The mental image of sustainable farming in our minds is a quaint patch of land making organic produce. At the crack of dawn a farmer and workers wander through the fields with mugs of herbal tea and maybe a Buddhist prayer for good crops. By midday the produce will be on its way to a local farmers market where couples stroll about on a Sunday looking for the kale they will use in tonight’s salad.
Now imagine corrugated steel. Four story high grain silos. Massive combines powered by GPS technology. Genetically modified seeds and nitrogen-based fertilizers. This is the landscape of Harborview Farms, a farm in Rockhall, Maryland that is not only sustainable but may be the future of farming.
Harborview is run by Trey Hill, a third generation farmer who has taken on the challenges of modern industrial agriculture by working with environmentalists in order to make his farm more sustainable while still increasing yields. His combines use advanced GPS in order to drive themselves across the fields while mapping the yield from each section. They can lay down fertilizer with less than 1% waste. During the off months, he plants cover crops to protect the Chesapeake Bay from fertilizer leaching. There’s even a 280,000 kW solar array on the farm!
Trey doesn’t call this sustainable farming, “Rather than sit here and argue about definitions […] why not just say ‘responsible agriculture’ […] which I view as just being more knowledgeable in everything. I know what I’m doing, I know why I’m doing it and I have a reason for doing it.” Trey’s methods have spread, with Harborview managing over 40 farms across the county. His yields are up, his costs are down, and his crops are grown in a responsible way for the future.
Is this is how we feed 9 billion people?
Gabe Salkin and Mel McIntire are seniors at The George Washington University majoring in Journalism.