Oetting family named Missouri's fifth Leopold Conservation Award winner

Oetting Homestead Farms in Concordia is the recipient of the 2021 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which spot­lights agricultural achievements in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management.

The award was announced during the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture in Osage Beach on Nov. 18. The Oettings are the fifth 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.

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 24 states.

As the 2021 Missouri Leopold winners, Steve and Sharon Oetting—who farm along with their sons, Sean and Clint, and their families—have continually demonstrated the compatibility of conservation and commerce in their Lafayette County oper­ation, said Scott Edwards, NRCS Missouri State Conservationist.

“The Oetting family’s commitment to understand the impor­tance of soil health is a testament to their success,” Edwards said. “By taking steps to implement conservation practices and support monitoring efforts, the Oettings contribute to improved natural resource benefits and make this farm an excellent exam­ple of sustainable agriculture.”

The Oettings grow corn, soybeans and wheat and custom finish 3,000 hogs annually on land that has been in their family for more than 180 years. Oetting Homestead Farms was among the first to be certified in the Missouri Department of Agricul­ture’s Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Pro­gram, recognizing efforts to reduce soil erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and protect water and air quality.

“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 Kyle Durham, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. “It’s outstanding to see the spotlight on the Oetting family’s example of stewardship.”

In the 1970s, the Oettings transitioned from dairy to pork production. To store swine manure, they constructed a three-lagoon system with an adjoining 2.8-acre lake, which eliminated the need to purchase 1.3 million gallons of fresh water annually. The lake is used for watering livestock and other farm uses, including washing barns. Effluent treated in the lagoons is recy­cled to provide nutrients for crops. 

As part of their conservation-minded cropping practices, the Oettings rotate no-till corn and soybeans, maintain under­ground tile outlets and terraces, and use variable-rate fertilizing and seeding technology. They participate in MFA’s Nutri-Track program, which enables them to apply crop nutrients in precise amounts to limit risk of runoff and increase yield potential while making best use of input costs.

“Grid sampling was a big step for us, and we’ve seen the ben­efits,” Steve said. “It keeps us from over-applying in some areas or under-applying other areas. We have taken it a step further now by layering yield monitor information over the grid maps, and it challenges our better soils to produce more and identi­fies the maximum potential on our poorer soils. Implementing those practices, along with the improved seed genetics, has resulted in a higher yields than I ever thought we would have.”

The Oettings have also planted pollinator habitats and nearly 10,000 trees in riparian buffer strips. They said they are always looking for more conservation opportunities.

“We made a conscious effort to take some of our farm that maybe wasn’t as productive and make it better so that the land is providing more value back to us,” Sharon said. “It makes sense to me to conserve. If you can do things that protect water quality and soil health or wildlife habitat, it’s more of a ‘Why not?’ than a ‘Why?’”

Other finalists for this year’s Leopold Award were Britt Farms of Clifton Hill in Randolph County and Cope Grass Farms of Truxton in Lincoln County. Nominations will be accepted again in the spring of 2022.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Missouri is made possible by support from the American Farmland Trust, Missouri Farmers Care Founda­tion, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Mer­chandising Council, Sand County Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Cattlemen’s Associa­tion, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, MFA Incorporat­ed, Missouri Fertilizer Control Board, FCS Financial, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Missouri Soil and Water Conser­vation Program, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, McDonald’s and The Nature Conservancy in Missouri.

Visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org for more informa­tion on the program.

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