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Serving: IN

David Lee builds farm piece by piece

Slideshow: This southern Indiana farmer is aggressive when necessary and a sound community member.

David Lee knows more than a little bit about hard work. David, 75, grew up on a farm near Tunnelton in Lawrence County, Ind., with rolling hills best suited to a diverse operation. He helped his father, Ray, raise corn, wheat and clover hay in rotation. The farm included 35 dairy cows, beef cattle and hogs. All that adds up to hard work. That laid the foundation for how David would later build his own operation.

Hard work and dedication to agriculture are two of the reasons David is being recognized as a 2019 Master Farmer. The award is co-sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture.

The Lee family bought a farm in Washington County and moved to Campbellsburg in 1963. David officially joined the farm that year, and married Suzie in 1969. He purchased his first farm, 80 acres adjacent to his father’s farm, in 1974.

“We’ve been fairly aggressive at buying land and renting cropland when it made sense over the years,” David says. “That helped us continue to look to the future and grow.”

Eye on expansion

David continued growing the farm even after his dad retired in 1982. David and Suzie’s son, Aaron, joined the operation in 1993. At about the same time, David bought the co-op grain facility in town and used it as a base to expand further. His son-in-law, Andy McCutcheon, became part of the operation in 1997.

Today, the farm consists of primarily a corn and soybean rotation that is all no-till, unless special circumstances require working land disturbed by flooding. Even Suzie’s home farm in Clark County, rented to another farmer due to distance, is no-tilled.

“We run a Great Plains Turbo-Max vertical-tillage tool on stalk ground in the fall and have had good success with it, but we don’t run it in the spring,” David says.

“We’re convinced no-till has made a difference,” he adds. “We’ve dug pits before just to look at the soil. There are earthworms there, and they do a lot of good. The soil has definitely changed and improved over the years.”

The Lee family began using cover crops a few years ago. They’ve typically relied on wheat and cereal rye. When conditions allow, they sow 3,000 or more acres to cover crops.

“Some of it is aerially applied, and some we seed later,” David says. “We really like what we’ve seen when we’ve used cereal rye as a cover crop.”

Recent changes

David decided the grain center, which was once the local co-op, was due for an upgrade in 2013. He expanded storage capacity by adding a large storage bin. He also installed a tower dryer that could handle significantly more bushels per hour and do it more efficiently.

Aaron and his family decided to begin farming on their own in 2015. Even after splitting into two operations, both have remained successful.

David purchased the home farm near Tunnelton from his siblings in recent years. He continues to invest in land if it makes sense and fits with where they already farm.

He follows the same strategy he always has followed: Work hard and grow as you go.

Check out the slideshow to see photos of the Lee operation, and read what others have to say about David and his Master Farmer nomination.

David Lee at a glance

Age: 75
Location: Salem, Washington County; family farms and/or owns land in Washington, Lawrence, Clark and Jackson counties, Ind.
Spouse: Suzie
Started farming: David joined his dad, Ray, in 1963 after the family moved to Washington County.
Others in operation: son-in-law, Andy McCutcheon; daughter, Amy, is integral part of operation, doing a large portion of bookkeeping and record keeping
Crops: corn and soybeans, some timberland
Livestock: none today but raised Angus-Simmental cross cattle until 2009
Employees: Travis Branaman, Kerry Becraft, John Stivers and Brandon Ritter
Tillage methods: primarily no-till — runs vertical-tillage tool after cornstalks in the fall; grows large acreage of cover crops, primarily cereal rye
Children: Aaron Lee (Kelley); Amy McCutcheon (Andy); seven grandchildren
Leadership: David is on the local Farm Credit advisory board and was recognized with the Washington County 2017 Master Farm Conservationist award. He is active in Sugar Creek Christian Church. He has farmed the Salem Community Schools farm for many years, following various restrictions on when to spray and complete operations. He donates the sale of the crop from the land to benefit the Salem FFA Chapter and Salem High School Science Club.
Nominators: Larry Huffmeyer, Osgood, Ind., and daughter, Amy McCutcheon
Notable: David and Suzie have recorded a long-term easement on all the land they own to maintain it as agricultural land.  
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