Clear Spring farmer says it's more than just cows and plows

Steve Ernst recognized with Excellence in Agricultural Stewardship, as a 2011 Smart Green and Growing Award recipient

September 29, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • The state of Maryland has recognized Clear Spring farmer Steven "Steve" Ernst with Excellence in Agricultural Stewardship, as a 2011 Smart Green and Growing Award recipient.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Clear Spring farmer Steven "Steve" Ernst doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

The state of Maryland has recognized him with Excellence in Agricultural Stewardship, as a 2011 Smart Green and Growing Award recipient.

"It was a surprise to us," Ernst said of being honored for his years of sustainable, conservation farming.

Ernst Grain and Livestock also was recognized in 2010 as one of two Maryland farms, along with Rinehart Orchard in Smithsburg, in the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program launched last year, Ernst said.

The 2011 award presentation was made at an agriculture luncheon this summer with Gov. Martin O'Malley at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, Md.

Ernst said he was recognized for farming conservation practices started by his grandfather in the 1940s and 1950s and continued by his father.

He describes both men as "progressive" in their farming practices, based on their levels of higher education and information gained by working with Cooperative Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"We don't like to call attention to ourselves, but we think it's important to be good stewards," Ernst said.

Some of those practices include using riparian and grass buffers on stream banks, grass waterways, crop rotation and planting cover crops, with the main goal of controlling erosion and water runoff.

They also use zero-till farming that doesn't turn the dirt, reducing their use of fertilizer.

A sixth-generation farmer, Ernst manages a 624-acre grain, swine and sheep operation in Clear Spring. He is the third generation to work the farm on Broadfording Road. The previous property was one mile west of their current farm.  

Ernst, 47, is a 1982 graduate of Clear Spring High School and a University of New Hampshire graduate, where he majored in extension education with an agribusiness minor.

He and his wife, Sheila, have been married since 1988. They have four sons — one in college studying resource economics, and one each in high school, middle school and elementary school.

Ernst's father graduated from the University of Maryland with a master's degree in meat science, then was a professor at the University of New Hampshire.

"Today's agriculture is not just cows and plows. They were very education-minded and -oriented," Ernst said of his father and grandfather.

Ernst runs scientific tests such as soil and plant tissue analysis, and DNA blood work.

In addition to managing the family business, Ernst works full time doing crop consulting and dairy nutrition work for Martin's Elevator Inc. in Hagerstown.

Three generations are involved in running the farm. Arnita Ernst, Steve's mother, helps with the business, and Steve's college-age son comes home on weekends from Potomac State College in Keyser, W.Va., to help out.

"Why six generations later? There's an immense sense of stewardship and responsibility that I am very blessed to be part of. I like working with the soil and the animals, and the farmers. There's a sense of producing something — working in God's creation to produce that," Ernst said.

"It's been very good to our family as far as providing for us and the quality of life."

For more information

More information can be found by searching for Steve Ernst — Grain Producer at

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