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David and Belinda Burrier Receive Maryland Leopold Conservation Award

David and Belinda Burrier of Union Bridge are the 2023 recipients of the Maryland Leopold Conservation Award®.

The award honors farmers and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.

The farm couple from Frederick County were revealed as the award recipient at the Maryland Farm Bureau’s Annual Convention on December 4. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Maryland the award is presented with Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Maryland Association of Conservation Districts, and Maryland Farm Bureau Inc.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold advocated for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Among the outstanding Maryland landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Daniel A. Donohue of Accokeek in Charles and Prince George counties, Mount Pleasant Acres Farms of Preston in Caroline County, and Persimmon Tree Farm of Westminster in Carroll County.

Earlier this year, Maryland landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The Maryland Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Maryland Association of Conservation Districts, Maryland Farm Bureau Inc., Sand County Foundation, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Horizon Farm Credit, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Delmarva Chicken Association, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Conservancy, ShoreRivers, and The Nature Conservancy.


This is a story of a farm bisected by a creek, and a farming career bisected by an injury.

Growing up on a dairy farm along a Chesapeake Bay tributary named Linganore Creek, David Burrier always knew he wanted to be a farmer.

His father divided the farm’s large crop fields into narrow contour strips to prevent soil erosion. The steeper the slope the narrower the strip. When his father told him that a shovel of soil lost to erosion could not be replaced in a lifetime, those words left an impact.

David began farming on his own in 1976 by renting farmland and doing custom work for neighbors. After considering the labor and equipment required for conventional tillage, he grew his first crop of corn with no-till practices. Being an early adopter of conservation practices often requires innovation. David devised his own 11-row no-till soybean planter by combining two corn planters in the 1980s.

With each growing season he saw less erosion and more nutrients staying in place, but no-till was not a silver bullet for efficient crop production. David addressed soil compaction next. He learned not to plant or harvest when it was too wet. Whether entering or exiting a field, or loading a truck, he always chose a different location, and he never turned around in a field. Just as his father did, David installed grass waterways on his leased farmland to collect sediment and protect water quality.

Tragedy struck in 1985 when David suffered a severe back injury. He was partially paralyzed following two unsuccessful surgeries, and by 1993 he was totally immobile. It was then his farming career came to a halt. He stopped renting farmland, and with some initial apprehension went to work for a fertilizer company.

For nearly a decade, David, a detail-oriented agronomist and self-described “numbers guy” took pride in helping dairy farmers up their agronomic game by knowing the nutrient needs of his clients’ 30,000 acres.

Life soon took another unexpected turn. David calls it a miracle that a surgeon was found who could repair his back. Decades after he had begun farming on his own, David and his wife Belinda purchased the 109-acre farm he grew up on in 2004. After renting some more farmland, David left his job and followed his passion to farm again in 2007.

They both took on leadership roles in a variety of agricultural organizations, cooperatives, and foundations, including Belinda’s tenure on the executive committee of the United Soybean Board.

David didn’t miss a beat in his management of 900 acres of hay, corn, soybeans, and wheat. The use of cover crops and other conservation practices doubled the amount of organic matter on his fields, which improves water infiltration, improves soil health, and naturally suppresses weeds.

As for Linganore Creek that bisects the farm, the Burriers kept a former cattle pasture in permanent grass as a buffer between the creek and crop fields. They had an independent lab take monthly water samples at both ends of the farm. The water was cleaner when it left the Burrier farm than when it entered it. Eventually the lab recommended discontinuing testing because all levels of nutrients were too low to measure.

It's an example of how those with the patience and ethic for conservation can eventually see amazing results. It’s a lesson David knows well.

Watch their conservation success story


“It’s so heartening to learn about the Burrier’s story, and the longevity of their commitment to stewarding land and water. We are proud to support this award, and wish to celebrate the Burrier’s outstanding accomplishments. We hope the farming practices they have instituted will continue to be a model for others,” said Samantha Campbell, President of The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment.

“Congratulations to Maryland Farm Bureau members David and Belinda Burrier on being named the 2023 Maryland Leopold Conservation Award recipient. The Burriers are passionate about continuing to preserve and improve Burrier’s Linganore Farm, but are also leaders and agvocates in the community. They are a great example of someone using best management practices including cover crops, no-till, and creating pollinator habitat,” said Wayne Stafford, Maryland Farm Bureau President.

“MASCD congratulates the Burrier family on being recognized with the Leopold Conservation Award. They have long been amazing advocates and leaders within the ag industry and their innovation and forward-thinking management has had tangible results for soil health on their farm and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay,” said John Swaine, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts President.

“These award recipients are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Burriers,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont).

AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.

MARYLAND ASSOCIATION OF SOIL CONSERVATION DISTRICTS serves as the voice of Maryland’s 24 soil and water conservation districts on state legislative issues. It also provides a forum for training, policymaking and the exchange of information at their annual and quarterly gatherings. Its mission is to promote practical and effective soil, water, and related natural resources programs to all citizens through individual conservation districts on a voluntary bases through leadership, education, cooperation and local direction.

MARYLAND FARM BUREAU®, INC. is a 501(c)(5) federation that serves as the united voice of Maryland farm families. Our organizational strength comes from the active participation of over 12,000 individual and family members who belong to the state’s 23 local county Farm Bureau organizations. Since 1915, Maryland Farm Bureau has been committed to protecting and growing agriculture and preserving rural life. Maryland Farm Bureau is a proud member of the American Farm Bureau® Federation.

SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

THE KEITH CAMPBELL FOUNDATION FOR THE ENVIRONMENT’S mission in the Chesapeake Bay Region is to improve water quality and ecological balance in the Bay and its rivers, as a healthy bay fosters a vibrant regional economy and provides exceptional recreational opportunities and a better quality of life. The Foundation provides approximately $7 million in funding through more than 150 grants annually, and has been funding in the region since 1998.