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Middleton Receives 2019 Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award

Dr. James W. Middleton of Munfordville is the recipient of the 2019 Kentucky 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 foresters in 20 states.  


In Kentucky, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the Kentucky Agricultural Council, and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts.


Dr. Middleton was presented with the $10,000 award at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts Convention on July 9.


Jim Middleton is the recipient of the 2019 Kentucky Leopold Award.“My whole life is centered around my love affair with Hart County. I have spent my life taking care of the people (as a country doctor) and the land (as a farmer),” says Dr. James W. Middleton.


In the five decades since he took the reins of his family farm, he has improved the health of thousands of highly-sensitive acres along the Green River. Successful farming and conservation along one of North America’s most ecologically-important river corridors required an ability to adapt, experiment and innovate.  


Embracing the conservation ethic passed down to him, in high school he took steps to address the farm’s chestnut blight scourge. He utilized computer modeling to assess better uses for land at the dawn of that technology.


Reading the tea leaves of the farm economy, he exited the dairy business to begin raising Polled Hereford beef cattle on pastures. Likewise, just as southern cotton growers had once converted to pine plantations, Dr. Middleton decided to grow high-quality hardwood timber as tobacco’s prominence as a cash crop faded.


He improved and expanded the timber plantings his parents began in the 1950s. New trees and native grasses provided erosion control on hillsides and the river banks.


Dr. Middleton says abandoning tobacco and other row crops, for pastures, forests and hay fields was the best thing he could do for his land and the Green River. He worked with conservation partners to stop the threat of invasive plant species, and reestablish rare and endangered species on land in the water. He planted 220 acres with vegetation to attract pollinator insects, birds and wildlife.


The changes to the farm were environmentally and economically beneficial.


Timber sales from managed forests over the past 30 years have totaled more than 1.8 million board-feet of timber. Hay is sold to other livestock owners. Fees from hunting leases net more revenues than his last tobacco crop did in 2005, and the hunters also help the local economy.


Dr. Middleton has donated conservation easements including five parcels of land that cover 115 acres and more than two miles of river frontage. Since then, he and farm employees help nurture the more than 100,000 hardwood trees that have been planted on the land.  


When not improving his community’s health as a physician, Dr. Middleton has made a mark with his commitment to farm conservation practices, water quality, wildlife habitat, and providing outdoor recreation opportunities for others.


The self-described country doctor is also a conservationist in the truest Leopold tradition.


“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is proud to once again partner with the Sand County Foundation and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts to recognize exceptional stewardship and conservation practices among Kentucky’s many private landowners,” said Mark Barker, Kentucky Agricultural Council’s chair. “The winner of the 2019 Leopold Conservation Award represents a lifelong work in his community and his passion for the land in Hart County.”


“KACD and conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources and we are excited to join Sand County Foundation and the Kentucky Agricultural Council in recognizing these well deserving landowners in Kentucky,” said Shane Wells, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts President. “The Association and conservation districts work daily to assist private landowners in their efforts to adopt sound soil and water conservation practices on their land that benefit us all. This year’s Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award winner is an exceptional example of this land stewardship ethic by a private landowner.”


“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer.


Among the many outstanding Kentucky landowners nominated for the award were finalists: JRS Angus Farm of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County, and F.L. Sipes Farm of Ekron in Meade County.


The 2018 recipient was Trunnell Family Farm of Utica.


The Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to the generous support and partnership of Kentucky Agricultural Council, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, Kentucky Tree Farm Committee, Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Kentucky Pork Producers, The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky, and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

For more information on the award, visit