Kenny and Susan Brinker’s parents taught them the importance of taking care of the land and animals.
“We give the best care to our pigs because they are our livelihood, and we are their stewards,” Kenny says.
The Brinkers operate a pork and row crop farm just outside of Auxvasse, Mo. The couple and their sons, Cody and Travis, incorporate production practices that protect the soil, water and air and still allow them to care for livestock and wildlife.
Their efforts earned them the 2019 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award during the 2020 Missouri Natural Resources Conference.
The award, named for renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private land.
"Diversity is the key to success when balancing natural resources and the need to make a living," says Grover DePriest, acting Missouri state conservationist. "There is no better example of diversity in an operation than exhibited by Brinker Farms. The Brinkers are an exemplary illustration of how we can live in harmony with the land."
The Brinkers' business model focuses on their farrow-to-finish operation, Harrison Creek Farms, row crop production, and processing and marketing Brinker Farms Pork.
In 1993, Kenny and Susan relocated to their Callaway County farm and began designing new hog facilities to address existing environmental constraints. The Brinkers were one of the nation's first farm families to adopt the National Pork Board's Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, but their conservation journey began long before.
Modern buildings allow the Brinkers to provide a comfortable environment for their livestock and control manure management. With Environmental Quality Incentives Program 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 Brinkers incorporated cereal rye as a cover crop to improve the soil's infiltration rate and further reduce erosion.
With these changes, the farm's wildlife population has flourished. The Brinkers, working with a state deer biologist, developed a plan to enhance the quality of the whitetail deer 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. In addition, the Brinkers worked with a soil conservationist to transform a neglected wet area into a 6-acre wetland, which attracts beavers, muskrats, ducks and geese.
Spotlight on ag
"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," says Robert Alpers, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. "Sustainability is a top priority for the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, and key to our mission of supporting a bright future for soybean farmers. This award puts a spotlight on farm families, like the Brinkers, living the example of outstanding stewardship."
In Missouri, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Missouri Farmers Care, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America's farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success," says Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and CEO.
Missouri landowners applied or were nominated for the award. An independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders reviewed the applications at the end of 2019.
In addition to Brinker Farms, the other finalists for the award included Oetting Homestead Farms of Concordia in Lafayette County, and Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard in Shelby County.