All farmers are environmentalists and need to be vigilant about caring for their farmland, says Doug Darling of Maybee, Mich.
Darling’s family is being honored by the Monroe Conservation District with its Friends of Conservation Award.
"We have to manage our soils," Darling explains. "You have to manage every inch of your operation. If we don’t manage our environment, we won’t make any money to care for our families."
Darling is the sixth generations of his family to run the London Township farm, which marked its 175th anniversary in 2008 and is one of the oldest in Monroe County. The farm, founded in 1833, consists of more than 1,400 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. The Darlings also custom harvest an additional 600 acres of crops in three counties.
The family has planted filter strips on more than 20 acres. The grassy strips have been a part of the family’s management plan for more than two decades, Doug says.
Three years ago, the farm was the first to be certified in Monroe County as environmentally friendly through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program for its effective land stewardship practices.
The family also stores liquid fertilizer and plant nutrients in several large tanks.
"We have a diking system that acts as an additional safeguard to keep anything from escaping," he says.
Al Norwood, district conservationist for the district, said the Darling family is blazing trails in conservation for other growers to follow.
"They’re the pioneers of a lot of things going on in the county," Norwood says. "They have been one of the more family-friendly farms in the area. They’ve applied a lot of practices and are always trying to improve their farm and make it more environmentally safe."
Elgin Darling, Doug's father, does about 95% of the combining. He first tried no-till on his corn crop in 1981. By the early 1990s, more than half of the farm’s production was no-tilled. Today, nearly all of the corn is no-tilled and all of the soybeans are no-tilled. The wheat has been no-tilled for 18 years.
"Our no-till has proven to be very profitable and economical," Doug says.
The Darlings have tried a number of new technologies and practices over the years, including GPS, the Control Droplet Spray Atomizers, Soil Doctor and On-The-Go nitrogen fertilizer analysis. Not everything they tried has worked, Doug says.
"There’s something new and better on the market every year," he says. "You have to see if it works for you."
For the past several years, they tested foliar fertilizers on soybeans to determine what impact using less fertilizer would have on yields.
The family also has participated in grower yield contests, finishing in the top 10 three times in the past 16 years. They have won awards for producing the highest corn yields and highest yields in both minimum-till and no-till categories involving land without irrigation.