Marty Williams of Red Rock is the recipient of the Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award.

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

Marty, a farmer from Noble County, was revealed as the award recipient at the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Meeting on February 26. He and his wife Crystal receive $10,000 for being selected.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Oklahoma the award is presented annually with ITC Great Plains, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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.

Oklahoma landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award early last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. The first Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Jimmy and Ginger Emmons of Leedey in 2017. Last year’s award was presented to Smith Family Farms of Elk City.

About Marty Williams

Marty Williams’ journey has long been intertwined with his land ethic.

Growing up in Noble County, his father instilled in him the importance of sustainable agriculture. Marty’s academic pursuits in plant and soil science at Oklahoma State University further fueled his desire to make a difference as a sixth-generation farmer. His upbringing and education taught him that soil rich in biodiversity is good for both crops and a balanced ecosystem.

Upon graduating, Marty and his wife Crystal rented land and equipment from his father and formed Frontier Farms. Early on, Marty made the bold and strategic choice to embrace no-till farming practices while growing a rotation of wheat, corn, soybeans, and grain sorghum.

The traditional practice of tilling soil disrupts soil structure, exposes it to erosion, and releases carbon. Over time he coupled no-till with growing cover crops to further revitalize the soil. Instead of leaving the soil bare between traditional cash crops, the presence of cover crops like cow peas, oats, and canola provides a protective blanket to the soil that retains moisture and prevents erosion, while enriching it with organic matter.

Marty’s commitment to enhancing soil health goes beyond traditional measures. His envisions a future where soil teems with life, from the largest worms to the smallest microbes each playing its role in a nutrient cycle. This belief has led him to convert marginal farmland back to its indigenous grassy state.

Beef cattle are grazed at Frontier Farms. After Crystal saw an opportunity to begin selling beef directly to customers, she headed up that effort and grew it into an important diversified revenue stream - further proof that innovation and adaptability are more than just buzzwords for the Williamses.

One achievement that stands out at Frontier Farms is the conversion of 320 acres of farmland into a protected wetland. By collaborating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reestablish native flora, the wetland provides habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. This transformation reveals Marty’s understanding that conservation is not just about preserving, but regenerating nature to its most functional form.

Marty’s integration of state-of-the-art precision agriculture technology allows him to assess plant health in real time and apply nutrients with incredible accuracy, ensuring that crops receive just what they need and nothing more. His farming practices and strategies have piqued the interest of agricultural experts from as far away as China.

From the start of his career in agriculture, Marty’s leadership was evident. He has served notable stints with the Noble County Conservation District Board and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He donates his land, equipment, and time to research with Oklahoma State University’s Department of Soil Sciences where he mentors the next generation of agriculturalists.

Marty also serves as a strategic advisor for the Gulch Foundation’s Rainmaker Farm, which documents the benefits of implementing regenerative practices on 160 acres of diverse crops, rotationally grazed pastures, and pollinator gardens.

Perhaps what’s most telling about his true nature is the unique support group he helped form for fellow farmers and ranchers dealing with the fiscal and mental struggles caused by turbulent commodity markets and unpredictable weather.

Marty admits his own path has not been without challenges, yet he has positively shaped the contours of Oklahoma’s landscape with his farming practices while touching countless lives through his teachings, guidance, and a commitment to better his community.

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