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Keeping crops from growing hungry Farm consultant manages nutrients


Andrew Martin prides himself on being a connoisseur of manure.

"If you think you're having a crappy day, I deal with it every day," joked Carroll County's new nutrient management consultant. He tests county farmers' soil and manure to determine how much commercial fertilizer is needed to meet a crop's nutritional needs.

Mr. Martin, a Howard County native, spent 12 years working on his family's 600-acre dairy farm before his father sold it in 1988. Four years later, with a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y., he returned to his home state to take the position created by his brother Mark in 1989.

"My [youngest] daughter was 6 days old when we got in the truck to get here," Mr. Martin said of his move with his wife, Debbie, and two children June 6. "It was nutsy, but that's how we ended up here."

Only Tim Heckert, who moved to Australia with his fiancee in early June, has served in that position between the two Martins. Mark Martin now works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service in Montgomery County.

"The Martin boys have survived in agriculture," said Andrew Martin, 29. "I always planned to move back to the Carroll County-Howard County area, and with my farm background and education, the job fit."

Twelve years of milking 140 head of cattle with his 10 siblings has served Mr. Martin well as he tries to teach farmers new nutrient management techniques, he said.

"I talk farm talk, and people sense that when I talk to them," he said. "Also, I can relate when a farmer needs information right away. When I'm on a farm on Wednesday and he's pushing me that he wants the [soil] tests done tomorrow because the fertilizer salesman is stopping by the next day, I know why."

After testing a farm's soil and the manure to be spread, Mr. Martin writes a nutrient management plan that assesses how much commercial fertilizer the farmer will need to meet the crop's nutritional requirements, he said. Plans for some of the larger county dairy farms indicate that manure will meet all their fertilizer needs, he said.

"I'm really excited when a farmer is a little skeptical of my recommendations, and we order a nitrogen quick test and it confirms them," Mr. Martin said. "Then, when they get to harvest and get the expected results, it's really great."

But, he said, "Our job is not to tell farmers how to farm. I'm just a consultant."

Fertilizer companies offer nutrient management tests to grain farmers, but usually don't seek business from livestock farmers, whose animals provide a certain amount of natural fertilizer.

"There are 800 farmers in the county with manure, and they're the ones I'm excited about," Mr. Martin said.

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