Conservation in concert

Demonstrating how modern pork and row-crop farms can protect the environment while caring for livestock and wildlife, Brinker Farms of Auxvasse, Mo., was named the 2019 recipient of the Missouri Leopold Conservation Award. Kenny and Susan Brinker and their family were honored with a $10,000 award and commemorative crystal trophy Feb. 11 at the Missouri Pork Expo in Columbia.

The Brinkers’ business model focuses on their farrow-to-finish op­eration, Harrison Creek Farms, crop production and processing and marketing Brinker Farms Pork. The Brinkers farm with their sons, Travis and Cody, along with their son-in-law Gary Seute, who is married to their daughter, Amanda.

“Diversity is the key to success when balancing natural resources and the need to make a living. There is no better ex­ample of diversity in an operation than exhibited by Brinker Farms,” said Grover DePriest, acting Missouri state conserva­tionist. “The Brinkers are an exemplary illustration of how we can live in harmony with the land.”

The Leopold Award honors farmers’ achievement in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management. The Sand County Foundation created the award in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to inspire American landowners by recognizing 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. His namesake award has been presented annually since 2003 by the Sand County Foundation, which was established in 1965 to preserve the Wisconsin property where Leopold did his writing and research. The organization now supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 14 states. It was first awarded in Missouri in 2017.

Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural organizations, in­cluding MFA Incorporated, partners with the Sand County Foundation to bring the Leopold award to the Show-Me State. Other finalists for the award this year were Oetting Homestead Farms of Concordia in Lafayette County and Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard in Shelby County.

When Kenny and Susan relocated to their Callaway County farm in 1993, it presented an opportunity to design new hog facilities but came with environ­mental challenges. The Brinkers were one of the nation’s first farm families to adopt the National Pork Board’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which addresses all of the conservation aspects of an animal-feeding operation. But their conservation journey began long before.

“Our parents taught us by example the importance of taking care of the land and our animals,” Kenny said. “We give the best care to our pigs because they are our liveli­hood, and we are their stewards.”

Modern buildings allow the Brinkers to provide a comfortable environment for their livestock and manage manure. With Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding for irrigation equipment, nutrients from the operation’s manure storage lagoon are distributed to hundreds of acres of cropland, supplying crop nutri­ent needs while reducing input costs for fertilizer.

In addition to their hog operation, the Brinkers use a variety of conservation prac­tices including no-till, grass waterways, terraces and variable-rate technol­ogy on their corn and soybean fields to improve soil health, fertility and water quality. In the past five years, the family has incorporated cereal rye as a cover crop to improve the soil’s infiltration rate and further reduce erosion.

“In agriculture, our greatest resource is the land, and as farmers it is our duty to be good stewards of that land for future generations,” said Robert Alpers, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, one of the Leopold partnering organizations. “This award puts a spotlight on farm families, like the Brinkers, living the example of outstanding stewardship.”

Wildlife has also flourished on the Brinker farm with improvements the family made. The farm once had a neglected wet area where 300 acres drained to one spot. The Brinkers worked with soil conservationists to design a dam that would replace the steep gully that had formed. It creat­ed a six-acre wetland that attracts beavers, muskrat, ducks and geese. In collaboration with a state deer biologist, the Brinkers developed a plan to enhance the quality of the whitetail herd. Their crop fields are bordered with warm-season grasses, alfalfa and forbs. Food plots of wheat, clover, sunflowers and grain crops provide habitat for quail and rabbits.

Missouri landowners are encouraged to apply or be nominated for next year’s Leopold Award. Applications are reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

Visit leopoldconservationaward.org for more information. A video high­lighting Brinker Farms is available online at bit.ly/BrinkerLeopoldAward.

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