The timeworn water tower that stands in front of the Giacomazzi Dairy in Kings County is a hallmark of the farm's endurance. It proclaims, "Since 1893.”

Dino Giacomazzi, the fourth generation to run the operation, said cows have been producing milk and the land producing feed every single day of the ensuing 120 years.  

In order to maintain the family business in times of mounting environmental pressures and tightening economics, Giacomazzi became a leader in developing completely new production paradigms for dairy industry feed production in the San Joaquin Valley.

Last year, he received the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award for California, and last week he hosted a luncheon at his rural Kings County dairy to raise awareness of efforts being made around the San Joaquin Valley to boost agricultural sustainability.

"I want this to be about all the work being done here. I am accepting this award on behalf of a whole industry of people,” Giacomazzi said. "Every farmer I know is a conservation agriculturist. That's just called doing business.”

In California, the Leopold Conservation Award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation, and Sustainable Conservation. The recognition, said Karen Sweet of the Sand County Foundation, "honors ethical and scientifically sound practices that benefit us all, and inspires other landowners as an example.”

Giacomazzi, a founding member of UC's Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center, for years has evaluated equipment, planting configurations and fertilization approaches in silage production. He worked closely with other dairy operators to build a reservoir of knowledge and experience that is accelerating the development and implementation of conservation tillage practices, said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and chair of CASI.

"Dino's a person of tremendous vision for seeing a better way and for, as he is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln, 'thinking anew and acting anew,'” Mitchell said. "He's a rather unique example of someone who has had the courage to disenthrall himself of dogma and create something new.”

In the spring of 2005, Giacomazzi initiated a demonstration evaluation of strip-till corn planting in a 28-acre field as part of an Environmental Quality Incentives Program contract he had received from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. In 2006, he hosted a public field day to share what he learned about strip-till implements, planters and configurations, an event Mitchell considers the best public field day of his Extension career. Giacomazzi has traveled to Davis to address agriculture students, accepted speaking engagements -such as the keynote address at the launch of CASI last year - and hosted numerous agricultural tours on his farm.

"Dino is a leader,” Mitchell said. "He has opened a lot of eyes to what can be, to how agricultural systems can be improved, to both make money and to be good for the environment.”

During the celebration, Giacomazzi took to the podium to turn the spotlight on Mitchell. Giacomazzi praised Mitchell's personal commitment to sharing conservation agriculture practices.

Recognizing Mitchell's distinct character and energy, Giacomazzi said he could think of no more fitting way to honor him than with a customized "Jeff Mitchell Award," which he said Mitchell would hold "in perpetuity."

Contagious enthusiasm

Another founding member of CASI, Ron Harben, former field officer for the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, also spoke at the event.

"Jeff's enthusiasm is contagious,” Harben said, "but it's solidly backed up with knowledge, experience and the real desire to bring sustainability – both economic and environmental – to agriculture.”

Mitchell travels in the Valley extensively, visits farms from Kern County to as far north as the Intermountain area on the border with Oregon, and takes two or three trips from his Fresno County headquarters to Davis each week for meetings, teaching classes and working with graduate students.

"His Toyota Prius has nearly half a million miles on it,” Harben said.

During his presentation at the celebration, Mitchell also called attention to the Giacomazzi Dairy's weathered water tower.

"Think about that. There is something quite profound here,” he said. "There is no better example of sustainability. This is where sustainability is happening. This is the real thing.”

The Sand County Foundation, its major partners, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation, and its other sponsors, S. J. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and Farm Credit, are accepting nominations for the 2013 Leopold Conservation Award until July 12. Nominations of agriculturalists and foresters may be submitted at the Leopold Conservation Award website, http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

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