MASON, MI -- After more than 60 years spent helping farmers implement conservation practices, Murray Stall has earned his reputation as one of Michigan agriculture’s foremost leaders in environmental stewardship. He’s also now earned Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) 2016 Ecology Champion Award, given annually to individuals demonstrating outstanding achievements in helping protect natural resources by addressing potential environmental risks on farms.
“He’s dedicated his life to soil and water conservation practices, working hand-in-hand with landowners to develop quality solutions on their farms,” said Seth Earl, president of the Mason County Farm Bureau. “He lives it, he breaths it, he understands it. He understands what it means to be a community leader, and he understands what it means to be a quality individual.
“This award couldn’t be more warranted for anyone else. He believes in what we do, and what he does.”
And Stall has been doing what he does longer than anyone in the state. His passion for agriculture began at an early age, working on his family’s 80-acre farm and being actively involved with the Charlotte FFA. After graduating high school in 1952, Stall went to work with the Soil Conservation Service in Eaton, Ingham and Calhoun counties.
He championed no-till cropping, working with farmers to demonstrate the technique’s effectiveness in minimizing soil erosion while maximizing soil health, and helped design and implement conservation practices like grade stabilization, surface drains, grassed waterways and water drainage.
That included laying a tremendous amount of drainage tile—upwards of 500,000 feet in a year, Stall estimates. In one exceptional year, that number was doubled to more than 1 million feet—nearly 200 miles.
His 1989 “retirement” didn’t last long; in 1990 Stall joined the Thornapple-Grand Soil Conservation District, then moved up to Mason County five years later. Since then he’s served farmers there and in neighboring counties, helping them pursue and achieve verification in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
As a MAEAP technician for Mason, Lake and Manistee counties, his passion for stewardship has been central to the completion of more than 650 Farm*A*Syst and Crop*A*Syst protocols, helping identify and minimize potential on-farm environmental risks.
Murray facilitates educational workshops to help farmers stay current on record keeping and emerging issues while also earning RUP and MAEAP credits. He works with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the county Farm Bureau and other partners to organize a summer farm tour, sharing information about topics including drone use, smoking tile lines and reduced-tillage techniques.
His expertise extends to encompass the data management that comes along with modern stewardship techniques, including water use reporting, nutrient and pest management analysis and online recordkeeping.
But at the center of Stall’s effectiveness is his ability to connect with farmers at a personal, human level. Often insisting that the most important part of his work is to develop long-lasting friendships with farmers, Stall invests as much time connecting with growers and their families as he does connecting the dots toward their stewardship goals.
“I feel the work we do is extremely important to the agricultural industry, and I am blessed to work with some of the most honest, committed, hardworking people in the world,” Stall said. “It’s been a pleasure, working in this area. I’ve made a lot of friends.”
Among them is Bill Stakenas, whose family runs a dairy farm in northern Mason County, near Free Soil.
“I’ve worked with Murray on numerous occasions and in several capacities since he arrived in Mason County in 1995,” Stakenas said. “He’s been a steady presence in our agricultural community.
“I’ve witnessed his work ethic, endearment to the community and expertise in conservation while I served on the Mason-Lake Conservation District Board of Directors,” Stakenas said, praising Stall’s work helping almost 40 Mason County farms achieve MAEAP verification, and, , helping growers secure cost-share funds for well closings, nurse tanks and offset hydrants.
“Murray’s exemplary service to our farming community is evident,” Stakenas said. “He develops long-lasting relationships and values the connection he makes with farmers.”
Ecology Champion nominations come from county Farm Bureaus, but candidates needn’t belong to the organization. This year’s Ecology Champion won an Apple iPad, courtesy of the MFB Agricultural Ecology Department.