Myers Family Farm of Spring Mills is the 2023 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award recipient.

The award honors farmers and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.

Brothers Joel and Don Myers, who own and operate Myers Family Farm, received the award at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg on January 8. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Among the many outstanding Pennsylvania landowners nominated for the award was finalist Troy Firth of Spartansburg in Crawford County. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

Joel Myers has a passion for agricultural conservation, an ability to bring people together and a willingness to teach by example.

As the driving force behind the creation of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance, he was adamant that it be a farmer-led organization committed to promoting soil health practices. He even hosted its first meeting in a church next to the Myers Family Farm.

Just as the Alliance remains a thriving force in Pennsylvania, Myers is a highly respected authority and strong advocate for conservation practices, including no-till, cover cropping and planting green.

Some credit Myers’ practical experience and outreach efforts as a major reason for the increased use of conservation practices in Pennsylvania. The amount of farmland acres managed with no-till rose from 20% in 2000 to about 70% today. Likewise, cover crops are now grown on 40% of planted acres.

Myers credits his success as a conservation practitioner and proponent to what he learned decades ago. As a boy, he witnessed washouts and gullies plaguing the fields on the farm his father bought in 1946. With his brother Don, he still owns and operates Myers Family Farm where he planted 75 acres of oats and soybeans last spring.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy, he began his career as a soil conservationist in 1967 by writing conservation plans and providing other technical assistance to farmers. He rose through the ranks to district conservationist before being named Pennsylvania’s State Agronomist in the 1980s.

He gained credibility among farmers by putting emerging conservation practices to work on his own farmland. In the 1960s and 70s he experimented with contour farming, field borders, reduced tillage and crop rotations aimed at preventing soil erosion, improving water quality and sequestering carbon.

In the 1980s, Myers was intrigued that some dairy farmers were on the cutting edge of no-till practices. He knew he had to get onboard, so he bought a no-till planter at an auction and made modifications to it. Eventually, he had 5 different no-till planters and drills, which gave him an opportunity to learn — and later demonstrate — their differences to other farmers both 1-on-1 and at field events.

Retirement from his day job didn’t slow down Myers’ educational and outreach efforts. Myers Family Farm still hosts many research trials, workshops and field days for farmers, conservation professionals, research scientists, local FFA members, Penn State University students and international groups.

What farm visitors see is how a no-till system coupled with extensive use of cover crops and sound crop rotations can greatly reduce soil losses, even on slopes up to 10%. Myers Family Farm’s rolling topography features deep soils in some areas, and ridge tops with exposed rock outcrops in others. This showcase of conservation practices extends beyond the cropland to include forest and stream habitat restorations that improve wildlife and fish habitat.

“Joel Myers embodies the lifelong dedication to stewardship that Aldo Leopold lived by,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Joel’s selfless care of soil and water resources, his generosity in sharing his conservation expertise with other farmers, researchers, and farm visitors, and his contagious enthusiasm for forward-thinking farm management is part of why Pennsylvania’s future is greener every year. Joel’s legacy will be clean water and healthy soil, not just on the Myers Family Farm, but on an ever-growing number of Pennsylvania farms.”

Myers predicts 2024 will be the last year he plants crops at Myers Family Farm before renting the land to a similarly conservation-minded farmer. One thing is certain. Before a single seed is planted this spring, Myers’ years of stewardship will be felt across his land and beyond.

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