Eron family named Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award winner

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
The Eron family: farmers John and Melissa Eron, with their children Jack and Nora.

John and Melissa Eron of Portage County have received the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes farmers across the state for their efforts to maintain sustainable farming practices.

The award includes a $10,000 prize and crystal award sponsored and presented by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. A video about their story will be shown at the WFBF's virtual annual meeting on Dec. 4.

The Erons are recognized for their runoff ponds that recycle water to be used for irrigation. They have also installed woodchip bioreactors that help remove extra nutrients from the water before using it. They have also planted wildflowers and native grasses along field corners to preserve wildlife habitats and encourage pollination.

Many leaders in the agriculture industry had nothing but congratulations for the couple, who call conservation a second nature.

"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," said Joe Bragger, WFBF president. "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, executive vice president of industry relations for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. "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. 

"Soil and water health are critical to the success of our agriculture industry and our state’s economy," said Randy Romanski, Secretary-designee of the Department 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, president and CEO of Sand County Foundation. "These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy."

The Erons were finalists for the award, along with Mike Berg of Lafayette County; Brian Maliszewski of Trempealeau County; Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian of Dodge County; and John and Dorothy Priske of Columbia County.

The award is named after Aldo Leopold, a nationally renowned writer, educator and conservationist who influenced the development of environmental ethics in the early 20th century. He is considered the father of wildlife management science and taught at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He died in 1948 at age 61.

The first Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. Last year's winner was Jeff Lake of Boyceville.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible by 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.