Lippy Brothers Inc. bucks the vanishing-farm trend

Family cultivates nearly 10,000 acres

February 04, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Ten years ago, burgeoning development in Carroll and Baltimore counties made the Hampstead-based Lippy brothers wonder if they could continue farming thousands of acres of grain and vegetables in Central Maryland.

"But we're farming even more acres now than we were then," Keith Lippy, 36, son of one of the four founding brothers, told the more than 50 business people, farmers and retirees at yesterday's monthly Agribusiness Breakfast at Baugher's Restaurant in Westminster.

Lippy Brothers Inc., now the largest grain and vegetable farm in the Baltimore metropolitan area, farms 9,700 acres in Carroll and Baltimore counties and in southern Pennsylvania. It is a corporation and a family farm, known as much for big state-of-the-art equipment as for members' involvement in 4-H.

"It's still a family farm, it just has changed in its scope of operation," said Bob Jones, a retired director of the Maryland Cooperative Extension office in Carroll County, and a regular at the Agribusiness Breakfast.

Brothers T. Edward, Joseph, Wilson and Donald grew up on their parents' small dairy farm in Hampstead. All four, now in their 60s and 50s, went to the University of Maryland, and brought back agriculture degrees to gradually build their expansive operation.

Incorporated since 1965, Lippy Brothers employs about 22 people full time, eight of whom are family members -- Edward, Joseph, Donald, Joe's sons Keith and Craig and son-in-law Jamey Mathews, and Donald's son Matthew and son-in-law Brad Rill.

Wilson Lippy, who attended yesterday's breakfast, left the corporation in 1990 to operate a smaller farm of his own but retired in December and is leasing his land to his brothers.

Lippy Brothers' farming operation has grown while residential and commercial development has sprouted around its far-flung fields. The Lippys have often bought smaller farms or leased land from retired farmers or other owners, and continued to grow crops on the land, often adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

"One of the biggest challenges now is taking equipment out on the road," Keith Lippy said yesterday.

Such extensive fields have required workers to take lumbering combines and tractors onto winding country roads and state highways, where traffic has increased.

Those attending the breakfast asked questions about weed control, marketing and how to divide responsibilities and specialty areas. For a crowd with a high interest in agriculture, it was a chance to ask detailed questions of the most visible farm operation in the county.

"We market all year long," Keith said. "That's probably the toughest part of farming -- marketing."

In preparation for yesterday's talk, he said, he asked his uncles about the biggest challenge facing farming.

"They said, `Making money.' "

He said his uncle Donald Lippy tends to specialize in markets -- following the price of corn or soybeans, and when to sell or when to hold out for a better price. But decisions are made with three or four people reaching a consensus, and consulting several market reports and information from around the world.

Sometimes the group decision-making results in arguments, but the resulting decision is more sound, more likely to be based on objective information and less likely to be the fault of one person's erroneous judgment, he said.

Another farmer asked whether the Lippys use crop insurance.

They do, Keith said, and have always gotten the value of their premium back in payments. But he said it has never been a great help.

"If you lose everything, you get a little" in insurance payments, Lippy said, to much mumbled agreement around the room.

Two farmers asked whether the Lippys were hampered by environmental groups that might see them more as a corporation than a family farm. Lippy said such groups haven't been a problem. The farm has maintained records in anticipation of new fertilizer and manure regulations the state is writing, he said.

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