Sand County Foundation and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation are pleased to announce the four finalists for the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award.

“The health of Wisconsin’s landscape is dependent on hard-working farm families who are dedicated to ensuring that Wisconsin’s land, water and wildlife are in better shape than when they found them,” said Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation president. “The high quality and number of nominees in this inaugural year made the selection process difficult but it proves that Wisconsin’s natural resources are being cared for by innovative landowners who want to see them flourish for future generations.”

The Leopold Conservation Award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is comprised of $10,000 and a Leopold crystal. The award is now presented annually in eight states to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management.

The 2010 finalists, listed alphabetically, are (brief bios appear below):

  • Bragger family, Trempealeau County
  • Jim and Valerie Hebbe, Green Lake County
  • Bob and Helen Kees, Pepin County
  • Koepke family, Waukesha County

The Leopold Conservation Award recipient will be formally announced next April, in conjunction with Earth Day 2011.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible through the generous support of the Bradley Fund for the Environment, American Transmission Company (ATC) and the Rural Mutual Insurance Company.

Bragger Family, Independence (Trempealeau County)

The Bragger Family Dairy is located in the steep and narrow valleys of west-central Wisconsin’s driftless area. While very productive, it is also poses challenges in terms of controlling soil erosion and run-off. A 300-cow dairy herd, 50 head of grazed beef and 64,000 pullets (young chicken hens), and 4,000 brown trout make up the diversified operation. All of the poultry and livestock manure is incorporated onto fields as fertilizer for over 500 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and barley. Another 150 acres of woodlands are managed for wildlife, recreation and timber production. The brown trout are raised annually in a spring-fed pond on the farm and are later released into area streams. The farm was a participant in the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms Program, and a number of stewardship practices have been implemented to enhance water quality, soil conservation and profitability.  

Jim and Valerie Hebbe, Princeton (Green Lake County)

Jim Hebbe has been implementing conservation practices for 24 years and has shared his ideas with other farmers as the Green Lake County Conservationist since 1984. He and his wife, Valerie, raise 1,100 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa in central Wisconsin. In addition to no-till planting all of the crops, he has worked to develop numerous conservation systems that compliment each other and lead to less erosion and more residue cover on the land. The farm includes land with a significant slope draining into a Class 1 Trout Stream. A water and sediment basin was constructed to help control and reduce field runoff into the stream. Native prairie grasses were planted in a field that borders the creek. Twenty-five acres of evergreen trees were planted on a farm with light and sandy soil. In 1985 he helped develop conservation standards for the Farmland Preservation Program participants to control soil erosion to sustainable levels.

Bob and Helen Kees, Durand (Pepin County)

The Kees’ Wheatfield Hill Farm has been a nationally certified organic farm (for both crops and livestock) since 1997. All pest control (both insect and weed) is done through biological, botanical, cultural or mechanic methods. These skillful growers of high quality produce sell their crops regularly at the Eau Claire Downtown Farmer’s Market. The farm produces a variety of organic crops including asparagus, watercress, rhubarb, blueberries, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, squash and pumpkins in addition to producing organic beef. Local manure and sawdust are used to fertilize their farm fields where contour strip cropping of barley, oats and alfalfa is used to avoid erosion. Years of conservation management has increased the organic content of their sandy, highly erodable soils in west-central Wisconsin. All of farm’s woodlands are enrolled in a managed forest program. 

Koepke family, Oconomowoc, Waukesha County

Koepke Farms Inc. is a partnership between brothers Alan, David, Jim, and Jim’s son John. The 320-cow dairy farm is consists of 1,000 acres of cropland plus 150 acres of woods and wetlands. As one of the first farms in their area to adopt a completely no-till system, the family has a long history of soil conservation. They incorporate grassed waterways, contour strip cropping, diversified crop rotation, nutrient management, cover crops and barnyard runoff control into their farming practices. Research conducted on the farm by the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms Program from 2005 to 2008 resulted in the Koepkes making the decision to build a manure storage structure. They have altered the dairy herd’s feed rations so that the manure does not contain excessive levels of phosphorus, without impacting milk production. As proof, a Holstein named “Granny” from the farm holds the world record for lifetime milk production.

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Source: Wisconsin Farm Bureau