Throughout his more than 30-year farming career, Lewis Bainbridge has worked to leave things better than he found them.
"We're only here for a short time. It's always been my goal to preserve the resources we have and hope to make them better for the next generation like my granddaughter, Charlie," said the Ethan, farmer, who raises corn, soybeans and cattle with his sons, Matthew and Neal.
Since childhood, Bainbridge, 62, said conservation has played an integral role in the farming practices and management decisions.
"My dad and uncles implemented grass waterways and rotational grazing. One of my uncles served on the Conservation District board, so our families planted acres of trees," he said.
Implementing no-till farming practices for the last 20 years, Bainbridge and his sons are continually practicing new conservation methods, like planting cover crops into winter wheat stubble. Since 1990 they have collected yield data on each field and use this data to improve soil health and maximize yields.
Bainbridge applies the "leave it better than you found it" philosophy to not only his land, but the agriculture industry as a whole.
He is a charter member of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. He has served as chairman of the Corn Utilization Council, chairman of the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, and is serving now as Domestic Marketing chair of the United Soybean Board. He serves on the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory Advisory Committee and Davison County Conservation Board. He is an advisory board member of the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum and a founding member of Farmers Pork Co-op.
"When you're working with other folks in the industry toward the common good, it provides a great opportunity to make a difference," Bainbridge said.
A 1972 plant science graduate of South Dakota State University, Bainbridge was the first in his family to attend college. He says that although he always knew he'd return to the farm, he knew college would help him do the best job possible.
"Even in high school, I was always curious about what would be the next new thing in farming. I knew college would answer that question."
Looking back he says the relationships he developed while at SDSU were just as valuable as the education.
"Many times the only thing that really matters is the people you meet and get to know. The folks I got to meet while at SDSU were also involved in farming. I continue to value the things we learned from each other and continue to learn from each other," Bainbridge said.
The same is true for the relationships he's built through involvement in agriculture organizations.
"It really comes down to the people I've gotten to meet and the friends I've made over the years," he said.
Bainbridge met his wife, Charlene, at the State Fair two summers before he started college. The couple married after graduation and spent the next five years traveling together while Bainbridge served as a U.S. Army Aviator. In 1977 they purchased his grandmother's farm and returned to farm with his dad, Gordon, and raise their children, Heidi, Matthew and Neal.
Bainbridge credits his sons, with his continued involvement in agriculture organizations.
"If I didn't have two sons who are making farming their career, I'd probably disengage a little bit. I love what I do and as long as my health holds out, I hope to continue working to make sure opportunities are there for my sons and their peers," Bainbridge said.
He said the fact that both his sons returned to farm with him is humbling and, at the same time, a little scary.
"This is a wonderful business, but when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big way," he said. "No one wants that to happen to their sons or daughters. It's my hope that my sons and daughters appreciate the responsibilities and opportunities in agriculture as Charlene and I have. This is a good life."