Meet Another Leopold Finalist – Noll’s Dairy Farm

Images courtesy of Mark Noll.

Mark Noll describes his farm in the Driftless Region as a slice of heaven. But it didn’t get to be that way overnight. Noll’s Dairy Farm in Buffalo County has worked the land for generations to make sure that the soil stays in place, the oak trees grow tall, and the wildlife have a place to call home.

The farm is one of four finalists selected for the 2023 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat in their care.

The Noll family in Alma has practiced soil and water conservation efforts on their farm for generations. The land sits on top of a 500-foot bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Mark tells Mid-West Farm Report he can watch the barges go down the river from his tractor seat. Curtis, Mark, and Scott Noll grow cover crops and utilize no-till and contour strip cropping practices to prevent soil erosion.

They also restored and actively manage an ecologically rare dry bluff prairie that is home to many endangered species. Their managed forest provides oak timber production and wildlife habitat.

“I want to leave the land better than when I started. The land is going to be here forever. We’re just here for an eye-blink really,” Mark says. “It’s tough to do sometimes but… when I’m out in the corn planter, there’s no where else I’d rather be.”

In Wisconsin, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. But when asked how it felt to be recognized by his community and nominated as a finalist for the conservation prize, Mark says: “We just did it because we thought it was the right thing.”

This year’s recipient will be revealed at November’s meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 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.

The other three finalists are:

The first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2022 recipients were Joe and Christy Tomandl of Medford.