Champions of conservation
Focus on forage earns Cope Grass Farms 2023 Missouri Leopold Award
Cope Grass Farms of Truxton, Mo., is the recipient of the 2023 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which spotlights agricultural achievements in stewardship and natural resources management.
Harry and Rose Cope, along with the farm’s fifth generation, Dustin and Sabrina Cope, were presented the award Nov. 17 during the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture in Osage Beach. They are the seventh Missouri farm family to receive this prestigious award, which includes a $10,000 prize and crystal trophy.
The Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Missouri, this award is presented by the Missouri Farmers Care Foundation, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Harry Cope is an innovative farmer/rancher who is always willing to share his conservation story with neighbors, agency staff, or any group wanting to learn more about the Cope Grass Farms operation,” said Ashley Johnson, NRCS acting state conservationist for Missouri. “Whether it is the diversity in conservation practices applied, seed mixes for cover crops and forage plantings or pioneering resource management, Harry strives to promote soil health, manage diverse native warm- and cool-season forages, and improve wildlife habitat on his farm.”
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.
The Copes raise a variety of livestock including grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb, acorn-fed pork and pastured duck and turkey. Native pasture mixes, timber stand improvements and prescribed burns improve soil health and provide wildlife habitat on the diversified operation.
Cope Grass Farms is one of seven farms in Missouri certified by the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program as producing grassland bird-friendly beef. A recent audit by the National Audubon Society documented more than 100 species on the farm, which has shown a 30% increase in bird species in just three years.
After establishing the farm in 1990, Harry Cope planted 350 acres of pastureland with a mix of native grasses and forbs. Today, innovative grazing practices coupled with deep-rooted vegetation keep pastures lush, even during drought. In addition, multiple species of milkweed provide a sanctuary for beneficial insect pollinators and Monarch butterflies.
Livestock on the farm are also grazed on cover crops and fields of milo, which reduces labor and equipment costs of hay production. In addition, the Copes grow micro-greens for supplemental feed. Barley seeds are placed in 6-foot trays and watered for three minutes every hour. After six days, the tray looks like vibrant green turf and loaded with minerals, sugars and carbohydrates.
Terraces, grassed waterways, and no-till practices help prevent soil erosion at Cope Grass Farms. Cover crops of sunflowers, turnips, buckwheat, oats and barley improve soil nutrient efficiency and water infiltration.
With 500 acres of woodlands, acorns provide a feed source for the Copes’ pigs in the fall. They are allowed to rotationally graze in the woods but are fitted with nose rings to prevent damage to the forest floor. Thinning out certain trees by a certified forester has improved the timber stand and created better habitat for wildlife and bats.
Harry has hosted several field days to promote grazing and is a member of the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council Board. He maintains close relationships with landlords by showing them how conservation practices benefit their land.
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