2017 Master Farm Conservationist Award

The Master Farm Conservationist Award recipient David Lee has been farming since 1963.  He has over 50 years of farm experience and he has led the way in Washington County in being an early conservation adopter. David is a fourth-generation farmer and began farming with his dad in the Tunnelton area of Lawrence County. He grew up on a farm that raised mainly used a corn, wheat, clover hay rotation; milked 35 dairy cows; and had beef cattle and hogs. In 1963, the Lee family bought a farm in Washington County and moved the family to Campbellsburg.

David married his wife, Suzie, in 1969.  He served in the National Guard from 1963 through 1969. He purchased his first farm in 1974. His purchase of 80 acres was adjacent to his father’s farm. He continued to farm with his father until 1982. David remembers growing up and using the mow board plow to turn over all of the residue in the spring. In 1966, they purchased their first chisel plow and in the mid 1970s they added soybeans to the rotation. They kept clover grass in the rotation until they started no-tilling in the 1980s. David remembers they hired a local farmer to no-till plant ten acres of corn. It turned out to be a drought year. It was the highest yielding corn on the whole operation.  

By the late 1980s, they were convinced to go 100% no-till on the whole operation. From that time, David has ran with a primarily no-till operation. Upon the retirement of his father, David began to expand his operation to make room for his son, Aaron, and son-in-law, Andy McCutcheon. He purchased the Co-op grain facility in 1994 and this investment allowed him to grow his cropland operation. He then expanded this facility in 2013. They grew their family partnership to several thousand acres before Aaron branched off on his own three years ago. 

David and Andy currently operate on farmland in Washington, Lawrence, Jackson and Clark Counties. His daughter, Amy, is very active in maintaining crop records and completing the farm books.

In the late 1990s, David added chicken litter to the operation. To maximize the return of this investment, they employed Melvin and Andy Nicholson Crop Consultants. Throughout the years, the Nicholsons have helped David to implement a detailed prescription for a nutrient management system for all of his cropland.  In addition, they have developed a pest management plan based upon scouting of these acres.           

In 2005, he purchased his first piece of precision ag equipment. Since that time, he has invested in equipment to allow him to do variable rate fertilizer and lime; swath control sprayer; and planter auto shutoffs. It was in 2008 that David experimented with cover crops. He saw so many great environmental returns by adding cover crops to the cropping system that he now plants 3,000 acres of cover crops on the highly erodible acres in his operation. He really likes cereal rye and its impact on the reduction of soil and rooting depth in the soil profile. Over the years, David has implemented on acres in his operation over 70 acres of filterstrips along streams and rivers; 125 acres of grass waterways; he has installed or maintains tile on 900 acres; 60 acres of pasture interseeding to improve grazing forage quality; and two acres of wildlife habitat.  

With the addition of cover crops in the crop rotation, David looked at better utilizing the timing of his litter application. He decided to build a waste storage facility that holds 2,000 tons of litter in 2014. With the ability to store a large amount of litter, he no longer has to store litter in the fields to wait for crops to be removed. He utilizes cover crops to tie up nutrients when he fall applies litter. These conservation practices allowed the farm to receive an environmental certification for several years from the Family Farm Group. David also maintains 1,800 acres of woodland.

David is an active member of Sugar Creek Christian Church. He has served as elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher. He served on the advisory board for Farm Credit. In 2012, the family operation began farming 16 acres of cropland for the Salem School Corporation. Since that time, David’s family operation returns the profits from this acreage to the Salem High School FFA and science club to advance environmental learning opportunities. In addition, David and Suzie have also recorded a long-term easement on all of their owned acreage to maintain it as agricultural land.

The Washington County SWCD congratulates David on a job well done!


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