Brinker Farms Inc. of Auxvasse was named the 2019 recipient of the Missouri Leopold Conservation Award®. 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.
In Missouri the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Missouri Farmers Care (MFC), the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Brinker family was honored with the award and commemorative crystal at the 2020 Missouri Natural Resources Conference on Feb. 5.
“Diversity is the key to success when balancing natural resources and the need to make a living. There is no better example of diversity in an operation than exhibited by Brinker Farms,” said Grover DePriest, acting Missouri State Conservationist. “The Brinker’s are an exemplary illustration of how we can live in harmony with the land.”
Brinker Farms Inc., operated by the Kenny and Susan Brinker family, demonstrates how modern pork and row-crop farms can protect the soil, water and air, while caring for livestock and wildlife. The Brinker’s business model focuses on their farrow-to-finish operation, Harrison Creek Farms, row crop production, as well as 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, who now farm with their children, 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.
“Our parents taught us by example, the importance of taking care of the land and our animals,” said Kenny Brinker. “We give the best care to our pigs because they are our livelihood and we are their stewards.”
Modern buildings allow the Brinkers to provide a comfortable environment for their livestock and control manure management. With Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) 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 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 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 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 with a state deer biologist. 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 soil conservationist to transform a neglected wet area into a six-acre wetland which attracts beavers, muskrat, ducks and geese.
“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer.
Missouri landowners were encouraged to apply, or be nominated, for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. In late 2019, Missouri’s finalists for the 2019 award were announced: Oetting Homestead Farms of Concordia in Lafayette County and Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard in Shelby County, along with Brinker Farms.
The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Missouri is made possible thanks to the support of Missouri Farmers Care, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, MFA, Inc., the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Soil and Water Conservation Program, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, McDonald’s, Missouri Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and The Nature Conservancy in Missouri.
In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.” Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 20 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.