BUSINESS Q&A: Mark and Shelley Hopkins, Farmers in Lothian
In cooperation with the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, we’ll be publishing their monthly Ag Business Q&A. You can find this month’s full Q&A with Mark Hopkins here. The Hopkins Family Farm is located off of Bayard Road in Lothian.
Tell me a little bit about your business and the history of its establishment.
Farming has been in my family for four generations. We have cows (250), sell seed, hay and straw, and custom plant corn and beans. Our farm has 100 acres of land, but we also rent around 30 farms which give us a total of 1500 acres. My dad, brother and I are partners and work on the farm full-time. We also have two to three seasonal helpers. My wife, Shelley, sells crop insurance and works full time at the Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District. She helps on the farm when she can.
Walk us through a day on the farm?
I get up early to work on the farm—usually between 7 and 8 a.m. I typically start the day by getting equipment ready, which depends on the season. I always work until dark. During harvest time if conditions are right we will work into the night.
What are some of the challenges you are facing in your business?
It’s very difficult to move up and down the roads. Our equipment is getting bigger. Many people are not farmer-friendly and get very aggravated when they are behind us on the road. Even though we have our vehicles clearly marked with big bright lights, we still get a lot of negative responses.
New legislation now allows farmers to construct some agricultural buildings in Anne Arundel County without a building permit as long as they have an active farm plan with the AA County Soil Conservation District. This one change in legislation has helped farmers to save money and time.
What are the current trends in this industry and what advice would you give someone who is considering starting a business in this field?
Right now there is a trend to do more cash crops which is anything planted on a few acres, such as produce.
Agriculture is starting to specialize around here. We have vineyards coming in. You need to find something that you can make more money in a small area. That’s why tobacco was so good around here. My dad was one of the biggest tobacco farmers in this area. If we hadn’t had tobacco as a crop in the past, we would not have what we have today.
Another trend is that many farms are turning over to an equine business. There are 4590 horses in this county. There are also farmers moving to Iowa or the eastern shore because they want to expand their farms. The land is more readily available.
One thing I would suggest to someone thinking about starting an agricultural-related business would be to raise rabbits. There are not many farmers doing this, and I think it could be a very successful business. This is a business you could maintain on a small amount of land with low disturbance to neighbors—rabbits are low noise and produce a lot less smell than other animals.
What is uniquely special about doing business in Anne Arundel County?
The group of farmers in Anne Arundel County is a tight group that gets along very well. They help each other out.
Another great program in the county is the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) at Southern High School. This program started four years ago and hardly had any students. Now the program has a waiting list and more than 200 students enrolled. We are happy to see that young students interested in a career in agriculture can now get training as early as high school.
My wife and I recently re-started the Young Farmers group (ages 18 to 35) and are meeting once a month. We host events to raise money for scholarships we offer to students pursuing agricultural-related degrees. The group is not just for farmers but also for people interested in agriculture. Our mission is to prepare young farmers for leadership roles in the Farm Bureau where work is done towards making necessary changes (including legislation) in the future for our business. As the chairman of the Young Farmers, I automatically get a seat on the Board of Directors for the Farm Bureau. The young farmers’ community needs more information about what we are doing and that’s the reason I wanted to get on the Board.
We have about 30 active people in The Young Farmers group now. The most up-to-date information is on our Young Farmers Facebook page. The next event we are planning is a Young Farmer Breakfast & Trapshoot on February 15.