Trey Hill

Meet the Face of Sustainable Farming in the USA

Can a large-scale corn and soybean farmer in the United States also be an environmentalist? Trey Hill thinks so – and he's proving it. As the fourth-generation farmer who manages Harborview Farms in Maryland, Hill represents a generation of sustainable farming practitioners who are creating a new dialogue around what farmers can – and should – be doing to shape more sustainable programs.

Fresh Perspectives on Modern Farming

As the latest addition to the global ForwardFarming network, Harborview Farms is leading by example under Hill's direction, showing how agriculture professionals can keep ecologically-sensitive areas healthy and strong, while inviting open dialogue and collaboration around preservation efforts.

A pioneer of experimentation, Hill's approach embraces the intersection of innovative technologies and traditional farming techniques. At Harborview, a number of conservation activities, such as no-till crop production, extensive cover cropping and solar power, among others, all contribute to the farm’s mission of practicing and promoting sustainable agriculture.

At Bayer’s annual AgVocacy Forum in February 2018, Hill was part of a panel discussion that included Nick Goeser, director of the Soil Health Partnership for the National Corn Growers Association, and Moira McDonald, program officer of the Walton Family Foundation. Below, we share his remarks about the opportunities and challenges of sustainable farming.

Optimistic about Sustainable Farming in the United States

Q: Harborview Farms is on the Chesapeake Bay, which is under federal mandate, and farmers in your area/business are under “super scrutiny” with popular pressure and legal benchmarks. How do you view this?

A: The optimist in me says, well, if we need to change the way we farm, how do we go about doing it? Or better yet – let’s talk about economics: how do we get funding for these programs? How do we take the environmental community, embrace their ideas, and be able implement them on a farm? We need to collaborate in order to go to the state, and get funding for say the Maryland Cover Crop Program, which has the highest rate of adoption of cover crops in the country by far. My county is probably 85 percent cover crop right now. Why do we have the funding to do that? Because the environmental community said [that] if we help farmers grow better crops by paying them to do it or at least paying for the service of doing it, then we’ll have cleaner water. I am an environmentalist… a person who is concerned with or advocates for the environment.

Farmer and environmentalist Trey Hill of Harborview Farms

I am an environmentalist.

Farmer Trey Hill of Harborview Farms, part of the Bayer ForwardFarming network

Bringing Farmers and Environmentalists Together

Q: When did you realize that environmentalists and farmers needed to have a more open dialogue?

A: For me, it started quite some time ago. We had a Pfiesteria outbreak in the Chesapeake Bay that had a big fish kill about 25 years ago, and the environmentalists and famers were still archenemies: they were against us, we were against them.

I'll give my father credit. He's a very old-school person, but he said: "We need to get these folks out here. We need to show them what we’re doing and how we’re doing it."

From there, we explained why and how we were doing things. We [showed that] we're not just out here in our bib overalls just going at it – we're really technical.

Becoming a “Soil Health Person”

Q: What are the pros and cons of being an environmentalist and a farmer?

A: I think a big part of it for me hasn't just been the social aspect of it or the environmental aspect of it – a lot of it has been the economics. I rent a lot of land from multiple different landowners. By differentiating myself and becoming a 'soil health person,' making sure that the soil is cared for even if it costs me a little money – from future logistics, future acquisition of land – I'm hoping that gives me a competitive advantage.

We have super farmers in the United States – and Maryland [specifically] – so my peer group, my competitors are very strong. It's very difficult to differentiate yourself. One of my differentiations has been to become more environmentally-responsible and join the consumer-driven demand for eventually having carbon foot-printing and all this other stuff that I think we need to start laying the foundation for. That's the reason I've started to dedicate a reasonable amount of my time to this. It's not just altruistic, it's [because] I need to do this for the future of the farm, for the future success of our farm.

Watch the complete Interview with Trey Hill

Learn more about Harborview Farms and the ForwardFarming network here.

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Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation