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For Donald Maring, small improvements pay off big

Master Farmers: Maring pays close attention to details on his crop operation, leading to great corn and soybean yields.

Chris Torres, Editor, American Agriculturist

May 28, 2024

7 Slides

Farming more than 1,300 acres is no small job. For Woodbine, Md., grower Donald Maring, it’s just the right size.

“I never envisioned myself farming several thousand acres if I couldn’t do it myself,” he says. “My dad, he was one who was very particular, and that kind of rubbed off on me. If you’re going to do something, do it right.”

At age 69, Donald plants all the crops and does much of the fieldwork with help from one employee and some family members.

Running a farm wasn’t in the cards when he graduated from South Carroll High School in 1972.

After taking night courses in welding at Carroll Community College, he turned his attention to truck driving, buying his first Kenworth truck in 1978. He hauled frozen food and dairy products locally.

But when his father needed help on the farm, Donald, who had always been close to his dad, couldn’t say no. The family farm was started in 1949 when his grandfather started the operation, and by 1985, he joined his dad as the next generation.

His father farmed the home farm and a farm next door, a total of 140 acres of corn and soybeans, wheat and hay. There was even a small number of beef cattle on the operation.  

“I was more into grain farming than into the cattle. I just liked the fieldwork," he says.

Focus on crops

In 1990, Donald officially took over the farm and turned his attention to grain.

“I wanted to farm more ground to where I could make a living at it. So as ground became available, I picked up what I could," he says.

But he never wanted to grow too much.

Donald rents 1,220 acres and owns 105 acres. He grows 550 acres of corn and 590 acres of soybeans; 100 acres of wheat; 70 acres of orchardgrass hay; and 15 acres of alfalfa.

In his mind, it makes more sense to put as much work into what he already has and to grow yields than to just get more acres. “It’s easy to do a better job on less, and paying attention to details has been key,” he says.

So, what’s in the details? “It’s a lot of little things that add up,” he says.

In 2002, Donald bought a brand-new White planter and, with help from a friend, he installed a system to apply liquid fertilizer in-furrow. It was something very few farmers in his area had the ability to do at that time.

Over the years, Donald says he has focused more on spoon-feeding nutrients upfront to ensure his crops get what they need.

At planting, he applies 4 gallons of in-furrow fertilizer, along with micronutrients zinc, calcium, sugar, and biological and humic acids. He then applies a foliar package on his corn with a fungicide prior to silking.

Tissue sampling is done all summer to keep track of things and make changes the following year.

Soybeans get much of the same in-furrow treatment, along with some fungicide — applied by helicopter — late at pod fill.

With wheat, he split-applies nitrogen at green-up. He then uses a fungicide at flowering to treat head scab.

“By putting so much fertilizer on with the planter, it slows planting. But it gives more precise placement close to the row,” Donald says. “We broadcast very little N, P and K to meet the nutrient requirements that we don’t get with the planter, foliar and topdressing.”

The results speak for themselves. His corn averages 202 bushels an acre. In 2021, he averaged 224 bushels an acre. Soybeans average 60 bushels an acre. In 2022, the average was 72 bushels an acre and 112 bushels an acre on a 12-acre field.

Wheat averages 80 bushels, but Donald has gotten more than 100 bushels some years, mostly recently last year.

"It all adds up,” he says. “We get tissue tests back, and we seldom have any deficiencies that we need to act on and correct right away.”

Adapting with the times

But even with his success, Donald has never been afraid to adapt if needed.

For example, last year he experimented with vertical tillage after corn to help address issues with slugs the following spring. “With high-yielding corn, it leaves a lot of residue that can be great for slugs,” he says.

Three years ago. he planted cover crops on all his corn acres. He was able to get his soybeans planted the following spring, but slugs chewed through much of the young crop, forcing him to replant 240 acres. As a result, he stopped planting cover crops after corn. The vertical tillage made the situation better last year, but it remains to be seen if this is a long-term answer to the slug problem.

The past four years, he has planted soybeans ahead of corn. “The goal is to get the beans flowering on the longest days of the year, so you plant them earlier,” Donald says. “If you plant early, and it's a little bit cooler and damper, the beans can take it and emerge," he says.

In 2008, he replaced his grain storage system with brand-new bins and a continuous flow dryer that he says is much more efficient than his previous system.

In 2014, he installed a 48-kilowatt solar system on the roof of a barn, which today supplies all the farm's power.

Last fall, he bought a new John Deere S760 combine to add to his collection of Deere machines, including an 8235R, 7810, 7610, 6125, 7320 and a 4040, his first tractor and one he still uses today.

Donald says he was 50 when yield monitors came out in the late 1990s. He never thought he would need it or any other technologies, but he’s adapted.

"If you don’t keep up technology, you're soon going to be left behind," he says. "But it's amazing to have autosteer when you're planting, how much stress it takes off of you. It's amazing how nice it is.”

Giving back

Development pressure is one of the biggest challenges Donald faces year after year. Keeping agriculture relevant is what drives him to be involved in several ag and non-ag organizations, including the Carroll County Soil Conservation District, Maryland Grain Producers, Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, the county’s Senior Farmers Club and Maryland Agricultural Commission, just to name a few.

The Senior Farmers Club is one activity that stands out, he says, as it is a group of 16 local farmers who meet once a month to discuss local farm issues, growing practices and more.

But giving back to local 4-H and FFA kids holds a special place in his heart. Donald married at age 40 but divorced 10 years later. He got married again five years ago, and his wife, Terri, has children from a previous marriage. But Donald doesn’t have any biological children of his own.

Since 2010, he has purchased dozens of animals from 4-H and FFA competitors, some of whom have been donated to scholarship funds and therapeutic riding centers. It brings back memories of when he had animals when he was a child.

"I feel so bad for kids who weren't connected to somebody," he says. "You see so many of these kids where their animals don't even bring market price. I bought my first 4-H steer for $100 from a farm 3 miles away. If you want to be competitive today, you have to go to Virginia or somewhere else and buy one for big money.”

So, what does the future of the farm hold? Donald has one full-time helper who joined him seven years ago, and he has lined up a younger farmer whom he hopes will eventually take over some day.

And while the future isn’t guaranteed for anyone, Donald says he is primed for several more years of growing crops and helping ag stay relevant in Carroll County.

"I just like having the best-looking crops around. That's just the way I am,” he says. “I don't like to brag about what I do, but it's nice to hear people talk about what I do.”

Donald Maring at a glance

Operation: Donald G. Maring Farm, 1,220 rented acres, 105 owned acres. Corn, 550 acres; soybeans, 590 acres; wheat, 100 acres; orchardgrass hay, 70 acres; alfalfa, 15 acres.

Family: Wife, Terri Maring.

Ag and Community Involvement: Past president and treasurer of Carroll County Soil Conservation District; member of Maryland Grain Producers; president and vice president of Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board; president and vice president of Carroll-Howard Petroleum Services; member of Senior Farmers Club; field crops representative of Maryland Agricultural Commission; member of Carroll County Bus Contractors Association board of directors.

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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