Conservation tradition

Britt Farms of Clifton Hill is the recipient of the 2022 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which spotlights agricultural achievements in stewardship and natural resources management.

Fifth-generation farmer Ryan Britt and his wife, Rebecca, were presented with the award Nov. 28 during the Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Training Confer­ence in Osage Beach. They are the sixth Missouri farm family to receive this prestigious award, which includes a $10,000 prize and crystal trophy. Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural organizations that includes MFA Incorporated, partnered with the Sand County Foundation to bring the Leopold award to the Show- Me State for the first time in 2017.

“Britt Farms is a true success story of conservation across multi­ple generations, and they are eager to adopt and share new conser­vation technologies,” said Scott Edwards, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Ryan Britt’s com­mitment to conservation extends beyond his own farm with his willingness to promote voluntary conservation and environmental stewardship both at the local and national level with the Associa­tion of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.”

The Sand County Foundation created the award in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to inspire American landowners and recognize exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. Leopold’s 1949 collection of essays, “A Sand County Almanac,” is one of the most influential books about the environment ever written. The foundation supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 24 states.

Other Missouri finalists this year were Rick Aufdenberg of Jack­son, Cope Grass Farms of Truxton, and Stanton Farms of Centralia.

“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO. “Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber.”

For Ryan Britt, technology’s role in agricultural conservation has long intrigued the young farmer. When his father, Randy, equipped his combine with a yield monitor in the early 1990s, teenage Ryan thought it was a huge step forward for the family farm.

Ryan returned home from the University of Missouri in 2000 with more than a degree. Agricultural systems management classes taught him how technology can maximize efficiency and protect water and soil. The Britts now farm 5,000 acres, raising cattle, corn, soybeans, wheat and hay in Randolph, Chariton and Macon counties. 

Ryan was an early adopter of precision soil testing and fertilizer applications. Britt Farms transitioned from conventional tillage to an entirely no-till system. Crop rotations and use of cover crops reduce erosion and improve soil health. The Britts also adopted a rotational grazing system and fenced cattle out of streams and ponds to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. To minimize nutrient loss and optimize animal health, the family built a covered feeding area with a deep pack barn designed for zero runoff. Using manure as a natural fertilizer helps them maximize the efficiency of having cattle and crops.

In addition to creating terraces and grass waterways, the Britts developed a wetland area for wildlife and planted native wildflow­ers in field buffers and Conservation Reserve Program acres.

The Britts host on-farm research on the effects of crop diversity on soil health and sensors that assess a crop’s nitrogen needs. Mea­suring the effects of each change guides decision making for their farm and others. The Britts are also using biological stimulants to increase use of nutrients already in the soil.

Ryan works with his two sisters to preserve the family farm for future generations. One sister direct-markets Britt Farms Beef, and a nephew helps precisely apply fertilizers and crop protectants with drones. Ryan and Rebecca say they believe it is important to teach love and appreciation of the land to their three children.

“We hope that wherever their passions settle, they will see the value in being a faithful and wise steward of the soil,” says Ryan. “Our intention is to leave the land better than when we found it.”

Nominations for the Leopold Award will be accepted again this spring. Visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org for more information.

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