New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today announced that three finalists have been selected for New York’s Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM)-Leopold Conservation Award. New York’s longstanding AEM Award partnered with the Sand County Foundation’s nationally recognized Leopold Conservation Award® program in 2020 to honor a farm and its nominating Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to promote and protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality while helping to ensure farm viability for future generations.
Commissioner Ball said, “The three finalists in contention for the 2023 AEM-Leopold Conservation Award have long been dedicated to best practices that protect our natural resources and conserve our environment, both on their farms and in their communities. I congratulate all of them for inspiring their neighbors to follow in their footsteps, and look forward to shining a spotlight on their efforts when we join with the Sand County Foundation to award the AEM-Leopold Conservation Award later this year.”
Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO said, “These award finalists 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.”
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award (LCA) recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on working land. The award is presented to landowners in 27 states.
Awarded in partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the AEM-LCA award honors a farm and its nominating Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to promote and protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality while helping to ensure farm viability for future generations.
The finalists for the 2023 AEM-Leopold Conservation Award are:
- Dygert Farms of Palatine Bridge in Montgomery County: Dygert Farms is a 250-cow dairy and dairy processing operation, which crops to feed its cows on 650 acres, and is owned and operated by Robbie and Shannon Dygert. Rich in history, the farm is celebrating its tricentennial anniversary in 2023. Through collaboration with the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, the farm’s planner, and the AEM Program, the Dygerts have adopted many conservation practices to cycle on-farm nutrients for crop production, continually build soil health, and protect water quality. These conservation practices include including minimum/no-till planting, cover cropping, clean water diversion practices, and whole farm nutrient management. The Dygerts also consider ways to further enhance the environment through their herd’s nutrition program. They take a whole farm approach by feeding diets tailored to meet their milk production goals while reducing imports of purchased feed nutrients to their farm and watershed. The Dygerts strive for efficiency, the preservation of their farmland, and the promotion of agriculture as they continue to build their agricultural enterprise. In 2021, they began the operation of their on-farm milk processing facility, Dygert Farms Creamery, as a means to diversify and expand their business for future generations.
- Humbert Farms of Rose in Wayne County: Humbert Farms, owned by Mark and Lisa Humbert, produces corn, soybeans, and wheat on 3500 acres. This 4th generation farm prioritizes sustainability for the next generation by focusing on soil preservation and health, successor development, long term profitability, and community partnerships. Through the AEM Program, the Humberts have incorporated numerous practices and resource protection programs into their farming operation including watershed management through buffer creation and localized drainage channeling, extensive use of cover crops, addressing resiliency with inner seeding and irrigation, and various strategies to address the impacts of weather extremes. The Humberts exhibit leadership in agricultural conservation, working with the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, commodity and advocacy organizations, as well as neighboring dairies, to look at ways of addressing carbon sequestration including partnering and building a 4-phase system of manure storage and transfer, which will be completed in 2024.
- Tongore Farm of Olivebridge in Ulster County: Tongore Farm is owned by Brett Fox and Jessica Wisneski. Originally a dairy farm, Mr. Fox has owned and managed 51 acres of the family farm for the past 10 years while leasing an additional 60 acres. During that time, he has restored the land back into production to grow hay and provide pasture for beef cattle and pigs. Working in partnership with the Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District through the AEM Program, Mr. Fox focuses on soil and plant health and pasture management through rotational grazing and livestock watering systems. Mr. Fox serves as a grassroots educator of conservation, hosting field days to showcase his grazing and watering system to area farmers. His intent is to farm efficiently while protecting the environment and providing locally produced meat to his community, and investing in the farm for future generations.
Earlier this year, New York State Soil and Water Conservation Districts were encouraged to identify and nominate the best examples of conservation success in their district. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
Sand County Foundation, a national nonprofit conservation organization, will present the $10,000 award with the support of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, American Farmland Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Ida and Robert Gordon Family Foundation, Farm Credit East, New York State Agribusiness Association, Audubon New York, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Dale Stein, New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee Chair said, “Congratulations to our three distinguished finalists and their Soil and Water Conservation Districts for being at the forefront of environmental stewardship and agricultural management in New York State. The AEM-Leopold Conservation Award celebrates the very best in conservation and environmental stewardship, and showcases farms that are using AEM best management practices to make changes to their farms to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainability. I thank our partners across the state who have worked together to make this award possible, and look forward to honoring our finalists and winner later this summer.”
John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and Chief Executive Officer said, “As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the New York award finalists. At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land itself, the practices used on that land, and the people who steward that land. This award recognizes the integral role of all three.” The annual award will be presented later this summer. The farm honored will also be featured in a video promoting their award-winning conservation practices.
In 2020, the first recipient of the New York AEM-Leopold Conservation Award was Sang Lee Farms of Peconic in Suffolk County, followed by Table Rock Farms of Castile in Wyoming County. Last year’s recipient was Greenfield Farms of Skaneateles in Onondaga County.
For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM
The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
NEW YORK STATE AEM AWARD
New York State’s annual Agricultural Environmental Management Award winners are chosen from nominees submitted by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts from around the state. The first Agricultural Environmental Management Award was presented in 2002; prior to that, the award was known as the Agricultural Stewardship Award. New York State’s AEM framework is a model for the nation as a voluntary, incentive-based approach to protect natural resources and meet the economic needs of the agricultural community.
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION
Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. www.farmland.org