In 2017, Sand County Foundation presented Jimmy Emmons and his wife, Ginger, with the Leopold Conservation Award, a prestigious honor bestowed on private landowners who prioritize conservation practices and honorable stewardship of their land. Thanks to a partnership among prominent state conservation partners, the winner receives a beautiful crystal award to display in their home and a check for $10,000.
Emmons is the third generation to take the reins on Circle E Farms in Leedey, Oklahoma. His great-grandfather bought the property in 1926, and they remained there until his retirement in 1969, when Jimmy and Ginger took over the operation. Today, they are responsible for 2,000 acres of production land, 9,500 acres of rangeland and 300 head of cattle.
Emmons places high priority on protecting the natural resources on the farm that has been in his family for nearly a century. One of the many ways they’ve incorporated conservation efforts is through no-till farming.
This technique allows crops and pasture land to grow from year to year without disruption from tilling. One of its many benefits is, it increases the amount of water that penetrates the soil, creating a healthy and vibrant foundation for the cycling of nutrients and regrowth of crops.
“No-till works because that’s the way the natural system was designed,” Emmons says. “We don’t till our grass to ensure they take in rainfall. This technique prevents the erosion of our topsoil and protects the water quality downstream from our farm.”
Emmons discovered as they incorporated these conservation practices, their soil not only grew healthier but their bottom line also increased. They were able to cut back on synthetic fertilizers and chemicals.
“In the last eight years, we’ve been able to cut back by 50% with the goal of 100% in another eight years,” Emmons says. “It’s amazing what the biology can do by breaking down the minerals in our soil to make nutrients available.”
After spending decades tending to the land, discovering what it means to implement quality conservation practices and watching his efforts begin to pay off in big ways, Emmons says he was honored to win the 2017 Leopold Conservation Award.
“It’s humbling to be in such an elite alumnus of producers across the nation,” he says. “The Sand County Foundation is a wonderful organization that inspires us to be the best land stewards we can be while speaking up and promoting conservation practices.”