Planning Ahead Pays off for Maryland Farmer

“Today, the average farm is twice the size it was 30 years ago. There are a lot less farmers, but the land base is larger. I think the only way to maintain a small family farm these days is to find a niche market. The smaller the farm, the more you need to have a niche.”
–Ed Fry, Maryland Farmer


Farm At A Glance

Ed Fry
Fairhill Farm
Chestertown, Maryland

Summary of Operation
Farming for 30+ years
Grain (organic): 400 acres, certified since 1999 -- corn, alfalfa, pasture, straw
Dairy (Conventional): 240 Milk Cows
Third Party (organic):
Subcontracts other farmers
for hay and corn to horse farms and dairy clients, to cover surplus demand.


“I made a conscious decision to start farming. My father had bought this farm in 1960, and after looking at other options I decided that the best opportunity I had was in the family farm.
I got into organic farming, because it was an opportunity to get a niche market that financially would be better for me. I could lower my cost of production, increasethe value of my product, and help the soil in the process. I think that in agriculture, because we’re a world market, it’s important to create a niche. If you try to do what everybody’s been doing for 50 years, you’ll have very little opportunity to advance yourself beyond what anybody else is doing.

"I’ve been certified organic since 1999 for 400 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture. I’ve been very happy with my results so far. In 1999 and 2000 my organic corn actually out yielded my conventionally grown corn. 1999 was a very dry year, and with the organic corn we saw that it looked full a lot longer, because the organic nitrogen-because it was organic-was being released at a much more desirable rate than on the conventionally grown corn. In 2000 our organic corn yield was 181 bushels, versus our 177 bushels conventionally grown. That’s not a significant amount, but our production costs are lower. Sure, the labor per acre is higher, but we don’t have to farm as many acres for the same amount of profit. Last year, to produce a bushel ofconventional corn was approximately $2.23. The cost to produce a bushel of organic corn was $1.79. We got $2.25 a bushel for the conventional and a premium price of $4.00 for the organic. For the hay, by providing high quality product, and by trying to market it before it’s grown, the number of clientele exceeds what I grow. It means that there’s demand, and I can charge premium prices.

"I’ve learned a number of things through this process. Farming organically you must plan much further ahead. You must have adequate labor, whether physical or mechanical. Weeds are my biggest challenge, but given good practices like rotating crops, I’ve alleviated that challenge. It’s also important to have a source of nutrients. I use my own dairy, poultry and green manure from my winter crops, and nitrogen from legumes. You must also purchase your seed in advance in order to get untreated seed. And you must market your product before you ever grow it. And that’s a different take than for conventional farming, where you often grow your product and then do the marketing. If you have these ingredients, then organic farming is relatively easy and profitable.”

This material is based upon work supported by Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-52101-9707. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the US Department of Agriculture.