When it comes to being energy efficient, nothing makes more sense than adopting conservation practices. And that's just what this year's sterling group of Conservation Legacy Award winners does on a daily basis.

There's been no better time to minimize unnecessary trips across a field than right now, with higher input costs and wildly erratic fuel prices.

Still, these regional winners all have one thing in common — they're convinced that what they do to conserve land and wildlife will do nothing but benefit future generations on the land.

As one winner put it: “Conservation is not our hobby or a cause,it's our lifestyle.”

The Conservation Legacy Awards recognize standout conservation and environmental practices on U.S. soybean farms. Applications from four regions and final selections were judged by a panel of conservation professionals.

All four regional winners and spouses or guests will receive expense-paid trips to the Commodity Classic in Tampa, FL, March 1-3, 2007. The overall winner receives a plaque and yard sign in recognition of the award.

The Conservation Legacy Award program is sponsored by the American Soybean Association, Monsanto and The Corn And Soybean Digest.

MIDWESTERN REGION

James Andrew
Jefferson, IA

In 1993, after intense study and planning, James Andrew was so convinced that his future was in no-till that he sold almost all of his tillage equipment. “I did that to avoid the temptation of backsliding into the tillage habit,” he says. Today, he has 619 acres each of corn and soybeans at Jefferson, IA.

No-till combined with tile terracing reduced water and wind-borne soil erosion. “We're in a constant field-scouting mode,” he says. “Our self-propelled sprayer allows us to precisely spray herbicides and fungicides on a prescription basis following integrated pest management standards.”

Since participating in on-farm nitrogen (N) research since 1998, Andrew has adopted a spring-only anhydrous ammonia application program. In nearly half of the corn acres N is supplied by in-season sidedressing of liquid N. He relies on GPS, combine yield monitors and replicated variable-rate research to determine his most efficient N rates and timing. “We no longer rely on higher rates that come from Best Management Practices,” he adds.

Andrew keeps all herbicides and pesticides in locked buildings with concrete floors. Excess chemicals are stored in a heated container (converted deep freezer) to prevent freezing and container breakage. And, all water used in chemical application is trucked from the city water plant, and chemicals are either mixed in the field or at two designated sites.

He maintains three farm ponds with grassed, wooded areas for fish, game and wildlife habitat. Ponds have Canadian goose nesting barrels and wood duck nesting boxes. Various birdhouses are also placed in habitat areas.

“We feel it's our obligation not to preach, but rather to lead by example in encouraging our neighbors and other farmers to join us in good soil conservation,” Andrew says. That attitude was obvious when in 2005 he was granted Tier 3, the highest level, acceptance in the Conservation Security Program.

SOUTHERN REGION

T.S. Lee & Sons
Alcolu, SC

T.S. Lee & Sons constantly look for the “small things” that can contribute to sustainable agriculture in a big way on their five-generation farm. T.S. Lee now includes Thomas and Mary, their son Tommy and wife Mary Lynn and their sons Chase, 6, and Clayton, 2.

Since 2001, the Lees have focused on soybeans, corn, wheat, field peas and grain sorghum, and about 95% of those acres have been strip-tilled or no-tilled. Those tillage practices have cut fuel consumption in half by reducing trips across the field.

They also plant buffer strips and grass filter strips around the farm to prevent nutrient leaching, chemical runoff, erosion and to control dust.

Conservation and innovation go hand in hand for the Lees. A crop consultant and soil fertility advisor help pull soil samples within zones determined by yield maps generated from GPS technology. Data is then used with variable-rate technology when applying fertilizer to keep all nutrients in balance.

Spraying with GPS assistance has reduced the amount of pesticides applied and eliminated application overlap. Large flotation tires help prevent compaction. In addition, cover crops like rye, oats and wheat help increase organic matter and prevent erosion.

Chemicals are kept in a locked facility, and a loading dock has a catch area for accidental spills. The Lees purchase chemicals and lubricants in bulk to avoid disposal of small containers. Fuel storage tanks are aboveground and have retaining walls to control any spills. Used motor oil and hydraulic fluids are recycled.

The Lees plant food plots for deer, turkey, quail and doves. Tommy is even a member of the Quality Deer Management Association. On their forested acres, a consulting timber firm assists in decisions related to harvest of mature trees and thinning.

Tommy says he tries to follow the advice of his grandfather, T.S. Lee: “He told us to take care of our land and it will take care of you.”

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NORTHEAST REGION

Sam Hancock
Fulton, KY

Since the war on terror, Sam Hancock is paying extra attention to every energy conservation practice possible on his Fulton, KY, operation. “We gear up and throttle back when operating equipment, minimize fertilizer use, use no-till practices and drive fuel-efficient vehicles,” he says.

In fact, Hancock drives a Japanese 4WD pickup that gets 45 mpg. Even his father, Curtis, who farms with Sam, drives a Honda Civic that gets 38 mpg. “Initially, we got a lot of chuckles at farmer meetings because we didn't drive up in a larger truck,” Hancock says. “But that changed once gas hit $3/gal.”

Hancock is an eighth generation farmer who manages about 3,800 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans. About 2,900 of those acres are no-tilled, some not tilled since the early 1980s. He's also building a 4,980-head hog finishing facility.

“We use crop consultants on all our crops, but do most of the scouting ourselves,” he says. By carefully following integrated pest management practices, he's able to minimize pesticide use unless threshold levels are met. Long-time spray manager Danny Kimbell applies herbicides only in areas of the field that really need it.

Hancock soil samples in two-acre grids every three years, and then uses the maps to apply fertilizer using variable rates. As far back as 1996 he began adopting precision ag practices.

To minimize fertilizer runoff, he's built 30-ft. wide buffer strips with orchard grass or other wildlife-friendly cover throughout the farm. He uses rock structures to stop blowouts where main water flows enter creeks. And he uses the Conservation Reserve Program on 46 acres of steep, highly erodible hillsides.

Fuel is stored aboveground and waste oil is either picked up by a local sawmill for lubrication or a car dealership where it's used to heat the shop.

“We only keep enough chemical on site to get through a few days of spraying,” Hancock says. “Then all our jugs are triple rinsed and recycled. We don't store ammonium nitrate or any other fertilizer on the farm; and we hide our anhydrous tanks to help prevent theft.”

A wildlife enthusiast, Hancock grew up hunting and fishing. Now with a growing family he's only able to hunt and fish five or six times a year. Still, he regularly restocks farm ponds and is enrolled in a government program to build quail habitat strips, about 20-30 ft. long, around the farm.

“Every day I think about the practices I implement and how they'll affect future generations,” Hancock says. “Conservation is not our hobby or something we do to talk about at cocktail parties. It's not a cause, it's our lifestyle.”

WESTERN REGION

Eugene and Nancy Swearingen
Hiawatha, KS

Eugene Swearingen would be the first to tell you that his best conservation practice has been moving to no-till, which began 12 years ago. In fact, his father was one of the first farmers in his area to completely terrace his farm and won a county bankers award in 1955 for conservation.

Now, the Swearingens no-till all of their 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. “No-till farming not only conserves soil but water as well, which has really paid off for us the last two years,” he says. “No-till has reduced fuel consumption, too.”

Brad, the oldest son, farms full-time in the family corporation. Jeff, a mechanical engineer, works off the farm and helps out during harvest and on weekends.

“We started soil sampling in three-acre grids three years ago and then went variable rate to apply lime and some phosphate,” Swearingen says. Fertilizer is normally applied with a dual-placement ammonia applicator so none of the fertilizer can wash away, especially since all of his soils are considered highly erodible.

Pesticides and fertilizers are handled in bulk containers on a semi flatbed with approved mixing equipment. Any waste goes to the county transfer station for proper disposal.

Last year, Swearingen planted 7.1 acres of filter strips along active streams for better wildlife habitat. He also planted 3.1 acres of wildlife strips around a wooded wildlife area.

“With two century farms in the operation, I've grown up with conservation as a high priority,” he says. “Now I only hope my belief in good conservation practices is passed on from generation to generation.”