2021 Cooperator of the Year
Blaine Hitchens, of Laurel, is following in father and grandfather's footsteps, farming nearly 1,000 acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The operation consists of cropland in a corn, soybean and cover crop rotation and six poultry houses with a capacity of 150,000 broilers.
Hitchens began his soil health journey with no-till over 15 years ago, adding cover crops over 10 years ago. More than five years ago he began planting green; now, every acre has a living root growing year-round.
Hitches annually participates in Sussex Conservation District’s (SCD) cover crop cost-share program. Additional nutrient, irrigation, pest and best management practices have been implemented through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other Farm Bill programs. These conservation efforts reduce overall nutrient applications, absorb excess nutrients, prevent runoff and soil erosion which protects and improves water quality all while making his operation more sustainable.
In 2019, Hitchens became a National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Soil Health Champion and hosted the planting green soil health field day. He is featured in the USDA NRCS 2019 #OurFarmersRoadtrip story map and Conservation at Work no-till video, SCDs cover crop commercial, several Cloud to Cab podcasts and news articles. He was also selected to participate in a national economic case study by the Soil Health Institute in partnership with NACD. In 2020 Hitchens shared his experiences with others during a virtual farmer panel event. Most recently, Hitchens has been preapproved for the installation of a high tunnel.
His passion for soil health and dedication to conservation is evident in everything he does.
-Hitchens planting corn into a green Austrian winter pea cover crop in late April 2021; corn approximately one month later.
-Hitchens taking a momentary break from filming the USDA NRCS no-till video.
-D. Lyle Jarrett of Quantico, Md., Vernon “Chip” Baker of Millsboro, Richard Carlisle of Bridgeville and Blaine Hitchens of Laurel, intently listen to speakers Hans Kok and Loran Steinlage at the caffeine and cover crop breakfast at Rudy’s Family Diner in Harrington on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The event gave farmers an opportunity to discuss soil health topics with industry experts.
-NACD Soil Health Champions from Sussex County, Del. attend the cover crop workshop are, from left, James “Jay” H. Baxter IV of Georgetown, Vernon “Chip” Baker Jr. of Millsboro, Brad Ritter of Nassau, Guy Phillips of Georgetown, Steve Groff, owner of Cover Crop Coaching, and Blaine Hitchens of Laurel at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Company on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
-Hitchens speaks at the soil health field day in 2019.
-Practicing no-till increases biodiversity, Hitchens is hands-on in the field.
47 ABC • July 16, 2021 • Local farmer working to combat climate change with soil preservation
Delmarva Farmer • May 29, 2020 • Hitchens experimenting with biostimulents to control house litter ammonia
Soil Health Field Day • Aug. 20, 2019 • Planting Green
From Cloud to Cab • Aug. 20, 2019 • Planting Green Soil Health Field Day Farmer Panel Recording