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Leading by Example

Black and white photo of two farmers standing next to cow

For Walt Bones, former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, evangelical Christian, and the Bones family spokesperson, the belief that guides his family farm operations is one that’s been handed down for five generations: “God was careful and creative when he created this earth…we must also be careful and creative in our obligation to the stewardship of it.”  

As stewards of nearly 10,000 acres—as well as beef and dairy cattle operations—the Bones family legacy to lead by example is demonstrated by commitment of time and finances to protect and enhance wildlife, soil, air, and water resources on their farms. By following best practices to couple the management of minimum tilled farmland and precision application of manure, the Bones family has witnessed a 40% increase in organic matter. Higher levels of soil organic matter improve soil health, decrease soil erosion, and reduce application rates of fertilizer and pesticides, which lowers input costs to the farmer. It also means carbon is drawn down out of the atmosphere and restored in the soil, locking in a critical nutrient for healthy soils and productive lands. According to the Ag PhD Insider Magazine, “If you are building soil organic matter, that likely means your farming operation is below zero on the carbon index scale.”  

In recognition of their pioneering leadership in land stewardship, the Bones Family Farms were nominated in 2022 by The South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts to receive the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award for South Dakota. A letter of reference written by the leadership of the South Dakota Farm Bureau reflected on the farming legacy of the Bones family by saying, “As dedicated agriculturalists, the Bones family have been trailblazers in countless arenas. They have been building a legacy of leadership in agriculture, conservation, and sustainability over five generations that has made positive impacts which will continue for decades to come.”  

Walt explains his family’s legacy of land ethics: “Only a chosen few can actively steward God’s creation day in and day out. While at times this responsibility can become stressful and burdensome, my family is committed to caring for the legacy handed to us by our ancestors. My generation is preparing to pass on the legacy of caring for the land. The commitment to legacy reflects an unbridled respect, enduring reverence, and unrelenting pursuit to do more, to do better. The conservation title in the Farm Bill may support, incentivize, and financially reward farmers and ranchers for their management decisions, but I believe that is not why we do what we do every day. To be a steward of the land, one needs to be proactive and not reactive. I believe that proactively keeping families on the farm provides the best opportunity for long-term sustainability and productivity of the land.” 

The Bones family represents family farmers and ranchers throughout the nation who daily care for their land, following God’s instructions to Adam described in Genesis 2:15, to care for the garden of Eden by tilling and keeping it. The Bones farm family legacy of leading by example illustrates why EEN’s believes that the Farm Bill matters to Christians—namely that farmers are already showing us what it means to steward God’s creation, and they should be supported as they do so.  

Please contact the members of your state’s congressional delegation to encourage passage of a bold conservation program within the 2023 Farm Bill that will empower more farmers like the Bones to leave a legacy of faithful land stewardship.   


Walter Bones III of rural Parker, SD will be inducted into the 2023 SD Hall of Fame. Bones joins his father Walter Jr. who was inducted in 1988. Walt received recognition as a 2022 Eminent leader in Agriculture, Family and Community by South Dakota State University. Governor Kristi Noem presented Walt with the 2022 SD Governor’s Ag Ambassador award. 

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