Sand County Foundation: Five finalists selected for Wisconsin Leopold Conservation award

MADISON – Five finalists have been selected for the 2020 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat in their care.  

In Wisconsin the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County FoundationAmerican Farmland TrustWisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.  

The finalists are:

  • Mike Berg of Blanchardville in Lafayette County: Berg’s farm has long featured contour strips and no-till practices. Recently he’s planted more than 25,000 trees. Rip-rapping installed along the Pecatonica River has reduced erosion, minimized cropland damage from flooding, and improved fish habitat. Waterways are lined with grass buffer strips of at least 16 feet in width. Berg’s beef cattle are rotationally grazed in a manner than encourages grass growth while retaining soil.
  • John and Melissa Eron of Stevens Point in Portage County: The Erons designed ponds to collect runoff from spring rains, and installed woodchip bioreactors to remove nutrients from runoff. The water and nutrients are later recycled via irrigation on crop fields in the summer. Such efforts conserve soil and improve the water quality of Mill Creek, a Wisconsin River tributary. Field corners are planted with native wildflowers and grasses to provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
  • Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian of Beaver Dam in Dodge County: These early adopters of reduced-tillage farming methods are also leaders in other ecological ways to protect soil and water. Cover crops are incorporated into their corn, soybean and winter wheat crop rotation. Pollinator habitats and prairie strips of native wildflowers and grasses are installed within their crop fields. Duck scrapes and food plots provide wildlife habitat. Solar and wind energy systems reduce their farm’s carbon footprint and electrical bills.  
  • Brian Maliszewski of Independence in Trempealeau County: Maliszewski grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and rye on rolling hills of erodible land, where conservation can be a challenge. He experiments with cover crop varieties and no-till planting methods to decrease soil erosion, build organic matter, improve earthworm activity and promote soil health. As chairman of the Buffalo/Trempealeau Farmer Network, he partners with Pheasants Forever on providing bird habitat by planting cover crops.
  • John and Dorothy Priske of Fall River in Columbia County: The Priskes adopted no-till and rotational grazing practices, and installed grass waterways to improve water infiltration, sequester carbon and build organic matter in their soil. They raised and direct marketed Scottish Highland beef cattle until 2015. Their pastures provided deep-rooted ground cover to reduce soil erosion. The Priskes lease 165 acres of farmland to Madison College for use as an agricultural education facility.

This year’s recipient will be revealed later this year. 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.

“In a year where it feels like everything has been flipped on its head, it is comforting to see farmers’ continued commitment to conservation through the good times and the challenging,” said Joe Bragger, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President. “Each one of these finalists is extremely deserving to have been nominated for this award and to receive extra recognition for their conservation efforts.”

“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.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust, celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Wisconsin award finalists,” said John Piotti, AFT President and Chief Executive Officer. “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 first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2019 recipient was Jeff Lake of Boyceville in Dunn County.  

The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, 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, and 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 21 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit