Yoder family honored for conservation, advocacy efforts

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard, Mo., are winners of the 2020 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which honors Missouri farmers’ achievement in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management.

The Yoders, who raise row crops, hay and beef cattle on 1,100 acres in Shelby County, are the fourth Missouri farm family to receive this prestigious award. 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.

“The Yoder family’s commitment to understanding the importance of soil health is a testament to their success,” said Scott Edwards, NRCS state conservationist for Missouri. “Taking steps to implement conservation practices and supporting moni­toring efforts contribute to improved natural resource benefits and make this farm an excellent example of sustainable agriculture.”

The Sand County Foundation created this 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 now supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 21 states.

In Missouri, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Missouri Farmers Care, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Yoders were honored with a $10,000 award and commemorative crystal trophy Jan. 9 at the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association convention. Other Missouri Leopold finalists this year were Cope Grass Farms of Truxton, Tim and Rhonda Luther of Lawson, Oetting Homestead Farms of Con­cordia and Peter Rost Jr. of New Madrid.

Conservation-minded practices have been a priority for the Yoders since they returned to the family farm in 2008 and began expanding their operation. Today, they pool labor and equipment with Joshlin’s parents, Merlin and Twilah, and brother, Jordan and his wife, Becky, although all three families manage their own farms.

The Yoders use minimum tillage or no-till methods to plant corn and soybeans, which helps reduce soil erosion and com­paction. Tile and terrace systems help protect some of the most vulnerable areas, while grass field borders and buffer strips curb erosion and take some of the lowest-quality ground out of pro­duction. Cover crops provide better weed control and improve soil health and water quality. The impact is measured through automated water monitoring stations that collect rain runoff from fields with and without cover crops.

“From the moment we purchased our farm, we knew it wasn’t a short-term thing. This was going to be a long-term in­vestment,” Joshlin said. “We wanted to make this a lifestyle and something we could continue to do as long as we desired. We knew that meant maintaining the natural resource we had—the soil—so that it can be productive for generations to come.”

Precision agriculture technology helps the Yoders make every acre as productive as possible. Joshlin emphasized that his family incorporates the 4Rs concept on their farm, maximizing nutrient efficiency and minimizing losses by placing the right source and the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

“We are constantly looking to challenge traditional ways of farming and implementing new practices to reach our goals of building soil health, improving production efficiency, pro­tecting water quality and developing habitat for wildlife,” Joshlin said in the family’s Leopold application. “We want to run a farming operation that is sustainable for the future.”

With those goals in mind, the Yoders began participating in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) four years ago, joining some 120 Midwest growers in this farmer-led research program. The SHP gathers on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of conserva­tion practices such as cover crops on the soil, the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.

“The results will help guide my decisions as well as give area farmers confidence that growing cover crops is not only envi­ronmentally beneficial but also economically beneficial,” Joshlin said. “I believe that once a person finds the best mixes and management practices for their operation, using cover crops on 100% of the acres will not only be possible but desired.”

He and Addie are also active within the industry, participating in leadership events and agricultural advocacy. Addie volunteers with CommonGround, a group of farm women who help bridge the gap between agriculture and consumers. She also shares the family’s farm story through public speaking, podcasts, radio and social media, emphasizing her Facebook and Instagram pages. She makes regular posts about what is happening on the farm to create interaction with followers. She also serves as an ambassa­dor for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and took part in the 2019 Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge.

“Addie and I are continually looking for ways to share our sto­ry with others,” Joshlin said. “Sometimes it has led to difficult discussions and made us evaluate how we present information to others. It is also important to promote the conservation prac­tices we use on our farm. We have a passion to influence others, both in and outside of agriculture, in a positive way.”

For more information on the Leopold Award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.