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, were recognized at the New Jersey State Agricultural Convention Banquet recently.
“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. “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 then 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. “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 on approximately 2,000 acres. 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 2000 acres and nine crops in the last 10 years, including 27,000 sq. 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. “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. “She has supported me in every different avenue we have decided to take.”
Michael is serving, or has served, with several 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, the New Jersey White Potato Council, and on the Board of Directors for Farm Credit East ACA.