When members of the Cronin family — and it’s a big family — began paying more attention to the land under their care, they had no idea they would be recognized for their conservation efforts. In fact, they weren’t even aware of the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award until they received it last year.
“It was tremendous to get this award and a pat on the back for what we’ve been doing all along,” says Casey Cronin, who is charged with managing the operation’s 800 Angus cows.
“We just want to take care of our land and make it better for future generations,” adds Dan Forgey, farm manager.
The Leopold Conservation Award, inspired by conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievements in voluntary conservation by private landowners.
Brothers Monty and Mike Cronin and their extended families share the honor with an impressive list of past winners. Their sons Casey, Corey and Tregg are poised to become the land’s next caretakers.
“We’ve been no-tilling for 23 years, but in 2006 we took a harder look at what we were doing and began working with cover crops,” says Forgey, who manages the operation’s 8,000 tillable and 8,000 grassland acres. “That’s when we started working our cattle into the crop side of the operation for a more holistic approach.”
Forgey says no-till management has been the number-one way they’ve been able to build resilience into their soils, especially to improve water-holding capacity.
“It takes years to build up soil to see results. You have to give it time,” says Mike Cronin.
The Cronins have seen higher yields and returns by diversifying crop rotation with corn, wheat, peas, lentils, flax and sunflowers.
For example, following pea harvest in July, they immediately plant cover crops, which keep moisture in the soil and offer high-quality grazing for cows and calves.
The Cronins work with CHS Northern Plains, and like the partnership they have developed.
“[The Cronins] always take a sustainable approach to agriculture, farming today for tomorrow,” says John Muske, agronomy department manager at CHS Northern Plains, Gettysburg, S.D. “They also help those outside the industry to understand ag.”