Three finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2019 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. The award recognizes farmers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.

In Wisconsin, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association.

The finalists are:

• Bill Ciolkosz of Thorp, Clark County: Expanded dairy facilities and feed and manure storage areas at Ciolkosz’s 200-cow dairy farm were designed to meet conservation and efficiency goals. Water runoff from more than 100 acres of cropland is diverted across grass waterways before reaching a diversion dam to reduce erosion and protect water quality. Ciolkosz plants pine trees, and maintains food plots and ponds for wildlife habitat.

• Jeff Lake of Boyceville, Dunn County: Lake grows 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, snap beans, kidney beans and alfalfa with no-till cultivation practices. To provide wildlife habitat and gain efficiencies, some marginal cropland has been converted into grass and full-season cover crops. Soil samples are taken to prevent over application of fertilizer. These efforts earned Lake the first-ever Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year award from Pheasants Forever.

•John and Dorothy Priske of Fall River, Columbia County: The Priskes adopted no-till and rotational grazing practices, and installed grass waterways to improve water infiltration, sequester carbon and build organic matter in their soil. They raised and direct marketed Scottish Highland beef cattle until 2015. Their pastures provided deep-rooted ground cover to reduce soil erosion. The Priskes lease 165 acres of farmland to Madison College for use as an agricultural education facility.

Earlier this year, owners of Wisconsin farmland and forests were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

This year’s recipient will be revealed at the November meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. The award will be presented December 8 at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Wisconsin Dells.

“Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to sponsor this award which recognizes farms that demonstrate a high standard care for their soil, water and livestock,” said Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President. “These finalists are farmers who lead by example, and inspire others to continue to search for better methods of protecting their resources.”

“The three Leopold Conservation Award finalists show how agriculture can be on the forefront of land stewardship,” added Matt Krueger, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association Executive Director. “Though their operations are quite different, these three farmers are similar in that they exemplify how conservation practices allow them to better manage their production and adapt to seasonal and climate variations. I commend their leadership, and their work to build resilient lands, watersheds, and communities.”

The first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2018 recipient was dairy farmer David Geiser of New Holstein, Calumet County.