Feb 14, 2023
Michael Brooks named N.J. 2023 Outstanding Young Farmer

Michael Brooks, a Salem County vegetable and grain grower, has been chosen as New Jersey’s 2023 Outstanding Young Farmer by the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture.

Brooks and his wife, Emily, are also one of 10 finalists for the 2023 National Outstanding Young Farmer Award, which will be awarded at the National Outstanding Young Farmer Congress on Feb. 16-19 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Michael Brooks, with his wife, Emily, is the New Jersey Outstanding Young Farmer. Photo: N.J. Department of Agriculture

“Michael Brooks is building on his family’s agricultural legacy by expanding the operation and significantly increasing the number of acres they are currently farming,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said in a news release. “Michael’s vision for the future of his farm as well as his comprehensive knowledge of the industry combined with hard work and unwavering commitment provides a model of success for other young producers to emulate.”

Brooks has been involved in agriculture since he started helping on the family farm at a young age, and became more involved in high school when he assumed a greater labor role in his parents’ operation. This included working on his FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience Project of raising one-half acre of strawberries, and then transitioning to growing spinach and green beans for a local frozen food processor.

“Since I was young, I liked being outside with my parents and working on the farm,” Brooks said in the release. “I enjoyed being outside and working on the production side of it. FFA sparked the interest of farming on my own.”

After 20 years of being involved in the family business, Brooks is an eighth-generation farmer whose Dusty Lane Farms is a diversified operation. The farm’s primary crops include potatoes and peppers as well as other vegetables and grains and has grown from 500 acres and five crops to 2,000 acres and nine crops in the last 10 years, including 27,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

Brooks has embraced modern technology to make the operation more efficient. That includes two GPS guidance systems that conserve fuel and labor, three greenhouses for transplant production that have automatic irrigation booms and computerized systems to control heat and ventilation giving them the ability to grow 22,000 trays of plants, using remote soil moisture sensing for drip irrigation in pepper production, planting a cover crop on more than 1,000 acres each year, and building a plant tissue culture laboratory for rapid plant replication.

“My goal now is to have a viable operation if my children so choose to come back and work on the farm,” Brooks said in the release. “I always wanted to grow the business by different avenues with different crops.”

While his wife Emily has a professional career, she and Michael support one another in all aspects of their careers. They have three daughters and Michael credits Emily for instilling the values of an agricultural background, the merits of self-sufficiency, and working together with family towards a common goal.

“Emily has sacrificed her career for our family and involvement in farming and agriculture,” Brooks said in the release. “She has supported me in every different avenue we have decided to take.”

Michael Brooks is serving, or has served, agriculture-related organizations, including New Jersey Farm Bureau, the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey, the Salem County Board of Agriculture, the Upper Pittsgrove Ag Advisory Board, the Woodstown FFA Alumni Association, the New Jersey FFA Association, the Potato Industry Leadership Institute and the New Jersey White Potato Council, and on the board of directors for Farm Credit East ACA.

The Outstanding Young Farmer program is the oldest farmer recognition program in the U.S., with the first group of national winners selected in 1955. The goals of the program are to foster better urban-rural relations through the understanding of farmers’ challenges, as well as the appreciation of their contributions and achievements; to bring about a greater interest in farmers/ranchers; and to help build an urban awareness of the farmers’ importance and impact on America’s economy.

The program encourages a greater interest in agriculture and recognizes local citizens’ contributions. The National Outstanding Young Farmer program is sponsored by Deere & Co., administered by the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity, and supported by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, the National Association of Conservation Districts and the US Junior Chamber of Commerce.

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