For Mary­land farm­ers, ev­ery day is Earth Day

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Wil­liam Lay­ton

Three times a week, I go out run­ning around a path that I made around three of my soy­bean fields. Not a sin­gle day goes by that I don’t think about the con­nec­tion be­tween this land and my fam­ily.

Earth Day is a day when we all think about the en­vi­ron­ment, when we look at how we take care of the land and how to leave it in bet­ter con­di­tion than we found it.

Ev­ery day is Earth Day to a farmer. Tak­ing care of the land is my job and my pas­sion. My land is my her­itage, my in­her­i­tance, my busi­ness, my recre­ation, my safe haven and my re­tire­ment.

No one poi­sons the well they drink from, and farm­ers are no ex­cep­tion. Good, clean, pro­duc­tive land is how I feed my chil­dren and will put them through col­lege. I may have a piece of pa­per that says that I own the land, but I know that I am only a care­taker. The land was here long be­fore me, cared for by many gen­er­a­tions. I ex­pect it will be here long af­ter me, cared for by my chil­dren and their chil­dren.

Mary­land farm­ers, as a group, are the most pro­gres­sive and en­vi­ron­men­tally minded in the na­tion. This year, we once again broke the record for cover crop acres planted, one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to pro­tect both our land and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

We’re far ahead of other mile­stones set for the Bay, too, in­clud­ing plant­ing stream­side for­est and grass buf­fers, re­tir­ing highly erodi­ble land, and con­struct­ing stor­age for an­i­mal ma­nure, which is an im­por­tant source of or­ganic nu­tri­ents for our crops.

We’ve got soil con­ser­va­tion and wa­ter qual­ity plans on half of Mary­land’s til­l­able acres and have em­braced the ma­nure trans­port pro­gram, mov­ing four times the amount of ma­nure than the goals pre­scribed.

I of­ten hear,”Sure fam­ily farm­ers take care of their land, but what about cor­po­rate farms?” I don’t know of a sin­gle farm that isn’t a fam­ily farm (and I know a lot of farm­ers). Fam­ily farms — owned by broth- ers, by a fa­ther and son or daugh­ter, by a hus­band and wife, or by cousins — of­ten will in­cor­po­rate for le­gal or fi­nan­cial rea­sons. The USDA says that 97 per­cent of farms in the United States are fam­ily-owned oper­a­tions.

Some­times th­ese farms are large, be­cause farms, like ev­ery other busi­ness, have to grow to sur­vive. You can’t go out and make a good liv­ing on 100 acres like you could in my grand­fa­ther’s day. To­day it’s more like 2,000 acres or more for corn and soy­bean grow­ers.

How can farms that large take care of the land ad­e­quately? Tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion. To­day it’s pos­si­ble to do a bet­ter job with 3,000 acres than my grand­fa­ther could with 100. We no longer have to plow the land, which de­stroys the struc­ture and bi­ol­ogy of the soil and leaves it open to ero­sion. GPS tech­nol­ogy al­low us to treat ev­ery sin­gle acre in­di­vid­u­ally.

Ask a farmer any­thing about his land, even the lit­tlest de­tail, and he’ll know it. Ask where there are prob­lems with grasses, or pig­weed, or marestail, and he’ll know. Ask where the wet spots are, or spots that get as hard as con­crete in the sum­mer. Ask where wa­ter runs off the land, and where it will pond up. A farmer knows his farm like the back of his hand. Most will tend ev­ery acre four or more times a year, plant­ing, scout­ing, fer­til­iz­ing, killing weeds and har­vest­ing.

My fam­ily has owned the farm I live on for 68 years now. Three gen­er­a­tions of Lay­tons have all been raised in the same house, on the same land. When I watch the sun rise over the fields each morn­ing, I know the only thing more im­por­tant to me than my land is my fam­ily.

En­joy Earth Day, and make a pledge to see first­hand how farm­ers make ev­ery day Earth Day. We wel­come you to visit our farm, or sug­gest Mary­land­sBest. net to lo­cate farms near your home to visit, where you can see land and wa­ter qual­ity ef­forts in ac­tion.

Wil­liam H. Lay­ton is the chair­man of the Mary­land Soy­bean Board. He, his wife, Jen­nifer; and his fa­ther, Joe, raise soy­beans, corn, wheat and grapes on a 1,300- acre farm in Dorch­ester County. The fam­ily opened Lay­ton’s Chance Win­ery in 2010.

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