John and Melissa Eron of Stevens Point have been selected as the recipients of the 2020 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.
John and Melissa Eron were revealed as this year’s award recipient at the November 19 meeting of the Wisconsin Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. A video celebrating their conservation success will be premiered during the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual Annual Meeting on December 4.
“Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to work with the Sand County Foundation to recognize and highlight farmers for their outstanding conservation efforts,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Joe Bragger. “The Erons are extremely deserving of this honorable award. John is known as the go-to conservation person in his area of the state and has great compassion in caring for the land. As farmers, John and Melissa understand the importance of working with a variety of groups so together we can make the land better for future generations.”
“Congratulations to the Erons who are true examples of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of farmers across the state to protect the land and water within their care,” said Patrick Geoghegan, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin’s Executive Vice President of Industry Relations. “They embody the key tenants of what makes farmers across agriculture exceptional – a focus on conservation, social responsibility and economic viability.”
“We are pleased to present this award to John and Melissa Eron for their innovative irrigation strategies and water and nutrient recycling practices, crop diversification and conservation related planting,” said John Piotti, president, and CEO of American Farmland Trust. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
“DATCP is proud to partner with the Sand County Foundation to recognize John and Melissa Eron for their commitment to agricultural conservation. Soil and water health are critical to the success of our agriculture industry and our state’s economy,” said Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “We applaud the hard work and creativity of the Eron family and appreciate their dedication to this important conservation work.”
“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”
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. Among the many outstanding Wisconsin landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Mike Berg of Lafayette County, Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian of Dodge County, Brian Maliszewski of Trempealeau County, and John and Dorothy Priske of Columbia County.
The first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2019 recipient was farmer Jeff Lake of Boyceville.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Compeer Financial, Culver’s, McDonald’s, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, We Energies Foundation, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.
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.
ABOUT JOHN AND MELISSA ERON
John and Melissa’s conservation story is one of innovation and ingenuity.
Their farm’s heavy clay soils were often wet during the spring planting season, dry by summer, and wet again by fall. John devised a common sense (though untested) plan: he’d capture and store runoff water and use it later to irrigate crops.
After researching his idea, he got to work. John bought and renovated used excavation and irrigation equipment, a skill he’d learned from his father. He dug a series of strategically placed ponds in partnership with the Portage County Land Conservation Department, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Drain tiles were directed to the ponds. Any flooding from the ponds is directed via pipes to a woodchip bioreactor to remove nutrients.
John excavates sediment deposits in the ponds and recycles those nutrients back onto his fields, which reduces his need for fertilizer while boosting yields and profitability. The positive results have prompted the Erons to install similar water and nutrient recycling systems on other farms they’ve acquired.
This “closed system” the Erons created protects Mill Creek. This Wisconsin River tributary that runs through their farm has long been on a list of phosphorus-impaired waters. As president of the Farmers of Mill Creek Watershed Council, John leads farmer-led efforts to promote farming practices that ensure clean water and healthy soils. The council has accessed grants to fund on-farm research and installation of buffer strips next to the creek. The Erons have hosted many fields days and lunch-and-learn events to motivate other landowners to adopt conservation practices.
The Erons manage soil moisture and health through the use cover crops and no-till planting. They are growing fewer row crops by experimenting with raising alternative forages for area dairy farmers. This is another way to keep their fields in a continuous cover to prevent soil loss.
Field corners and other hard-to-farm areas are planted with native wildflowers and grasses to create pollinator and wildlife habitat. The Erons have worked with their county’s conservation staff to develop a program that educates youth about native plants and the importance of pollinators. They understand that the future of agriculture must consider the environment, and future agriculturalists must be educated about it today.
John serves as the appointed Weed Commissioner for Portage and Wood counties, where he works with local and regional stakeholders to combat wild parsnip and other land-based invasive species. He also serves on the local school board and chairs the planning commission in his township. The Erons, who diversified their business by converting a former dairy barn into an event venue for weddings and other gatherings, are parents to two young children.
Their land ethic is expressed through their dedication to responsible land management, agricultural sustainability, education and outreach, innovation, and advocacy for constructive change.