Matt and Kate Lambert

Matt and Kate Lambert won the Leopold Conservation Award in 2017. They use a variety of conservation practices on their Linn County family farm, including cover crops, no-till and terraces. 

BROOKFIELD, Mo. — For Matt and Kate Lambert, cover crops initially were a way to boost their cattle operation as they were getting started with the family farm in Linn County, Missouri.

“The first goal was to get more acres for cattle to graze,” Matt says.

As the years have gone by, the Lamberts have been able to use cover crops for their various benefits on the diversified family farm and as part of an overall conservation mindset. In addition to cover crops, they also use conservation practices such as no-till and terraces.

In 2017, they were selected as the inaugural winners of the Missouri Leopold Conservation Award.

Kate Lambert says there are a lot of farmers using good conservation practices, but it was an honor to receive the award.

“It’s a tool to highlight the good practices farmers are doing,” she says.

Matt says his dad switched the family farm to a no-till approach in the early 1990s, and the farm is almost all no-till these days. The family has learned along the way how to best use conservation practices, although it’s been a mostly smooth process.

“There’s been a learning curve,” Matt says. “I wouldn’t ever say we’ve had a disaster. There was a lot of unknowns when we first started, but we’ve built on what we’ve learned.”

Kate Lambert says they were early adopters of widespread use of cover crops and other practices.

“It was different,” she says. “When Matt first started, there wasn’t anybody around here doing it.”

Matt Lambert says a college professor at Northwest Missouri State University, Jamie Patton, put a lot of emphasis on soil health, and Lambert was curious about using cover crops and no-till to accomplish that. He has attended national no-till conferences to learn more, and he follows university research online and talks with other farmers. Conservation approaches often need to be tailored to different farms, he says.

“There’s a lot of things that work in other regions that wouldn’t work here, and things that work on my farm might not work on other farms,” Matt says.

Cereal ryes work well on their north central Missouri farm.

“They’re just a good reliable cover crop for our area,” Matt says. “They provide early grazing in the spring.”

The family is always thinking of ways to do things better, Kate says.

“I think conservation practices like that line up with Missouri agriculture, especially when you get to farming in the hills,” she says.

The Lamberts say cost-share programs for cover crops have helped support the practice in the state, especially during tough financial times on the farm.

“I think these programs are really important,” Kate says. “You can’t expect people to make dramatic changes in their operation if they’re just trying to break even.”

They are continuing to look for new ways to use conservation practices to boost soil health and increase grazing opportunities. Matt says he is looking at seeding cover crops into defoliating corn to allow for fall grazing, as well as doing some rotational grazing on cover crops.

“My gears are always turning on this,” he says.

Kate Lambert also works for FCS Financial, and she says she has seen growing numbers of farmers implementing conservation practices. Matt says a lot of the conservation ideas have very old roots, including cover crops. Years ago, his grandpa would plant clover as a source of nitrogen.

When the family utilizes conservation practices, it’s part of an overall long-term approach they have to the farm. Kate says for the land they rent, they have good landlords who like to think long-term as well. Matt says they want to play their part in improving the family farming operation for the next generation.

“I would say I’ve always thought that you needed to leave something better than it was handed to you,” he says.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.