Leopold Conservation Award

Seth Watkins visits with Sean McMahon, executive director of the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance after receiving the Leopold Conservation Award during the Big Soil Health Event this week. (Photo: Kriss Nelson/Iowa Soybean Association)

2022 Leopold Conservation Award, Iowa award recipient named

December 8, 2022 | Kriss Nelson

The Leopold Conservation Award has been presented to families in 24 states across America and this year, for the first time, an Iowa family was recognized.

In honor of conservationist and Iowa native Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water and wildlife habitat in their care.

The inaugural Iowa award was presented during the Big Soil Health Event this week to Seth, Christy, Spencer and Tatum Watkins of Pinhook Farm in Clarinda.

“I am honored to have this award,” says Seth Watkins. “It puts a lot of meaning into what I am trying to do.”

The Watkins manage about 900 acres of crops, prairie and forest for other landowners in Page, Taylor and Adams Counties in addition to owning 320 acres and renting 2,790 acres where they raise grass, hay and corn used to feed their herd of 600 beef cow-calf pairs.

To improve soil and water quality, Watkins turned tilled and highly erodible cropland into pastures with permanent forage to rotationally graze their beef cattle.

“We have been more productive while regenerating the resources we depend upon,” says Seth Watkins.

More than 55 ponds have been built or improved on the land they own and rent and to provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, ditches are not mowed until August.

 Seth welcomes opportunities to share his perspective on agricultural conservation and resiliency with others, especially youth.

“I have tried to advocate for the land,” he says. “I hope I have done well there.”

Sand County Foundation presents the award in partnership with American Farmland Trust, and state partners Farmers National Company, Practical Farms of Iowa and Conservation Districts of Iowa among other partnership support, including the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA).

Sean McMahon, IAWA executive director was on the panel of judges who selected Pinhook Farm to receive the award which includes $10,000.

McMahon says he has partnered with Watkins on different water quality efforts and has seen firsthand how he chooses the right practices for his operation, is innovative, and works to continually add conservation to his farm.

“Seth epitomizes what it means to be a conservation farmer-champion,” he says. “He has a tremendous land ethic, which is very appropriate given this award was to honor Aldo Leopold, the father of the modern conservation movement. I can’t think of a better farmer to match the ethos and spirit of this award than Seth.”