2012 Farmer of the Year

Wilbur "Brownie" Pearce, recipient of the 2012 Harford Farm Bureau's Farmer of the Year honor, gave up farming a few years back and now runs a top soil business in Perryman. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / November 23, 2012)

Wilbur Brown Pearce has farming in his blood.

"All of my ancestors had been farmers. My mother and father grew up on farms, " Pearce, known to his friends as "Brownie," said. "But neither of them acquired an interest in farming."

Pearce did acquire an interest, though. He was a farmer for close to 40 years in Perryman, and also has been active in the Harford County community and with assisting other farms. On Saturday, Nov. 10, Pearce was recognized for his efforts when the Harford County Farm Bureau named him as Farmer of the Year.

Pearce's mother was a teacher and his father sold feed and farm supplies while raising him in Sparks.

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Pearce studied agriculture at the University of Maryland for two years, and then enlisted in the Air Force. It was while he was in the Air Force that he married Elizabeth Mitchell in 1955, and the two lived together in an apartment at Andrews Air Force Base. He was able to end his tour of duty 90 days early to finish his college studies, and he graduated from the University of Maryland in 1958.

From there, his farming career began. He and his wife moved to Perryman, where he started working as a farmer for the company belonging to his wife's family, F.O. Mitchell and Bros Inc., which canned vegetables.

"Mitchell's was a success in the canning business because they produced a quality product," Pearce said. "I learned from that what quality is all about."

Pearce helped diversify his part of the canning business into small grain crops other than corn.

"I've always loved farming," Pearce said. "I was glad to get the opportunity to come here and be part of [The Mitchells'] operation, and glad to have the opportunity to expand it."

Conservation started early

Pearce also grew certified seed for the agricultural cooperative Southern States. For his seeds to qualify for certification, state inspectors had to come to Pearce's farm to make sure the seeds were pure and free from weeds, diseases and other defects.

"That helped you be a better farmer," Pearce said. "[The seeds] had to be good quality because they had to buy it and send it to other farmers."

Even after the canning business ended, Pearce continued to farm field corn and soybeans. He engaged in soil conservation practices on his farm, which he is still proud of.

"We established waterways that are still used today," Pearce said. Those same waterways passed tests showing that they were free from any of the herbicides Pearce was using on his farm.

"It was evidence that we were doing a good job with soil conservation," Pearce said. "During your lifetime, if you improve things that have continued on, that's an accomplishment."

In addition to the waterways, Pearce also used "good nutrient management practices" in fertilizing his farm's soil, which was unusual at the time.

"Years ago, you bought 10 nitrogen, 10 phosphorus and 10 potash, and you spread that out everyplace," Pearce said. "If you didn't need phosphorus [or any other ingredients], you got it anyway."

Today, phosphorus, even in small quantities, is known to have detrimental effects in bodies of water, as it pollutes the water and causes more algae to grow, which in turn hurts fish populations. More phosphorus used on farmer's fields leads to it being included in runoff, which would flow into local bodies of water, like the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.

Pearce's farm became, according to him, the first in the area to have a blender, a tool that blended fertilizers to nutrient specifications that suited the needs of individual fields.

"With our blender, we didn't put phosphorus in the fields that didn't need it," Pearce said. "We were way ahead of the pull on nutriment management."