Nominate Your Ohio Farmer Master Farmer
Use the attached form to nominate a deserving farmer you know today. Nominations due by January 1, 2017.

In 1926 The Ohio Farmer joined some 20 other farm publications to honor the work of farmer in the state each year for their leading roles in agriculture, citizenship and good family living. Those chosen for the award have been recognized for their achievements in “Good Farming, Clear Thinking and Right Living.” The Ohio Master Farmer Award is a sincere effort to honor top Ohio farmers who have generously devoted their time and energy to building stronger communities and better agriculture.

Applications for this year’s awards must be received by January 1 or earlier of the previous year. The awards are presented in March. Supporting letters from the nominees pastor, county extension agent, banker, or other agricultural or civic leaders will strengthen the nomination. These letters will be forwarded to the judges for viewing.

Send completed nomination form and supporting letters to: Editor [email protected]

The links below allow you to download the form in one of two versions - a Word document or an Adobe pdf file. Choose the one that works best for you. Word VersionPDF Version

Two new farmers are being added to a distinguished list of Master Farmers. They join a group of highly respected Ohio producers who have been presented this award since the program was reinstated in 2012.

The Master Farmer award recognizes outstanding farm management, innovation, conservation and leadership. Honorees demonstrate how to farm more effectively, efficiently, environmentally and economically.

The award is named the same year it’s given; however, it acknowledges a lifetime of achievement and not a single year.

History of success
This year’s honorees are highly successful; they operate and manage their farms with a high level of proficiency with a focus on sustainability.

The 2016 Ohio Master Farmers are Dave Brandt of Carroll and Jan Layman of Kenton.

They were nominated by their peers and honored at the Ohio Conservation Tillage Conference March 2 in Ada.

They received a plaque and pin from Ohio Farmer magazine, and this year, Carhartt recognized the honorees by donating jackets.

Row crop farmers
Brandt, with his wife, Kendra, farms almost 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. He is one of the state’s largest advocates for soil conservation practices, such as no-till and cover crops. He has served in many leadership positions within the industry. 

Meet the Ohio Farmer Master Farmer class of 2016
Dave Brandt pays close attention to the soils on his central Ohio farm in Carroll. He often retrieves the shovel he carries in the back of his Polaris utility vehicle to pull a quick inspection on what he calls “the livestock underground.”

It’s that microbial activity he loves to see building up by using a no-till and cover crop system. Dave is often the go-to guy and guest speaker at functions regarding soil health. With the land being the base of agriculture, it’s certainly fitting that Dave and his wife, Kendra, were recently named 2016 Ohio Master Farmers.

As a young man in high school, Dave helped his grandfather, Earl Cooper, on the farm, milking 24 cows, tending hogs and growing potatoes. He had plans to expand the farm after graduation, but Uncle Sam stepped in, put him in the Marines and sent him to Vietnam for 28 months — but not before he married his wife of now 50 years.

He returned to farm about 600 acres with family until his father was killed in a tractor accident. The farm was sold, and the assets were divided, but Dave’s will to farm was not squashed. He and Kendra became tenant farmers on 640 acres and more than doubled the initial livestock on the farm to 200 cows and 200 sows.

“We did that for 17 years before liquidating everything and buying my grandfather’s 80 acres in 1971,” says Dave, who began putting the farm into no-till.

While acquiring more land and rental ground, he worked as a soil and water technician for Fairfield County, teaching farmers no-till practices. “But after four years of no-till, we saw yields decline,” Dave says. “We didn’t have equipment to go back into tillage, so we had to find a way to maintain yields without tillage.”

In 1978, Dave began using monoculture cover crops. For over 20 years, he stuck to single-species cover crops, planting rye, and if fields were going to corn, using hairy vetch or winter peas. He says soil health improved steadily every year.

Multiplying covers
In 1998, Dave incorporated dual species of cover crops and then went even further into big blends — even 10-way blends. The farm is also intercropping with the planter and a high-boy seeder.

Soil tests are done yearly to evaluate how the cover crops are working. “It’s a learning curve.  But you don’t want cover crops that flower, as the nutrients from the soil are used for reproduction. I talk about our failures and learn from what worked, but also what didn’t. We do a lot of research that is documented daily.”

Time spent on equipment is now diverted to walking fields and looking at soil. “The change has been from using tractors and equipment to using the brain and eyes,” Dave says.

The return is there. He says it’s common to see a 6- to 8-bushel yield bump with rye going into soybeans. “And it could lower herbicide costs because rye suppresses weeds; it has reduced ours by about 50%.”

Using legumes with corn fixes nitrogen, he adds, reducing N fertilizer costs the first year, with lower potassium and phosphorus costs in three to five years. “Cool-season legumes in March gave us 50 pounds of nitrogen for corn,” he adds.

With winter peas and radishes, he says he gets 200 pounds of nitrogen, 30 pounds of phosphorus and 250 pounds of potash.

When the Brandts first bought the farm, organic matter was at 0.5%; today it is at 8%.

Cover crops have also eliminated the need for fungicides and insecticides on the farm. “Brassicas are used to capture nutrients, but they also give off a sulfur odor that fumigates soil in the fall and kills soybean cyst nematode,” he explains.

Diversification adds value
The Brandts harvest more than corn and soybeans. With a neighbor, they have about 6 acres of pumpkins. At one time they also had 5 acres for produce. “We raised everything from A to Z,” Dave says.

“It’s a little smaller now, but with grandson Matt and daughter-in-law Ann [who is a Master Gardener] having an interest, the garden may be growing,” says Kendra, who manages the project and markets the produce at farmers markets. “We are looking to add honeybees.”

The idea to grow fresh produce for direct market stemmed out of necessity. “About 20 years ago we were losing ground to development. It changed our  mindset; we needed to be more than corn and beans,” Dave explains.

With cost share through the Environ-mental Quality Incentives Program, the farm has two 24-by-45-foot hoophouses. “We can bring things to market three weeks earlier in the spring and about five weeks later in the fall,” Dave says.

Conservation is also top of mind for the Brandts. They use buffer strips, tile drainage and waterways. A containment facility was also built. The farm hosts Natural Resources Conservation Service training schools for new employees and is the site of the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District annual meeting.

Randall Reeder, a retired Extension ag engineer at Ohio State University, nominated Dave for the award. He noted that Dave’s highest service to agriculture has been with the Ohio No-till Council by hosting several no-till field days.

“I am always eager to share and show how to improve soil health and profitability,” Dave says.

Looking forward, Dave says his son, Jay, who is a senior chemist at Sherwin Williams, wants to come back to the farm.

Dave and Kendra Brandt

Family: Son Jay is married to Ann; their children are Chris, 20, Isaac,18, Matt, 15, and Therese, 9. Daughter Amy is married to Gregg Brock;
their children are Ethan, 16, and Sarah, 11.

Farm: Brandt Farm is in Carroll in Fairfield County. The family owns 161 acres and rents 796 acres, and uses continuous no-till production of corn, soybeans and wheat with cover crops. Fresh produce is grown, including tomatoes, sweet corn and pumpkins.

Nominator: Randall Reeder, Ohio State University Extension, retired

Leadership: Member of the Ohio Corn and Soybean associations; Ohio Farm Bureau past president, membership chairman and treasurer; River Valley Cooperative board president; Ohio No-Till Council member; Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District board member; OSU Piketon research committee member; Natural Resources Conservation Service program host and training instructor; International Gideons treasurer and jail ministry provider for Fairfield County; and host for the men’s fellowship of Believers Bible Church

Awards: Ohio No-till Council’s Conservation Educator Award, Ohio State University South Center’s Supporter of the Year, Ohio Agriculture’s Man of the Year, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award, National No-Till Innovator in Crop Production 2015, and Ohio NRCS Soil Conservationist Partnership and State Volunteer

Layman Farms thrives thanks to soil improvements
Many farmers looking to expand their farms steer clear of eroded or poorly drained fields with overgrown fencerows, but for Jan Layman, those fields look like opportunities.

“I really like to get a hold of a farm with gullies or woolly fencerows and clean it up,” he explains. Jan, a 2016 Ohio Master Farmer, has been farming for the last 37 years in Hardin County, just west of Kenton. As he expanded his acreage over the years, he bought some land at bargain prices, simply because other farmers weren’t willing to take a chance on neglected ground. “Most people don’t want to do that work,” he notes. He has also worked with landowners to revive some of his rented ground.

Jan has been farming since 1979, when he was a high school senior. He and an older brother took over the family farm that year after the death of their father. At that time, the family was farming 400 to 500 acres and raising hogs from feeder to finish. They continued to feed hogs for a few years before phasing out livestock to focus on grain production. Since then, Jan and his wife, Cindy, have gradually purchased and rented more land. They now raise corn and soybeans on 3,700 acres, about a third owned and the rest rented.

His wife’s contributions have been important for the success of the farm, Jan says. “I married the right one.”

Cindy, who worked off the farm for 30 years in the Farm Credit system and banking, has the analytical know-how to complement his agronomic expertise, he says. She isn’t afraid of big-dollar figures, but she does insist on thinking things through before making investments.

“She’ll make me slow down and do some analysis,” he says. Five years ago, Cindy retired and now works full time taking care of the farm’s finances and analytical work.

Jan also relies on four full-time employees: Matthew Haun, Randy McCune, Carl Musselman and farm foreman Ron Hamilton. Among them, they handle all spraying, fertilizer applications and grain hauling, as well as planting and harvest. During the busy planting and harvest seasons, the team also includes additional part-time employees, including Jan’s brother, Jerry, who is a retired teacher.

Full-timer Haun is married to the Laymans’ daughter, Genny. The Hauns are working to add a custom fertilizer and lime application business to the farm. Their goal is to build the business to the point where Genny can work on the farm full time as well.

Long-term no-till
All the land on Layman Farms is no-tilled, except for land that needs to be leveled after drainage work. “Tillage around here is the exception, not the rule,” Jan says. The drought in 1988 helped convince him no-till had potential, he recalls.

That year he had a few hundred acres of soybeans that never sprouted because of the dry weather, but a neighbor, Gary Shick, got a stand in his no-till fields. “I thought, ‘Boy, there’s something to this in terms of moisture.’” The Layman farm was growing rapidly in the late 1980s and early ’90s, so Jan was also interested in the reduced labor requirements of no-till.

By using no-till, Jan has protected his soil from erosion, but he says good drainage also contributes to soil conservation. With his own bulldozer, pan and trencher, he and his employees repair gullies, build grass waterways and install subsurface drainage lines. He has been pattern-tiling poorly drained fields using 40-foot spacing and is seeing both conservation and yield benefits. “Until you pattern-tile a field and see the difference, you don’t understand it,” he says.

In addition to doing his own earth moving and drainage work, Jan and his crew do custom work for other area farmers.

Layman Farms has storage for a year’s worth of grain production. Every bushel harvested goes into storage to take advantage of marketing opportunities during the year. The farm also earns premium prices for soybeans by raising non-GMO varieties for a company that exports them to Japan.

Variable-rate fertilizer applications
To make the most of the fertilizer he applies, Jan has been using variable-rate fertilizer applications for more than 10 years. “It’s been so long I don’t remember doing it the other way now,” he says. Early on, he took a close look at the amount of fertilizer he was using with variable-rate application compared to straight rates. “We were using about the same amount; we just put it in different places.”

At first, Jan had fields divided into 15- to 20-acre zones for soil sampling and fertility management. But three years ago, he began working with a new soil consultant who recommended he switch to a grid-based system using half-acre blocks. The change showed he had been needing lime in many of those blocks. “In the last three years, I’ve applied more lime than I had in my whole life,” he says.

To manage the variable-rate application, Jan uses a cloud-based prescription farming system that allows him to wirelessly send prescriptions to machines in the field and send application maps from the field back to the farm office.

Tech worth cost
Precision farming technology requires an investment, Jan says, but some of the tech pays for itself. For instance, the swath controls on his sprayers prevent overlaps and reduce chemical use.

On his planter, point-row clutches save seed and eliminate double-planted areas, which often don’t yield well. And while autosteer doesn’t offer direct financial benefits, it does reduce operator fatigue.

In addition to farming, Jan has an auctioneering business and acquired a real estate license 10 years ago, allowing him to handle land auctions.

Local charities and organizations often call on him to help with fundraising auctions, and he has been helping run a consignment auction to benefit the Hardin County Fair for 29 years.

Jan has been active in local and state ag organizations. He’s a past member of the Ohio Soybean Council and serves on the Ohio No-Till Council. This summer he will be hosting the Ohio No-Till Field Day Aug. 31.

Jan and Cindy Layman

Family: Daughter Genny is married to farm employee Matthew Haun; they have a 2-year-old son, Carter. Daughter Holly will marry Todd Cannode this summer. They have a 2-year-old son, Shawn.

Farm: West of Kenton in Hardin County, the farm has 3,700 acres of crop ground — 1,270 acres owned and 2,450 acres rented. They produce continuous no-till corn and soybeans using variable-rate lime and fertilizer applications.

Nominators: Randall Reeder and Mark Badertscher, both of Ohio State University Extension

Leadership: Member of Ohio No-Till Council, Ohio Land Improvement Contractors Association, Ohio Auctioneers Association, National Association of Realtors and Hardin County Farm Bureau. Previous member of the Ohio Soybean Council, serving as representative to National Biodiesel Board for three years, and former member of the Hardin County Fair board for 18 years.