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Farmer Trey Hill and landowner Joe Hickman walk through farm fields.
KEY PARTNERS Farmer Trey Hill (left) and landowner Joe Hickman (right) discuss the importance of conservation on Joe’s farmland. © Katie Schuler

Food & Water Stories

Building a Farming Partnership for a Sustainable Future

As a landowner, Joe Hickman relies on Trey Hill using conservation ag practices on his land.

Improving Soil Health Through Partnership

Through their nearly 30-year partnership, Trey Hill and Joe Hickman have shown that no-till farming, cover crops and nutrient management can dramatically improve soil health—leading to both a cleaner environment and a healthier financial bottom line.  

Trey Hill is a man of many talents. As a seasoned farmer, he collaborates with 60 landowners to increase the productivity and the sustainability of their land. Joe Hickman and Black Horse Flag Farm in Maryland near Chesapeake Bay are no different. Since 1992, Trey has rented farmland from Joe, forming a successful partnership that has shown farms can be productive and environmentally sustainable. By improving soil health and effectively managing nutrients, Trey and Joe have ensured their partnership is both profitable and environmentally sustainable.  “It’s really a collaboration between the farmer and the landowner,” says Trey. “If we fail with the crops, then neither one of us makes any money.”

By implementing a no-till system, managing nutrients and planting increasingly diverse cover cropping techniques, their work has significantly improved soil health and water quality, while also mitigating climate change by locking more carbon into restored soil.  These practices also save money by reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that must be applied to the land. 

Conservation Partners Trey Hill farms 10,000 acres of rented land in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay region. Joe Hickman is one of the farm's landowners. Trey and Joe work together to use soil health and nutrient management practices for the benefit of their business, the environment and their community.

If you own a farm, it's not like owning alphabet stocks. It's a long-term play. We've realized if you're going to keep in it, you've got to treat soil health, conservation and your environment.

Black Horse Flag Farm, Maryland

A Conservation Ripple Effect

Like a ripple effect, the fish and wildlife of the region have flourished, too. Large fish nurseries, horseshoe crabs and dolphins are now a part of the ecosystem, heralding a healthy working relationship between the farmland and nature. Most landowners do not even meet the farmers working on their land. But Joe Hickman has realized that collaborating closely with them and understanding the processes behind what makes a farm and its surrounding lands stay healthy and vibrant is the key to sustained success—both economically and for nature.

“Farms are a long-term play. The more you keep at it the more you realize you have to care about soil health, conservation and the environment," says Hickman, and by continuing to work with Trey Hill, he is definitely headed for an even brighter future.

Did you know:  According to The Nature Conservancy’s reThink Soil report, each 1% of U.S. cropland adopting an adaptive soil health system translates into $37 million of on-farm value through greater productivity.