Brubaker Farms, a Farm Bureau family from Lancaster County, is the 2021 recipient of the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award®. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat resources in their care.
In Pennsylvania, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
“The Brubaker family provides us with a comprehensive example of how farmers build upon their environmental stewardship successes. Luke, his sons Mike and Tony, and now Josh, have taken the lead in conservation practices and continue to serve as an example of environmentally and community-minded innovation,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert. “The Brubaker’s commitment to being good stewards and good neighbors shines through in the overall success of their dairy and poultry farm.”
Luke Brubaker and his sons, Mike and Tony, were early adopters of soil health and nutrient management practices, and energy-producing technologies. Their land ethic has been passed on to Josh Brubaker, who recently became the fourth generation with a stake in the farm’s ownership.
“If you treat the environment well or treat the soil well, then it will treat you well in return,” said Josh.
The family's main focus is their 1,200-cow dairy. They use a variety of conservation practices to farm the acres to feed their herd.
“We use no-till farming to not disturb the soil more than we have to. We also follow up all of our crops with cover crops,” explained Mike.
The Brubakers have worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on many of their sustainability efforts and consider the agency a partner.
The family tapped into NRCS’ expertise and funding for their manure storage and their 5-million-gallon lagoon, cover crops, nutrient management and more.
With assistance from the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program they fenced cattle away from streams and planted trees in 15 acres of riparian buffers. As a result, deer, turtles and waterfowl are thriving.
“We have several local streams that flow right through our farm. One of them feeds a slightly larger stream, which is a very productive flyfishing stream, so we get to see the direct benefits to clean water when anglers come in from out of the area and get to pull out these big trout,” said Josh.
As the Brubakers grew their dairy herd, they improved their ability to store, handle and apply manure in ways that help minimize its environmental impact while maximizing its economic value as fertilizer. Their anerobic manure digester kills pathogens and collects methane from the manure. Manure is then pumped through a separator which presses out the solids from the liquids, creating a sanitary bedding product for cattle. Neighbors appreciate that the fertilizer produces less odor.
When the Brubakers began milking cows at a secondary location they installed a buried pipeline to transport manure to the main dairy where the digester was located.
The Brubakers “dragline apply” manure on 500 acres. This prevents soil compaction from large manure spreading equipment, and it keeps heavy, noisy equipment off of local roads.
Brubaker Farms built a methane digester in 2007 to convert manure into electricity. It produces enough energy for the farm and 325 homes, while improving air quality by capturing and destroying greenhouse gases. Excess heat created by the digester is recycled to heat farm buildings and pasteurize milk fed to calves.
Energy generated from solar panels on barn roofs at Brubaker Farms is used to heat water and produces electricity for 150 homes.
Choosing conservation projects with dual economic and environmental benefits has defined the Brubaker’s philosophy on land stewardship and growth.
“The profitability of doing it the right way is really what’s important,” Luke said. “We can’t do it if we can’t be profitable, if we can’t make a living. If you can make a living doing what’s right, you’ve got sustainability."
Leopold Conservation Award
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to farmers, ranchers and forestland owners in 23 states for land, water and wildlife habitat management.
In 2021, Pennsylvania landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
Among the many outstanding Pennsylvania landowners nominated for the award were finalists Glen Cauffman of Millerstown in Perry County and Dotterer Farms of Mill Hall in Clinton County.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Pennsylvania is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Sand County Foundation, USDA-NRCS, EDPR NA Distributed Generation, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.