The Leopold Conservation Award is given each year to a private landowner dedicated to ethical land practices. Cronin Farms won the South Dakota award this year. A farm tour demonstrated what the operation is doing to improve the environment.
A “farm tour” looks just like you’d imagine. The group sits on hay bales on a flatbed trailer, under a blue sky, and is taken to several spots on Cronin Farms. It starts at a cornfield, but there’s also talk of flax, okra, kale, and different types of grasses. That attention to diversity is one of the reasons Cronin Farms was selected for the Leopold Conservation Award. The operation switched to no-till farming in the early 1990’s which Co-owner Monty Cronin says has helped cut down on erosion. He says they’ve also incorporated cattle into the farming.
“Once we started doing the cover crops and realizing, you know, trying to keep the soil more active and things like that, and started raising these cover crops after our summer harvest, we found that the cows utilize all that, but yet they leave everything there,” Cronin says. “All of the nutrients that the cows take, they also leave there. So it’s a good thing for our ground.”
Cronin says changing farming practices hasn’t always been easy, but he says it’s worth it. Jim Faulstich chairs the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. He says focusing on conservation can also increase profitability long-term.
“Interestingly, when people start working in tune with nature, start doing what’s beneficial on thelandscape, all of a sudden your soil is improving, your water retention improves,” Faulstich says. “And of course there’s a pretty major part of the state that’s going through drought stress right now. So just your water management can be a huge economic benefit.”
Faulstich says the annual farm tour with the Leopold Conservation Award Winner allows for education and collaboration between producers, conservationists, and other groups.