In December, Franklin County farmer Daniel Austin recently received the fifth annual Carl G. Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Award for his contributions to conservation in the Commonwealth. Sponsored by Houff Corporation, the award is named for Luebben, a former Houff salesman known for his passion for agronomy, sustainable systems, soil health research, and mentorship of conservation professionals.

Daniel Austin is a fifth-generation farmer who was raised on a dairy farm and began overseeing forage production on two family-run confined dairy operations by the age of 18.  At one point, Daniel farmed more than 500 acres of forages and grain crops annually. Today, he owns and operates Green Sprig Ag where he specializes in forage and cover crop seed as well as custom no-till planting and forage harvesting. However, Daniel doesn’t just custom blend forage and cover crop seed mixes. He is a regional guru, advising farmers, industry, and agency experts and on what to plant and when.

Daniel is a true innovator, always willing to host test plots and try new approaches. He is also a passionate advocate for soil health building no-till systems, leading by example with his adoption of continuous no-till and aggressive cover cropping. Daniel founded the Franklin County chapter of the Virginia No-till Alliance (VANTAGE) and has been a major agent for change in land management practices. Since the first planter clinic in 2011, he has organized, promoted, hosted, sponsored, and spoken at dozens of educational events for growers and conservation partners. In the last decade, his efforts have led to a dramatic reduction in tillage and bare fields across Franklin County.

Daniel and his wife are deeply committed to their agricultural heritage with an overriding goal of building an enterprise that will allow their son to carry on the family farming tradition. Daniel also hopes to influence other farmers to adapt to the new realities of agriculture. Committed to finding ways to stay profitable in the face of decreasing milk and commodity crop prices, Daniel has shifted his focus to value-added production and marketing. He grows food grade small grains for specialty markets and runs the Little Red Hen feed mill to process his non-GMO corn, soybeans, and small grains into feed for local small-scale poultry and swine growers.

Austin received his award at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference at Blue Ridge Community College on December 5. The conference is hosted annually by Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and community partners. Carl’s son Dan was on hand to participate in the presentation. Carl Luebben, who passed away in October 2015, previously served on the Virginia Farm Bureau Board, the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council, and the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.