David and Belinda Burrier of Union Bridge are named the 2023 recipients of the Maryland Leopold Conservation Award.
Having always known he wanted to be a farmer, David began in 1976 by renting farmland and doing custom work for neighbors. After considering the labor and equipment required for conventional tillage, he grew his first crop of corn with no-till practices. Being an early adopter of conservation practices often requires innovation. David devised his own 11-row no-till soybean planter by combining two corn planters in the 1980s. With each growing season he saw less erosion and more nutrients staying in place.
Tragedy struck in 1985 when David suffered a severe back injury. He was partially paralyzed following two unsuccessful surgeries, and by 1993 he was totally immobile. It was then his farming career came to a halt. He stopped renting farmland, and with some initial apprehension went to work for a fertilizer company.
For nearly a decade, David, a detail-oriented agronomist and self-described “numbers guy” took pride in helping dairy farmers up their agronomic game by knowing the nutrient needs of his clients’ 30,000 acres.
Life soon took another unexpected turn. David calls it a miracle that a surgeon was found who could repair his back. Decades after he had begun farming on his own, David and his wife Belinda purchased the 109-acre farm he grew up on in 2004. After renting some more farmland, David left his job and followed his passion to farm again in 2007.
They both took on leadership roles in a variety of agricultural organizations, cooperatives, and foundations, including Belinda’s tenure on the executive committee of the United Soybean Board.
David didn’t miss a beat in his management of 900 acres of hay, corn, soybeans, and wheat. The use of cover crops and other conservation practices doubled the amount of organic matter on his fields, which improves water infiltration, improves soil health, and naturally suppresses weeds.
“The Burriers are passionate about continuing to preserve and improve Burrier’s Linganore Farm, but are also leaders and advocates in the community,” Wayne Stafford, Maryland Farm Bureau President, says. “They are a great example of someone using best management practices including cover crops, no-till, and creating pollinator habitat.”
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the award to private farmers and forestland owners in 27 states who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.
In Maryland, this award is presented with Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Maryland Association of Conservation Districts, and Maryland Farm Bureau.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold advocated for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
Among the outstanding Maryland landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Daniel A. Donohue of Accokeek in Charles and Prince George counties, Mount Pleasant Acres Farms of Preston in Caroline County, and Persimmon Tree Farm of Westminster in Carroll County.
Maryland landowners were encouraged to apply for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.