Conservation for the win
Prairie Paradise Farms chosen for Leopold Conservation Award
Levi and Crystal Neuharth of Prairie Paradise Farms in Fort Pierre, South Dakota recently took home the 2021 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award.
Named for famous conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award program has been recognizing exceptional voluntary conservation efforts by private landowners since 2003. In South Dakota, the award is primarily sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, the American Farmland Trust, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.
The Leopold Conservation Award Program isn’t just about conservation – the program is also big on ambassadorship to citizens outside of agriculture. Leopold nominees are typically pretty enthusiastic about soil microorganisms, but they’re even more excited to share their knowledge and love of agriculture, especially to those outside the biz.
That description certainly fits the Neuharth family. They’re only second-generation farmers, but for Levi and Crystal, the devotion to good dirt runs deep.
Levi’s father was a city kid, but he always had a passion for agriculture. As an adult, David Neuharth bought a farm. Then, after being mentored by Dr. Dwayne & Ruth Beck, David went rogue.
“He went to his banker and told him he was gonna sell all his tillage equipment and buy a no-till drill and a sprayer, and we’ve just gone from there,” says Levi.
Ever since then, the Neuharths’ sustainable farming practices have continued to grow. In addition to being no-till since the early 90s, the Neuharths utilize a variety of regenerative farming practices, such as a diverse crop rotation, cover crops, and rotationally grazing cattle and goats.
Crystal adds, “We also focus a lot on wildlife habitats. The way we treat our grasslands and croplands, we try to mimic mother nature as much as we can.”
The Neuharths’ farming practices aren’t just good for the dirt, though. Crystal says it helps them stay afloat during the tough years.
“Right now with the drought, the spring crops are really, really struggling, and we’re in hopes that maybe if we catch a rain our fall crops will just hang there,” she says. “So being diversified with some livestock and some different crops kind of helps lessen our risk.”
The Neuharths clearly subscribe to the belief that agriculture isn’t just for those who were born into it, but about anyone with an interest in it. Just as the Becks were happy to share their knowledge with Levi’s father, the Neuharths are passionate about sharing the beauty of growing food with anyone who has a hunger to learn.
According to Levi, one of the biggest reasons they won the award was for their efforts to educate the community:
“We have a family farm day we started three years ago, where we have kids come from the city out to the farm. We tell them where the food came from and tell them how to treat the ground and animals.”
Ag education starts at home, according to Crystal, but a lot of people don’t have the first clue about where their food comes from:
“Living near Pierre, it’s a pretty rural area, and we were very surprised to find the number of kids that didn’t know much about where food came from other than a grocery store.”
The Neuharths’ three kids spend a lot of time helping out at the farm, getting a first-hand education about everything from plant identification to the art of electric fencing, and they’re eager to turn around and share what they’ve learned with others. Their two oldest frequently choose ag and conservation topics for their 4-H presentations.
Crystal says, “It really is heartwarming to see the appreciation they have for growing food and crops and taking care of the animals – and having them want to do that.”
The Neuharths were one of 4 families in the U.S. to receive the Leopold Conservation Award. Other winners were the May Ranch in Lamar, Colorado; the Switzer Ranch in Loup County, Nebraska; and the San Pedro Ranch in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
“We were just very grateful and humbled to receive the award. It’s been a dream of ours,” says Crystal. “It was a great honor to be chosen for it this year.”
According to Levi, it can take up to 3-5 years for real improvement to be seen after a producer implements regenerative practices – which can be hard. So why do the Neuharths do it?
“We just want our farm to be sustainable for future generations. We want it to be there for the long haul and instill in our kids the importance of good conservation and taking care of the land,” says Crystal. “They’re not making any more land, so we need to be more efficient with what we have, and be more productive with quality food that we produce off of our place.”
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