Lessiter Media, the publisher of No-Till Farmer magazine, has established the Conservation Ag Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing conservation-based ag practices. The foundation’s mission is to empower farmers with knowledge and tools for adopting conservation tillage and cover cropping, promoting soil health, advancing environmental stewardship and forwarding long-term agricultural viability.

"Our mission is dedicated to the empowerment of farmers. We are committed to equipping farmers with the knowledge needed to cultivate a sustainable future for agriculture,” says Patrick Sharpe, executive director of and special advisor to the Conservation Ag Foundation.

Founding Board. The Conservation Ag Foundation’s founding board of directors includes Mike Lessiter, board president; No-Till Legend Randall Reeder, vice president; Jim Stute, treasurer; Michaela Paukner, secretary; board members Jim Leverich, Loran Steinlage, Mike Starkey, Jim Hershey and Dallas Ziebell; and Frank Lessiter, Michael Storts and Patrick Sharpe as special advisors to the board.

Reeder, a retired extension agricultural engineer who worked at Ohio State University, is the executive director of the Ohio No-Till Council and has served many years as the leader of Ohio’s popular annual Conservation Tillage Conference. 

Hershey, Leverich, Starkey and Steinlage are all No-Till Innovators committed to the advancement of conservation agriculture. Hershey is a no-tiller from Elizabethtown, Pa., the president of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance and the recipient of a number of awards for his farming practices. Sparta, Wis., no-tiller Jim Leverich has more than 35 years of no-till and on-farm research experience from his years of operating a 1,000-acre farm and working for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service.

Starkey, who farms in Brownsburg, Ind., is a passionate promoter of no-till, cover crops and effective nutrient management strategies. He’s the recipient of numerous state and regional awards recognizing his conservation-oriented farming practices. Known for his willingness to experiment and embrace technology, Steinlage is the 2023 Iowa Leopold Conservation Award recipient and operates FLOLO Farms in West Union, Iowa.

Stute, who farms in East Troy in southeastern Wisconsin, previously worked for University of Wisconsin Extension and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute before going out on his own as an independent researcher in 2021. He also serves on the Watershed Protection Committee of Racine County.

“Each of the board members of the foundation has proven to be an influential champion of the education and outreach necessary to help farmers transition successfully to Conservation Ag practices,” Sharpe says. “Their practical operational backgrounds, research and grassroots approach to sharing their knowledge in articles, demonstrations and international conferences will deliver actionable strategies to assist farmers in their pursuit of best practices for their land, communities and fellow farmers.”

Vision & Mission. The foundation’s approach to promoting conservation ag encompasses five key pillars that collectively strive to transform the agricultural landscape for the better. Firstly, it prioritizes educating farmers by disseminating science-based knowledge through a variety of channels, including seminars and online resources. This empowers farmers with the information they need to make informed decisions about their farming practices. Secondly, the foundation is committed to driving innovation by collaborating closely with agricultural experts to refine and advance conservation techniques. By facilitating a dynamic exchange of ideas, the Conservation Ag Foundation aims to continually improve sustainability efforts.

“Another integral aspect of our approach is building communities, where we foster a supportive network comprising farmers, educators and suppliers,” Sharpe says. “This collaborative network promotes knowledge sharing and mutual support, creating a community of like-minded individuals dedicated to conservation ag farming practices. By advocating for the adoption of sustainable practices at a broader scale, we aim to drive systemic change in the agricultural sector.”

Lastly, the foundation’s approach centers around achieving sustainable impact. This involves enhancing soil health, mitigating erosion, reducing runoff and sequestering carbon, all of which contribute to the long-term sustainability of agriculture. 

To implement this approach effectively, the Conservation Ag Foundation operates as a resource hub, offering a comprehensive repository of resources for farmers. It provides hands-on learning opportunities through workshops, online courses and field demonstrations to ensure practical knowledge application. The foundation also initiates research collaborations with universities to address specific challenges and tailor guidance by developing region-specific guidelines with local experts. 

Finally, the Conservation Ag Foundation conducts impact assessment to measure improvements in soil health, water quality, crop yields and farm profitability, ensuring that efforts yield tangible, positive outcomes for both farmers and the environment.