John Walter
Conservation Editor, Successful Farming Magazine
Des Moines, Iowa

The single winner in the private sector category, John Walter writes a conservation column each month for Successful Farming’s 1.3 million readers. He also championed the magazine’s Farming in the Flyways program, which was designed to encourage wildlife habitat conservation measures on agricultural lands.

When John joined Successful Farming six years ago, he was ideally suited to sound the call to conservation. Prior to joining the magazine, he served for four years as assistant editor of The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation at the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Upon joining Successful Farming, John had hopes of eventually expanding his duties to include some form of conservation reporting. In 1986, the magazine made a major commitment to expand its editorial coverage of conservation topics and made John the first and only full-time conservation editor of any farm publication in the country.

Two years ago, John became acutely aware of the effects agriculture has had historically on wetlands and was determined to encourage farmers to participate in wetland and other wildlife habitat conservation efforts. Because Successful Farming’s readers own much of the farmland in the upper Midwest and the prairie pothole region, John was convinced that the magazine was uniquely positioned to serve as a conduit for information regarding conservation practices. Through his position as conservation editor, John set out to recognize the farm landowners already taking steps to promote wetlands and wildlife habitat conservation and to provide incentive and information to inspire other landowners to join in these efforts.

John also recognized that the North American Waterfowl Management Plan afforded a great opportunity to reach farmers with new information on available wetland conservation programs and techniques. After surveying the 1,200-member Successful Farming reader panel, he was surprised to learn that more than 80 percent of the private landowners who have tried to manage or leave some land on their farms for wildlife have never received any kind of public support for their conservation efforts, such as cost-sharing, tax relief, technical assistance, or other forms of encouragement.

John began contacting state, federal, and private conservation agencies and organizations to gain a better understanding of the programs available to aid farmers in their wildlife conservation efforts. With this knowledge in hand, he consulted with national wildlife conservation leaders and developed the three-part Farming in the Flyways program designed to complement the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The goals of this new program were to gather examples of wildlife conservation practices that were already working on farms and to report on farmers’ exemplary wildlife conservation efforts to the whole agricultural community. Farming in the Flyways consisted of three parts: a farmer recognition program, a farmer’s guide to conservation incentives, and demonstration projects. Because there had been a great lack of information in the farm press on the issue of wetlands conservation, John saw Farming in the Flyways as a perfect opportunity to highlight the good work farmers are doing on their land and simultaneously encourage other farmers to become involved in wildlife habitat conservation.

To realize his vision, John took his program proposal to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and was offered a $10,000 matching grant. In search of additional funding, he approached Ducks Unlimited, Inc. — a major player in wetlands protection — and was awarded a $50,000 grant for the program. American Cyanamid, a research biotechnology and chemical company, also pledged support to the program through advertising dollars.

To solicit exemplary farm-level conservation practices and ideas, John kicked off Farming in the Flyways in the April 1989 issue. That issue announced a reader recognition program that offered cash awards, a limited edition Farming in the Flyways poster, and other incentives to farmers who had implemented wetland and wildlife habitat conservation practices on their lands.

Of the hundreds of applications, 168 farmers from across the nation were selected and formally recognized for their commendable conservation work in the February 1990 issue. The magazine devoted a 16-page cover story to the program, and saluted by name the “Honor Roll” farmers. In addition, it featured 12 of those farmers who were named for special “Stewardship” awards. The restoration of drained wetlands; the practice of rotationally grazing pastures; and the use of cover crops and no-till cultivation on cropland to protect soil, water, and wildlife resources are but a few of the practices farmers are following to save dwindling wildlife habitat.

John’s foresight, planning, and dedication have enabled Farming in the Flyways to extend far beyond the pages of Successful Farming. The widespread publicity and acknowledgment of the program winners through additional media coverage have been instrumental in elevating awareness in the agricultural sector of the international crisis of declining waterfowl numbers and diminishing wetland acreage.

-James Cornick, Publisher, Successful Farming, Des Moines, Iowa