Not every young farmer can say they’re among the top farmers in the nation, but Derek and Renee Martin, Mount Pulaski, Ill., can make that claim. They were recently named one of four National Outstanding Young Farmers award winners by the Outstanding Farmers of America organization, during dayslong competitions among 10 finalists.
“Really, the most important thing that Renee and I have achieved [from this experience] is a set of wonderful friends that will last a lifetime, from old to young in agriculture, that we can team up together with and help promote agriculture going forward,” Derek says.
At one point known as the Jaycees Outstanding Young Farmer award, this award is presented based on agricultural production and progress, conservation achievement, and community involvement.
Derek and Renee are the seventh generation to operate Martin Family Farms near Mount Pulaski. They raise corn and soybeans on 3,600 acres, where half those acres also grow cover crops. They farm with Derek’s brother and sister-in-law, Doug and Erin Martin. Derek and Doug’s father, Jeff, an early no-till pioneer, has been reinvigorated by the new technology and possibilities in today’s agriculture. To say the Martins are “big soil conservationists” might be an understatement.
“We strip till and no-till everything,” Derek says. “We really hang our hat on improving soil structure and soil quality through cover crops and biologicals that we use on our farm.”
Derek says they’ve been able to decrease applied inputs, thanks to using a biological mix on their soils. They work with agronomist Brad Hobrock, AgriBio Systems, to create a biological solution with more than 4,000 beneficial fungi and bacteria.
Applied in both spring and fall, the solution is called Biomax. “It allows us to bring our soil ratios back into balance of maybe what they should be when it was just prairie grass,” Derek explains. “It improves our soil health, improves our soil aggregation, water infiltration and our water-holding capacity.”
Further, Derek says they’ve been able to decrease total applied nitrogen for the past three years while maintaining yield. Last year, they eliminated soybean seed treatments, and pesticides and insecticides on their soybeans.
“We don't use any fungicide on any of our crops — corn or beans — because our soil is proven to be healthy enough to take care of those things naturally like it should,” he adds.
They apply a majority of their nitrogen in the fall as anhydrous with strip till, and then make another pass in the spring with a chemical pass behind the planter. They want to put on less fall-applied N, but their primary goal is to move away from anhydrous and N-Serve, to improve soil health. “We’ve actually eliminated N-Serve in our nitrogen program because our soil is healthy enough to hold that N without a stabilizer,” Derek says.
WINNERS: Renee and Derek Martin were named one of four national winners at the recent National Outstanding Young Farmers conference in the Quad Cities.
Renee left her job as a dental hygienist last year, focusing instead on the farm. She’s become a “brewmaster” of sorts for their biological solutions.
“You have to brew it, almost like a tea,” she says. “It takes a lot of time to do that.”
Derek and Renee have two boys, Dean and Reed. They’re also active in the community, coaching youth sports, and serving the park district, drainage district and county Farm Bureau. They’re also working to share their farm story through their website, Facebook page and a new soil health podcast.
As part of their National Outstanding Young Farmers prize, the Martins will receive a savings bond from John Deere and a trip to the 2020 National Ag Day festivities in Washington, D.C. They also will be featured in a segment with Orion Samuelson on “This Week in Agribusiness.”