finalists for 2020 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award Selected

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Five finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2020 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award®. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat in their care.

“The finalists for this year’s Leopold Conservation Award are excellent examples of family farms exhibiting the highest level of conservation”, said Scott Edwards, NRCS State Conservationist.  “The commitment they have made to implement conservation and improve their operations is a true success story.”

In Missouri the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Missouri Farmers Care (MFC), the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“Recipients of this award are real-life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Missouri award finalists,” said John Piotti, AFT President and Chief Executive Officer. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

Earlier this year, Missouri landowners were encouraged to apply, or be nominated, for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The 2020 finalists are:

      • Cope Grass Farms of Truxton in Lincoln County: Harry and Rose Cope, with the farm’s fifth-generation, Dustin and Sabrina Cope, raise a variety of livestock including grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb, acorn-fed pork, and pastured duck and turkey. Native pasture mixes, timber stand improvements and prescribed burns improve soil health and provide wildlife habitat on the diversified, regenerative operation. Cope Grass Farms is one of seven farms in Missouri certified by the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program as producing grassland bird-friendly beef.

      • Tim and Rhonda Luther of Lawson in Ray County: Luther Farms is a diversified livestock operation centered around 250 cow-calf pairs with additional grazed, backgrounded and preconditioned feeder calves. A rotational grazing program, cover crops and other conservation practices are used to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. The Luthers also grow corn and soybeans and manage 30 acres of walnut trees.

      • Oetting Homestead Farms of Concordia in Lafayette County: Steve and Sharon Oetting, along with their sons, Sean and Clint, manage a hog finishing business and grow corn and soybeans at a farm that has been in their family for 180 years. They have been recognized by state and federal stewardship programs for responsibly preventing soil erosion and properly storing and utilizing their animal waste. Precision agricultural technology ensures fields are fertilized according to crop needs. They have planted pollinator habitat and nearly 10,000 trees within riparian buffer strips.

      • Peter Rost, Jr. of New Madrid in New Madrid County: A second-generation farmer, Rost, manages 3,500 acres of cropland where he grows soybean, corn, rice and wheat. To reduce soil erosion, improve soil health and provide wildlife habitat, Rost has implemented a variety of conservation practices such as no-till, crop rotations and cover crops. He was a founding member of the Delta Soil Health Alliance which promotes the benefits of soil health management in Southeast Missouri.

      • Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard in Shelby County: The Yoders use minimum tillage or no-till practices on their corn and soybeans fields to control soil erosion and reduce compaction. Cover crops are utilized to control weeds and improve soil health and water quality. The impact of cover crops is measured by automated water monitoring stations that collect rain runoff from fields with and without cover crops. This water quality data also helps inform when to conduct field work and nutrient applications in relation to rain events. The Yoders also grow hay and raise beef cattle.

        “These five family farms showcase some of the best in Missouri agriculture and conservation,” said Missouri Farmers Care Chairman Gary Marshall. “To be a finalist for this prestigious award requires a focus and discipline in managing the land and water to leave it in a better position for the next generation. We are pleased to deliver this unique partnership highlighting some of Missouri’s finest stewards.”

        The inaugural recipient of the Missouri Leopold Conservation Award® in 2017 was presented to Uptown Farms in Laclede. The 2018 recipient was Scherder Farms in Frankford and last year’s recipient was Brinker Farms Inc. in Auxvasse. This year’s recipient will be announced Jan. 9 at the Missouri Cattle Industry Convention.

        “In agriculture, our greatest resource is the land, and as farmers it is our duty to be good stewards of that land for future generations,” said Kyle Durham, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. “Sustainability is one of the top priorities for the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, and it’s outstanding to see the spotlight on these farm families who are truly living the example of stewardship.”

        The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Missouri is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Missouri Farmers Care, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, Sand County Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Department of Conservation, MFA, Inc., Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, McDonald’s, and The Nature Conservancy in Missouri.

        In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.” Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 20 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit


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      • Photo Caption: Five finalists – Cope Grass Farms, Tim and Rhonda Luther, Oetting Homestead Farms, Peter Rost, Jr. and Joshlin and Addie Yoder – have been selected for the prestigious 2020 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award®. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land. This year’s recipient will be announced in January 2021 at the Missouri Cattle Industry Convention. Pictured (L-R): Cope Grass Farms; Tim and Rhonda Luther; Oetting Homestead Farms; Peter Rost, Jr.; and Joshlin and Addie Yoder, Photo Credit: Stella + Eden


        The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).

        Sand County Foundation inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

        American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.

        Missouri Farmers Care is a joint effort by Missouri’s agriculture community to stand together for the men and women who provide the food and jobs on which our communities depend. The coalition of over 45 leading Missouri agricultural groups promotes the growth of Missouri agriculture and rural communities through coordinated communication, education and advocacy.

        The Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council is a statewide, farmer-led organization working to improve opportunities for Missouri soybean farmers through a combination of research, outreach, education and market development efforts through the soybean checkoff.

        NRCS, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, provides financial and technical assistance on a voluntary basis to land users interested in protecting, restoring and enhancing natural resources. NRCS helps people help the land through more than 100 local offices located in USDA Service Centers. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.