EASTON — What makes a successful farmer? Master Farmer Bobby Hutchison said optimism, determination and an appetite for challenges are must-haves. It also “helps to have family work with you,” he said.
It also helps to care about the land as a God-given resource for which farmers are all stewards.
“We want to make the land better than it was,” Bobby said. “Soil conservation is part of our family, starting with our father. We don’t want to be on the ‘bleeding edge;’ we want to be on the cutting edge. We love our land and animals. If you like something, you improve it.”
That family, which includes his father Earl, brothers John Earl, Harold, Richard and David, nephew Kyle and son Travis, have devoted 250 man-years to farming in Talbot and Caroline counties. John Earl and Harold, who live nearby, are retired.
What makes the Hutchison Brothers’ operation of 3,400 acres different from other well-managed farms in the Mid-Shore area is its consistent use of innovative conservation practices. These include cover crops, no-till (early adopter), woodchip bioreactors for nitrogen removal and nitrogen (fertilizer) applications that vary, using active sensors to gauge precisely how much nitrogen to use but not overuse.
The Hutchison Brothers’ environmental stewardship will be honored at a celebration on Thursday, May 30, where they will be named Chesapeake Champion for the Environment, an annual award sponsored by Horn Point Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Horn Point Lab is an environmental research facility on 880 acres on the Choptank River near Cambridge. UMCES is the only institution with the University System of Maryland focused entirely on advanced environmental research and graduate studies. Its research focuses primarily on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and restoring coastal health.
Bobby said he was “very much surprised” when he learned about the selection of Hutchison Brothers as the 2019 Chesapeake Champion “for restoring water quality and soil health through sustainable agriculture,” according to HPL.
Hutchison Brothers Farm will be the seventh recipient of the annual Chesapeake Champion award, as well as the first farmers to receive it.
“(The Hutchison brothers) have been leaders in sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship and maintaining a successful business,” Horn Point Lab Director Mike Roman said.
“Environmental stewardship has been the key to pass on the farm from generation to generation,” Travis Hutchison said. “It is critical to success when a family wants the farm to continue.”
HPL scientist Tom Fisher has worked with farmers the past few years to encourage best management practices to improve water quality in local rivers. He has observed closely the Hutchisons’ farm practices and their commitment to environmental sensitivity.
“They seem to have a well-discussed family attitude about farming,” Fisher said. “First, it has to be profitable to pay their bills; second, it has to be reasonable — not unduly expensive or complex; and third, it has to be considerate of the environment.”
“However, for the Hutchisons, concern for environmental impacts is not a distant third,” Fisher said. “They are open-minded, understand that farming has environmental impacts and are open to new ideas that can benefit the environment.”
“I put the environmental consideration in third place on purpose, because farmers are small businessmen, and if they can’t make some profit and have time for other activities occasionally, they disappear,” Fisher said.
The family farming operation never loses sight of producing a profit, Bobby said. The brothers invest in conservation methods when it is affordable.
He said their methods are not exceptional. He’s probably too modest.
“Many of the (the Hutchison Brothers’) new ideas are based on putting the right kind of fertilizer on the right place, and at the right time that crops need the fertilizer,” Fisher said. “This should be a win-win, reducing farmers’ fertilizer costs, decreasing losses from their farms to nearby streams and improving downstream water quality.”
Pat Langenfelder is former president of the Maryland Farm Bureau and a Kent County farmer who has known Bobby Hutchison for many years. “I met him as a result of our involvement in ag organizations,” she said. “He has been a leader in the adoption of many innovative agricultural practices and technologies.”
“He has demonstrated a willingness to try new things that will improve soil health and crops, while at the same time improve water quality,” Langenfelder said.
“Bobby was at the forefront in the adoption of cover crops,” she said. “I remember visiting Hutchison Brothers where he and his brothers demonstrated the benefits of cover crops to government officials and other farmers.”
Langenfelder also pointed to Bobby’s off-the-farm activities, as do others when they talk about him. “Bobby has for years been a spokesman for the ag industry, opening the farm to tours and by testifying in front of many legislative bodies. During that time, he held leadership roles in various farm organizations. He and his brothers certainly deserve the recognition as the 2019 Chesapeake Champion,” she said.
In 2005, the family was inducted into the governor’s Agricultural Hall of Fame. Bobby is a member emeritus of the Harry Hughes Agro-Ecology Center in Queenstown and was named the first-ever Master Farmer from Talbot County in 2017 by the Mid Atlantic Master Farmers Association. His father Earl was one of the founding board members of Talbot County’s Soil Conservation District.
Richard Hutchison, who — along with brother David, still manages the farm operation — served for more than two decades as member of the Talbot County Planning Commission. He also is a former board member of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
“Richard always believed in land preservation, both supporting ESLC and leading Talbot County through, I believe, at least two meaningful rural down-zonings,” ESLC President Rob Etgen said. “Richard took a lot of heat from the farm community on the down-zonings, but he was steadfast, and his reputation as a man of faith and principle brought his farm community around at the end.”
Bobby’s goal is try to have the best yield possible and improve it yearly.
And, of course, in Hutchison family tradition, he wants to improve the land. Upgrading water quality is a priority, though it “doesn’t help or benefit the bottom line,” Bobby said.
Like any small business that has existed as long as the Hutchison Brothers Farm operation, it survives on “home runs,” times when the yields were good and the profits ample. Bobby cited the early 1970s, the 1990s and mid-2000s as home run years. He characterized current times as “tough,” with no extra money for new environmental initiatives. Yet, pursuit of best management practices still seems a top priority, if affordable. Nearly 500 acres of the farm are preserved forever with conservation easements.
The Hutchisons raise corn, soybeans, barley, wheat and cucumbers. Peas and lima beans are grown and shipped to PictSweet Farms in Bridgeville, Del. At one point, the family also raised hogs.
Bobby Hutchison said he knew from age 12 that he wanted to farm. “There’s nothing I’d rather do,” he said. “Though I could retire now, I want to continue farming for as long as I enjoy it, and I can.”
In the meantime, the brother farmers will join others who have are champions for the environment.
Past Chesapeake Champions are Amy Haines, the first recipient in 2013, followed by John E. “Chip” Akridge in 2014, C. Albert Pritchett in 2015, Alice and Jordan Lloyd in 2016, Jim Brighton in 2017 and Jerry Harris in 2018.
The Chesapeake Champion celebration will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 30, at the Waterfowl Chesapeake Building, 40 S. Harrison St., Easton.
Tickets to the event are $50. Proceeds will benefit the research of HPL’s graduate students and faculty.
Sponsorship opportunities are available. To date, individuals and companies sponsoring the event include Out of the Fire; Jerry and Bobbi Harris; Tom and Sheila Buckmaster; Beverly and Richard Tilghman; Mike and Jennie Roman; Todd Kana and Patricia Glibert; Al and Dagmar Gipe; Monika and John Relman; Beverly and Mick Edgell; Willard Agri-Service; ShoreRivers; Wayne and Joyce Bell; Eva M. Smorzianiuk, M.D.; Dan Watson and Brenda Stone; Larry and Alison Sanford; Gary and Jeri Epstein; Jim and Betty Crothers; Buffy Linehan; Carin Starr and Jock Beebe; Omer F. Brown ll; Jef and Mary Kinney; the Goodwin Family; Atlantic Tractor of Queen Anne; Maryland, Shore United Bank; and Anonymous.