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No-till legend wins Leopold Conservation Award

Joel and Don Myers own Myers Family Farm in Spring Mills, Pa.

January 26, 2024

3 Min Read
Joel Myers, left, and brother, Don, owners of Myers Family Farm in Spring Mills, Pa.
NO-TILL LEGEND: Joel Myers (left) and his brother, Don, are owners of Myers Family Farm in Spring Mills, Pa. They recently won the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award. The brothers received $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. Sand County Foundation

Joel Myers has a passion for agricultural conservation, an ability to bring people together and a willingness to teach by example.

As the driving force behind the creation of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance, he was adamant that it be a farmer-led organization, committed to promoting soil health practices. He even hosted its first meeting in a church next to his Myers Family Farm.

At the recent Pennsylvania Farm Show, Myers and his brother, Don, who own and operate Myers Family Farm in Spring Mills, received the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Pennsylvania, the award is presented with The Heinz Endowments, Horizon Farm Credit and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

The brothers received $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.

No-till authority

Joel is a highly respected authority and strong advocate for conservation practices, including no-till, cover cropping and planting green.

Some credit Joel’s practical experience and outreach efforts as a major reason for the increased use of conservation practices in Pennsylvania. The amount of acres managed no-till has risen from 20% in 2000 to about 70% today. Likewise, cover crops are now grown on 40% of planted acres.

Joel credits his success as a conservation practitioner and proponent to what he learned decades ago. As a boy, he witnessed washouts and gullies plaguing the fields on the farm his father bought in 1946. He and Don still own and operate Myers Family Farm, where 75 acres of oats and soybeans were planted last spring.

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy, Joel began a career as a soil conservationist in 1967 by writing conservation plans and providing other technical assistance to farmers. He rose through the ranks to district conservationist before being named Pennsylvania’s state agronomist in the 1980s.

He gained credibility with farmers by putting emerging conservation practices to work on his own farm. In the 1960s and 1970s, he experimented with contour farming, field borders, reduced tillage and crop rotations aimed at preventing soil erosion, improving water quality and sequestering carbon.

In the 1980s, Joel became intrigued at the idea of some dairy farmers on the cutting edge of no-till. He knew that he had to get onboard, so he bought a no-till planter at an auction and made modifications to it.

Eventually, he had five different no-till planters and drills, which gave him an opportunity to learn and, later, demonstrate differences to other farmers both one-on-one and at field events.

What retirement?

Retirement from his day job didn’t slow down Joel’s educational and outreach efforts. Myers Family Farm still hosts many research trials, workshops and field days for farmers, conservation professionals, research scientists, local FFA members, Penn State University students and international groups.

What farm visitors see is how a no-till system coupled with extensive use of cover crops and sound crop rotations can greatly reduce soil losses, even on slopes up to 10%. The farm’s rolling topography features deep soils in some areas and ridge tops with exposed rock outcrops in others.

This showcase of conservation practices extends beyond the cropland to include forest and stream habitat restorations that improve wildlife and fish habitat.

Joel predicts that this year will be the last that he plants crops on his farm before renting it to a similarly conservation-minded farmer. One thing is certain. Before a single seed is planted this spring, Joel’s years of stewardship will be felt across his land and beyond.

Source: Sand County Foundation

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