Earlier this year, owners of Wisconsin farmland and forests were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
This year’s recipient will be revealed at the November meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. The award will be presented December 8 at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Wisconsin Dells.
The finalists are:
Bill Ciolkosz of Thorp in Clark County: Expanded dairy facilities and feed and manure storage areas at Ciolkosz’s 200-cow dairy farm were designed to meet conservation and efficiency goals. Water runoff from more than 100 acres of cropland is diverted across grass waterways before reaching a diversion dam to reduce erosion and protect water quality. Ciolkosz plants pine trees, and maintains food plots and ponds for wildlife habitat.
Jeff Lake of Boyceville in Dunn County: Lake grows 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, snap beans, kidney beans and alfalfa with no-till cultivation practices. To provide wildlife habitat and gain efficiencies, some marginal cropland has been converted into grass and full-season cover crops. Soil samples are taken to prevent over application of fertilizer. These efforts earned Lake the first-ever Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year award from Pheasants Forever.
John and Dorothy Priske of Fall River in Columbia County: The Priskes adopted no-till and rotational grazing practices, and installed grass waterways to improve water infiltration, sequester carbon and build organic matter in their soil. They raised and direct marketed Scottish Highland beef cattle until 2015. Their pastures provided deep-rooted ground cover to reduce soil erosion. The Priskes lease 165 acres of farmland to Madison College for use as an agricultural education facility.
“Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to sponsor this award which recognizes farms that demonstrate a high standard care for their soil, water and livestock,” said Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President. “These finalists are farmers who lead by example, and inspire others to continue to search for better methods of protecting their resources.”
“The efforts of farmers across the state to care for and protect the land and water they steward are reflected in the strength of these candidates. Wisconsin continues to be a leader in conservation and sustainability,” said Patrick Geoghegan, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations.
“The three Leopold Conservation Award finalists show how agriculture can be on the forefront of land stewardship,” said Matt Krueger, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association Executive Director. “Though their operations are quite different, these three farmers are similar in that they exemplify how conservation practices allow them to better manage their production and adapt to seasonal and climate variations. I commend their leadership, and their work to build resilient lands, watersheds, and communities.”
“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer.
The first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2018 recipient was dairy farmer David Geiser of New Holstein in Calumet County.