Veatch Farms of Campbellsville, Ky., is the recipient of the 2023 Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award.
Donald Veatch received $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. Veatch accepted the award at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Convention in Bowling Green on July 11.
Veatch established and implemented several conservation practices at this beef cattle and grain farm in Marion County to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat.
History of Conservation
Ever since his mother helped him win a conservation district’s essay contest, Donald Veatch has been quick to share the credit for his conservation successes.
As a boy, he came to appreciate the uniqueness of central Kentucky’s farmland thanks to his grandparents, Gilbert and Exie Shively. They farmed in a region nicknamed “the lagoon” for its river bottoms and prehistoric beginnings as a lake.
Donald says the public debate over erecting a dam that would have returned his family’s farmland into a lake made an impression on him. So did this simple rule from his father who farmed and worked as a county conservationist: “Never allow a gulley on the farm.”
Donald and his son, Josh, still grow corn, wheat and soybeans and raise beef cattle in the lagoon. Veatch Farms is dissected by a creek with topography ranging from wet bottomland to steep hillsides. Donald has implemented a variety of conservation practices to prevent soil erosion, improve water quality and increase the amount of organic matter in his soil.
More than 30 years ago during a drought, Donald first experimented with no-till practices to increase his soil’s capacity to infiltrate water. He later began growing cover crops of wheat, grasses, radishes and sweet clover. He quickly saw the benefits of not disturbing the soil and keeping fields continuously green and growing.
The cropland at Veatch Farms has developed the dual resilience of retaining water during dry spells and withstanding heavy rains with little or no erosion. Likewise, the soil’s health has improved thanks to an integrated pest management system and annual soil tests that monitor soil nutrient levels.
Timber is treated like a crop at Veatch Farms. The use of timberland stand improvement practices on woodland acres restricts the growth of invasive species. This allows more desirable species such as oak, walnut and maple to have a larger share of the forest canopy.
Donald sees trees as a renewable resource with economic and environmental benefits. He’s planted trees along the curves of his farm’s creek to stabilize soil and mitigate flooding. The trees compliment the wide grass buffer strips he’s established. Portions of the farm are also enrolled in the federal Conservation Stewardship Program to create habitats for wildlife, birds and insect pollinators.
Beef cattle at Veatch Farms are not allowed access to its ponds, creeks and forests. By rotationally grazing the herd, grass is allowed to grow taller, which helps slow water runoff.
Donald has a passion for sharing his conservation ethic and knowledge with those who want to learn how to care for their land. He’s a longtime member of Marion County’s Agriculture Development, Farm Bureau and Conservation District boards. His peers say his willingness to voice his opinion on conservation comes from knowledge and wisdom.
Veatch Farms regularly employs students enrolled in a school-to-work program. The instructor of the course was so inspired after reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac that they asked Donald for assistance in developing a high school conservation class. At the time, neither the teacher nor Donald realized he had been nominated for an award named in honor of Leopold.
The boy from Kentucky’s lagoon has come a long way since winning a conservation essay contest.
“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is proud to once again partner in recognizing exceptional stewardship and conservation work as demonstrated by the Veatch family,” says Drew Graham, Kentucky Agricultural Council’s chair. “The winner of the 2023 Leopold Conservation Award represents lifelong work in their community to promote good stewardship and their passion for agriculture in Marion County.”
“Kentucky’s 121 conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources and we are excited to join in recognizing the well-deserving Veatch family,” says Allan Bryant, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts President. “This year’s Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award recipient is truly a working family farm with a strong land stewardship ethic.”
“These award finalists are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” says Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Kentucky recipient,” says John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
The Leopold Award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and management of natural resources by American farmers, ranchers and forestland owner in 27 states. In Kentucky, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, national sponsor American Farmland Trust, and state partners Kentucky Agricultural Council and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts.