The land and those who till it have always attracted Tim A. Heckert's attention.
He is putting that attraction to work as the county'snewest nutrient management consultant for the Extension Service. He helps farmers cut costs and maintain productivity by using available nutrients, identified through soil and manure analysis.
"The manure almost always handles the phosphorus and potash needsof crops, as well as part of the nitrogen," he said. "Often, all a farmer has to add is commercial nitrogen, which is found in most common fertilizers."
The job also helps the 28-year-old Hampstead resident do his part to protect the environment.
"Ten years ago, farmers would ignore the fertilizer value of manure," he said. "They would just spread it without calibrating the nutrient content, and then addcommercial fertilizer."
Since a crop can only absorb so many nutrients, the excess would run off into streams and eventually "overfertilize" the Chesapeake Bay with algae blooms, he said.
Soil and manure tests show farmers an exact amount of nutrients and prevent overfertilization, he said. The tests save money.
"If a farmer is already putting manure down, he might as well get the whole value of it," he said. "When I show a farmer how to save $20 an acre, taking manureinto account as a fertilizer, his eyes light up."
Heckert came toCarroll about a month ago, after working in Baltimore County for 18 months.
He already has contacted 20 farmers here, testing samples for nutrients and discussing the benefits of the program. Tests cost $5 per soil sample; manure samples -- worth about $40 -- are free.
The test samples, which are sent to labs at the University of Maryland at College Park, show which nutrients exist in the soil and manure. They also tell the farmer what else to add to ensure a successful crop.
Heckert takes over the job begun 10 months ago by Mark Martin, who resigned to enter a training program with the federal Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.
Martin completed more than 70 nutrient management programs in Carroll, encompassing 12,000 acres. Heckert said he plans to keep up the pace.
Heckert, who grew up in Timonium, graduated from Towson State University in 1987 witha degree in geography and environmental planning and began look
ing for a job that would keep him outdoors.
"All my relatives come from the Pennsylvania farm country," he said. "My parents' generationstarted getting away from the land, and I wanted to get back."
Heckert hopes to have a farm of his own one day. He owns 40 wooded acres near Gettysburg, Pa., and supplies firewood to the whole family.
"Farmers are the hardest workers and most underappreciated in the country," he said. "I appreciate the opportunity to work for them."