Loran, who owns and operates FLOLO Farms in Fayette County, will be formally presented with the $10,000 award this December at The Big Soil Health Event in Cedar Falls.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on private, working lands.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust annually present the Leopold Conservation Award to farmers, ranchers and forestland owners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In Iowa, the award is presented with state partners: Conservation Districts of Iowa, Farmers National Company, and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Earlier this year, Iowa landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. Last year’s recipient was Seth Watkins of Clarinda.
The Leopold Conservation Award is given to farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners across the U.S. in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
The Iowa Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Conservation Districts of Iowa, Farmers National Company, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Sand County Foundation, Soil Regen, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nancy and Marc DeLong, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, and Leopold Landscape Alliance.
Loran Steinlage has the qualities that make a good land steward. He’s open-minded to innovation, yet patient with the process of trial and error. He welcomes researchers to measure the impact and efficacy of each conservation practice he adopts on his 900-acre farm in Fayette County.
The Loran and Brenda Steinlage Family
Loran is most passionate about sharing what he’s learned with others, from local youth to farmers from Iowa, Ukraine, or Australia. Whether participating in soil health field days or podcasts, he’s helping forge a new path for modern agriculture.
Loran’s the first to admit he wasn’t always this way. He was once a “conventional” corn and soybean grower focused on yields and renting as much land as possible. When he and his wife Brenda learned their son was diagnosed with brain cancer, he scaled back his rented acreage to spend more time at home. He started looking differently at the land his parents had passed on to him.
While experimenting with cover crops and no-till practices, Loran saw an improvement in his soil’s health. He realized the cover crops would be more robust and beneficial if they were planted sooner. This led him to explore ways to interseed cover crops into standing fields of corn and soybeans.
Before becoming a pioneer in the practice of relay cropping, Loran drew inspiration by connecting with farmers across the nation through social channels and peer groups. Among the farmer mentors he credits with advancing his conservation ethic was the late Dave Brandt of Ohio.
Through global travels and interactions, Loran recognized there’s no room for complacency within mainstream agriculture in the face of environmental challenges ranging from climate change to water pollution. He believes it’s up to farmers to not just be ahead of the curve but to drive the change.
In most cases, there was no blueprint for the changes Loran saw as important, nor did his practices fit within available conservation programs. Undaunted, he cobbled ideas together with his network of peers and brought them home.
Loran works with a variety of organizations to host field trials at his family’s FLOLO Farms. The data collected is used to study the agronomics of conservation practices, water quality impacts, flood mitigation, crop insurance provisions, and market viability of alternative crops and methods.
After altering a row-crop combine to be able to harvest cereal grains in his relay-cropped fields, Loran saw the need to marry agribusiness with stewardship efforts. He works with an agricultural manufacturer to bridge a gap between farmers and the engineers designing farm machinery.
In 2021, when Loran welcomed Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to survey a stream that dissects his farm, they discovered it was full of trout. Without proper stewardship in the surrounding fields, this stream would not support fish that are extremely sensitive to contaminants in water.
Check out more articles, podcasts and videos with Conservation Ag Operator Loran Steinlage!
- [Podcast] 7 Reasons to Use Cover Crops with Loran Steinlage and Jay Baxter
- [Podcast] Surviving & Adapting Through Crisis with Loran & Rolan Steinlage
- [Podcast] Building Community Partnerships with Loran Steinlage, Jonathan Correa & Dave Brandt
- [Podcast] Thinking Beyond Yield with Loran Steinlage & Dave Brandt
- Embracing the No-Till ‘Greenhouse’ Effect
- Interseeding is a Process, Not Just a Practice
- Maximize Moisture Retention on Your No-Till Operation
- No-Tiller Shares Challenges of Farming in Ukraine During Wartime
[Video] Relay-Cropping Soybeans & Cereal Rye: 'It's Fun But It's a Challenge'
Loran credits growing heritage varieties of corn for a nearby brewery with making his farm ecologically and economically resilient. However, it’s not just an anecdotal success. He believes growing diverse crops, regenerating soil, and ensuring clean water, leads to increased farm profitability, environmental regeneration, and rural invigoration.
As Loran grows his 38th crop of corn this year, he’s as committed as ever to helping others see how conservation advances will impact future crops.
“The Leopold Conservation Award highlights the importance of prioritizing conservation and carries on the inspiring work of Aldo Leopold,” said Sally Worley, Practical Farmers of Iowa Executive Director. “We are honored to support an award that recognizes individual efforts towards improved land, water and wildlife.”
“The landowner plays a critical role in the conservation of America’s farmland resources. Sustainable practices not only benefit the local environment and community, but also improves the quality and value of the land as an asset for the current owner and future generations,” said Clayton Becker, Famers National Company President. “This is why Farmers National Company is honored to sponsor this prestigious award recognizing hard work and commitment to conservation.”
“One of Loran’s most important characteristics is his willingness to be open minded in conservation. It is often difficult to try new things, but Loran demonstrates that he is willing to accept conservation innovation as a challenge, not an obstacle,” said John Whitaker, Conservation Districts of Iowa Executive Director.
“Recipients of this award are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Steinlage family,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “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.”