Crothers win Leopold Award
CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Though “very grateful” for his family’s farm receiving the 2022 Maryland Leopold Conservation Award, Caleb Crothers humbly added that they shouldn’t be seen as better than other farms.
“I don’t think our operation is above that of our neighbors,” Crothers said on stage at the Maryland Farm Bureau annual banquet, standing with his wife Alice and their three daughters. “I don’t think we’re special, I think we’re right there with our neighbors.”
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold,Sand County Foundationand national sponsorAmerican Farmland Trustpresent the Leopold Conservation Award to farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners in 24 states for land, water, and wildlife habitat management. In Maryland, the award is presented withKeith Campbell Foundation for the Environment,Maryland Association of Conservation Districts, andMaryland Farm Bureau Inc.
Earlier this year, Maryland landowners were encouragedto apply or be nominated for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. Among the Maryland landowners nominated for the award were finalists Mount Pleasant Acres Farms of Preston and Persimmon Tree Farm of Westminster. The Crothers’ Long Green Farms in Rising Sun, Md., is among the oldest dairy farms in the state.
Caleb and Alice Crothers were in their thirties when they left behind law enforcement and healthcare careers in Knoxville, Tenn., to return to his family’s farm. Caleb took over the 200-cow herd at Long Green Farms in 2015, the year before his father, Donald, died. They also manage 560 acres in crops, all of which is preserved to be farmland forever.
Caleb said conservation goes back generations on Long Green Farm. His grandfather, Alfred Thompson Crothers Jr., implemented terraces in fields, grassed waterways, enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and other practices that Caleb’s father maintained and strengthened while adding 300 acres to the operation.
“He was probably ahead of his time,” Caleb said of his grandfather. “He dove into it first and we’re just growing off of that.”
No-till, cover crops, manure injection, aerial seeding into standing crops are some of the practices that have been added to improve the farm, along with major projects to improve land around and beyond the farm.
The Crothers partnered with Appalachian Stream Restoration and Wetland Studies in 2020 to reconstruct and realign more than 14,200 feet of streambank of a creek that feeds into North East Creek, a direct tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The project included planting 60,000 trees, grading, and installation of many stream and fish habitat improvements. The project prevents 8,763 pounds of nitrogen, 1,210 pounds of phosphorus, and 1,974 pounds of sediment from entering the creek annually.
A livestock barn with manure storage was constructed in 2017 to provide a stable, non-eroding surface to house heifers. Clean rainwater from its roof, and runoff from terraces are diverted to grassed waterways that carry water to a safe discharge area without creating flooding or erosion.
A homemade aerial applicator is used to broadcast cover crop seeds into standing crops of soybeans and corn, which gives the cover crop a jump start prior to the corn and soybean harvest.
“It changed the game for us,” Caleb said of the applicator, adding it’s now used on all their cover crop acres.
To minimize the use of commercial fertilizers, the Crothers use drag lining to apply manure on 225 acres of corn, 120 acres of soybeans, and 80 acres of hay. This process reduces field compaction and allows for precise application.
The Crothers said they don’t plan to grow their dairy herd’s size and are using conservation practices to make the farm economically and environmentally sustainable.
They said their conservation efforts help diversify the farm and impact their bottom line as well as the environment.
In many cases, the practices help reduce input costs but Caleb also anticipates them adding value to the farm’s main product — fluid milk.
“I believe we’ll see it sold as a sustainable product and I believe the next generation will value how it’s produced and I think they’ll pay more,” he said.
The Leopold award comes with a $10,000 prize and Caleb said that will help fund more conservation on the farm.
The Crothers have plans to replace an earthen lagoon with a concrete structure to store manure. With a goal of achieving carbon neutrality, they are exploring options to install a methane digester to generate their own electricity, and a sand separator to recycle sand used as livestock bedding.
“We’re going to have a chaos of projects going on around here next year so a lot of that money will get rolled into that,” Caleb said.
The Maryland Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through support from American Farmland Trust, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Maryland Association of Conservation Districts, Maryland Farm Bureau Inc., Sand County Foundation, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Horizon Farm Credit, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Delmarva Chicken Association, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Conservancy, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, ShoreRivers, and The Nature Conservancy.