Sussex Conservation District
Baxter Farms, Inc.
James “Jay” H. Baxter, IV owns and operates Baxter Farms Inc., in Georgetown, Del., with his wife and three sons. Baxter is a fourth-generation farmer and works with the Sussex Conservation District for conservation planning and best management practices. “Just as my family before me left a legacy of productive farmland, I want to leave a legacy of higher producing farmland for my children and their children,” Baxter said.
Baxter Farms is a 2,000+ acre farming operation growing corn, soybeans, wheat, sweet corn, black eyed peas, fresh market edamame and lima beans. The Baxters also have a 200,000 broiler chicken operation. The farm utilizes many species of cover crops, including legumes, grasses and brassicas.
The Baxters are still young in the efforts to build the soil’s organic matter utilizing minimum till, no-till and cover crop practices. They started using cover crops on a very small scale 10-15 years ago and now 100% of their cash crops no-till into cover crops, including processing vegetable crops.
The Baxters first began utilizing cover crops as part of a standard for applying waste water irrigation that required a crop be growing all year long. Since then, the Baxters have continued exploring different, more efficient processes, including, but not limited to, the Sussex Conservation District’s cover crop air seeder built by Buckeye Soil Solutions in Ada, Ohio. The air seeder plants cover crops into a standing agronomic crop. The cover crop takes advantage of the longer growing degree days to get a good start.
Since implementing these practices, the Baxters have seen a tremendous increase in soil health, including soil aggregate size and soil tilth. Decreased erosion due to rain runoff and wind displacement is an added benefit. Increased soil health has also added to the water holding capacity, decreased soil temperature variation and increased organic matter, all contributing to the Baxters’ bottom line. In addition to utilizing drinking water, the Baxters are also fans of water recreation – fishing, swimming and water skiing. These sports are part of the heritage that will be passed on the next generation along with healthy soil and a profitable business.
There have been some modifications to the Baxters’ plans along the way. They have adapted their herbicide program and invested in additional application, tillage and planting equipment. In the future, the Baxters anticipate they could be combating invasive organisms such as slugs due to the changing soil environment.
The Baxters have a list of noxious and other weed species that have created a challenge for no-till and cover crop utilization. The region is known for vegetable production, which historically has always used conventional tillage practices. Some areas of the region have heavier soils that don’t drain as well, making it hard to establish cover crops during certain times of the year. Another challenge the region faces is the incorporation of poultry manure. The Baxters continue to reevaluate the health of their land and to make adaptations through the guidance of Sussex Conservation District to improve their operation and their bottom line while being good stewards of the land and good role models for future generations.
Updated November 2018.