Frey Family Farms Receives Illinois Leopold Conservation Award

Sandy County Foundation

Aug 31, 2023  |  Today's News |  ICGA |  ICMB |  Conservation

Frey Family Farms of Dahlgren is the recipient of the inaugural Illinois Leopold Conservation Award®.


The prestigious award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and management of natural resources by American farmers, ranchers, and forestland owner in 27 states.  


In Illinois the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, national sponsor American Farmland Trust, and state partners: IL Corn and Illinois Soybean Association.


Dennis and Jackie Frey were presented with the $10,000 award at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur on August 31. The Freys have implemented several conservation practices to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat at their beef cattle and grain farm in Hamilton County.


Among the many outstanding Illinois landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Rademacher Farms of Gifford in Champaign County, and Jean Stewart of Rossville in Vermilion County.


The Illinois Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, IL Corn, Illinois Soybean Association, Sand County Foundation, Coleman Family Fund, Association of Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Farm Credit Illinois, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership, McDonald’s, The Nature Conservancy, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service of Illinois.

For more information on the award, visit



Back in 1975, Dennis and Jackie Frey were a couple of newlywed farm kids with modest goals of raising a family and making a living raising crops.


Frey Family Farms started with some land that has been in Dennis and Jackie’s families for generations but has since grown to include acres they’ve purchased and rented as a married couple.  


As corn and soybean growers, their initial conservation goals were modest too. Early on, they enrolled in programs available to farmers to help reduce soil loss and control water erosion, but this too would evolve over time.


Conservation practices and the technology and equipment to carry them out have become more sophisticated. So has the Frey’s knowledge base about them.


After graduating with a degree in plant and soil science, Dennis farmed and worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil survey team identifying soil types and conducting soil mapping. As a resource conservationist for the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District he later offered training and outreach to fellow farmers.


Back on the farm, his use of minimum tillage across his 1,200 acres of cropland progressed to a no-till system. Dennis found coupling no-till practices with growing cover crops to be a conservation game changer. This combo helps reduce soil erosion, utilize excess nitrogen, sequester carbon, and minimize evaporation to allow crops to better access moisture held in the soil.


When reducing water runoff, cover crops prevent fertilizer and other nutrients from contaminating the water supply. No-till practices require fewer passes over a field with farm equipment, which reduces the use of fossil fuel while saving time.


Technological advancements have been embraced by the Freys to enhance their farm’s productivity. Grid soil testing is completed on all cropland on a four-year rotation. Variable rates of application for fertilizer and lime are used to increase their effectiveness and reduce input costs.


About 240 acres of Frey Family Farms is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and has been planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. Their extensive root systems have increased microbial activity improving the soil’s health and structure. The tall grasses also provide cover and nesting sites for deer, quail, and rabbits.


Dennis and Jackie’s son-in-law, Brock Holston, is taking over management of the farm. His interest in hunting and fishing has brought an additional dimension to the farm’s conservation efforts. He’s established food plots and constructed ponds and wetlands designed to provide habitat to fish, waterfowl, and wildlife populations. Frey Family Farms has also planted more than 20,000 hardwood trees, and installed several miles of terraces, grassed waterways, and other erosion control structures.


In addition to what they’ve taught their daughters (Lara, Ashley, and Cameron) about conservation, the Freys feel an obligation to educate others in hopes they will understand the role they can play in protecting the environment. Frey Family Farms has hosted field days and tours with audiences ranging from local fourth graders to foreign visitors from Africa and Asia. Off the farm, Dennis has served in a variety of leadership roles in agriculture and conservation organizations.


Dennis and Jackie’s farm has done more than provide for their family in the nearly 50 years since they started out. It has also fostered a conservation ethic in those who have called it home.



“IL Corn understands that our soils are our future and seeing the dedication the Frey family has for conservation is beyond impressive,” said Jon Rosenstiel, IL Corn Marketing Board Chairman. “The Frey family has spent decades trialing and making practices work for their farm to ensure a healthy and profitable opportunity exists for future generations. We were excited by the interest in the inaugural year for the Illinois Leopold Conservation Award and can’t wait to see the applicants in 2024 and beyond.”


“As the agriculture industry evolves and conservation practices are prioritized in an effort to improve soil health and production, the Illinois Soybean Association is proud to recognize this year’s Leopold Conservation Award recipient,” said Ron Kindred, Illinois Soybean Association Chairman. “We’re at a pivotal time in the industry, celebrating farmers who not only surpass expectations but are blazing new trails, setting higher standards for the future of conservation. We look forward to the continuation of this program and our partnership.”


“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.


“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”