- Uses a Greenseeker to reduce nitrogen use to cut costs, increase efficiency
- One of the first farms in the state to practice soil conservation, nutrient management, conservation tillage and crop rotation.
- Stores bulk chicken manure on the farm to reduce costs
Bioreactors, irrigation, cover crops and the utilization of Greenseeker technology are just some of the steps the Hutchison Brothers are putting to use to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
The Hutchison Brothers farm nearly 3,500 acres around Cordova, Maryland. Bobby is a partner in Hutchison Brothers along with his brother, Richard, his son, Travis and his nephew, Kyle. Their 130-year-old farm is one of the largest in the state and was one of the first to practice soil conservation, nutrient management, conservation tillage and crop rotation.
Located along the eastern shore of Maryland, they produce field corn, wheat, seed barley, malting barley, soybeans and vegetable crops of peas, lime beans and cucumbers.
Bobby Hutchison started championing conservation in agriculture as a young farmer when it became apparent that farmers needed to be at the forefront when it came to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
“We want clean water as much as anyone does,” says Bobby.
One of the conservation measures in the farming operation is bioreactors. “The bioreactors are a big step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned,” says Bobby.
The bioreactors are installed at the edge of three fields to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from entering the Bay and streams.
The operation also has grassed waterways and cover crops- mostly wheat and barley- and cover about 2,700 acres of their operation. The Hutchison’s use wheat and barley not only as a cover crop but as a cash crop as well. The cover crops help to retain the nitrogen applied and help reduce the amount applied yearly. The cover crops also help to hold soil in place. They plant soybeans into their barley and wheat crops every year after the harvest and plant soybeans as a double crop.
In Maryland, farmers are compensated for planting cover crops, up to $75 an acre. As a result, Maryland has one of the highest cover crop acreages planted. The program was created to help stop water runoff from fields and clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
To be eligible for the cover crop program, farmers must be in good standing with the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program and be in compliance with Maryland's nutrient management regulations.
The program provides grants to help farmers offset seed, labor, and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops. Maryland has earmarked approximately $22.5 million for the 2018 program.
For their corn, the Hutchison Brothers farm uses Greenseeker technology (a sensor measuring tool) for on-the-go variable rate nitrogen application. They use six sensors mounted on the sidedress applicator to measure the chlorophyll and biomass to optimize nitrogen rates.
Kyle Hutchison says he utilizes the information gained from 6” tall corn to help determine the nitrogen application. The information gained can then be used to reduce the amount of nitrogen applied during sidedressing. He says this is very useful since the farm spends about 25% of the total cost of farming on nutrients.
Irrigation water reuse
Irrigation is another tool used on many of the fields in the operation. Approximately 2.3 of their acreage is irrigated and includes a total of eight ponds and 28 center pivots. One of the conservation projects the operation has installed is a waterline to help reuse water, especially since they farm on very sandy soils.
Kyle Hutchison said the farmers in the area are always just two weeks away from a drought because the soil doesn’t not retain water. On the original farm, they have installed 1.8 miles of water line from a river on one side of the farm which empties into a pond and then is pumped to another irrigation system another 1.8 miles away.
The Hutchison Brothers say it has paid off and they determined the costs factors and benefits using their long-term history of the fields. The tiles in the fields run to a catch pond, then it is pumped back out of the ponds and applied through their center pivots.
Bobby says he got involved in the conservation programs over 30 years ago when the Chesapeake Bay was polluted andfarmer were getting the blame for the nitrate overload. He felt farmers needed to voice their opinion and be involved in making the waterways a better place.
Today, he is still involved and has compiled a list of the many ways the Hutchison Brothers protect water quality.. Currently, the list has 43 ways the farm is practicing conservation, and he tries to add to it every year.
Bobby says one of the first ways the farm worked on conservation was by reducing tillage. Their out-of-the-norm conservation practices includes a manure transport program and manure storage buildings. The farm utilizes the poultry industry by purchasing the manure in the off season and storing it on their farms. It provides a cost savings, reduces runoff and ensures the operation has it when it’s needed. The farm also does not apply a winter application of fertilizer, and they created setbacks for fertilizer and manure applications. Because of all this, the farm has reduced the amount of fertilizer applied by 50%.
The conservation practices don’t stop there, they started a voluntary nutrient management plan and when it became Maryland law, they were ready.
“But once you put it on paper, and you take a minute to look outside your window and reflect we know we’re doing everything we can to help clean that water,” says Bobby.