Matt Aultman has found value in diversifying his relatively small farm in Greenville, Ohio. So much so, he tries to incorporate a new crop each year. The Darke County farm, southeast of Columbus, includes a broad array of livestock and grain, forage, ornamental, flower, seed, cover, food and feed crops.
Aultman also is building and managing a woodlot by planting trees and tapping maple trees. He’s started an apiary business to produce honey and provide pollination for his farm and neighboring farms.
“I like to try new things,” says Aultman, who farms with his grandfather Larry, father David, wife Morgan and children Sophia, 14, and William, 11.
Equally important as diversity is establishing conservation practices to help nourish the soil and boost soil health. And the third leg that balances Aultman's stool of life is a strong commitment to serving agriculture and his community in leadership positions.
For his contributions both on and off the farm, Matt Aultman has been named a 2021 Ohio Master Farmer.
“Matt exemplifies the characteristics of a true agriculture leader and innovator,” says his friend and Versailles farmer Greg McGlinch, who nominated him for the award. Six others wrote letters of support. “Matt raises a variety of crops on his farm, including red clover, corn, soybeans, sorghum, small grains — malting barley, wheat, cereal rye and oats — to improve crop rotations that enhance his farm’s soil health and biology.”
Aultman also raises mums, pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, hops, grapes, sheep and seed for wheat and clover. “For a small farm, it’s about trying to tap into those niche markets,” he says. “I don’t have a large farm, but I do a lot with the acres I have.”
This past growing season, grain sorghum was raised to try to make sorghum syrup. To gain the background knowledge to grow such an array of products, Aultman relies on a lot of reading, YouTube, Extension experts, conferences, field days and other growers, including McGlinch. “Him and I have been very supportive of each other’s crazy ideas,” Aultman says.
In 2017, the family installed a high tunnel on the farm to extend the growing season and further specialize their crop offerings.
As hundreds of dead ash trees are being removed from the woods, Aultman says they are adding new trees to the farm each year and each with a purpose.
“I've been a big proponent of planting windbreaks, and we've got a little bit of a nursery started," he says. "We’re considering establishing a food forest, where we have things like pawpaws and other producing crops to further utilize the woods. We’re looking at the possibility of putting raspberries out there, and Morgan has tried growing mushrooms on logs. And one thing we haven't gotten into that's on my wish list is ramps — having groves of ramps.”
Aultman Farms has incorporated cover crops, no-till and filter strips. “The wildflowers in the filter strips benefit the honeybees,” Aultman says. “We look at our farm as a complete package — you can’t have productive corn unless you have soybeans, wheat and other crops in the rotation. Otherwise, you’re going to lose yield and the health of the soil with all its microbes, bacteria and earthworms. And conservation practices bring value back to the farm by increasing yield versus having to buy 20 or 100 more acres to make it financially sustainable.”
Aultman began farming when he was a youngster, helping his great-grandfather, grandfather and father on their grain, produce and livestock farm. He was involved heavily in 4-H, the Junior Fair board and FFA, taking on leadership roles and eventually serving as FFA chapter vice president and Darke County Junior Fair king.
Even though he comes from a farming family, Aultman wasn’t decided on what he wanted to do. As a young man with a fascination for cars, he started looking into an engineering career, but the car industry changed in the early 2000s, and he said it became clear he was going to stick around home, rent some ground and work on building his own farm.
Just getting started farming for himself, Aultman says he was lucky to be able to get started on a few acres owned by his grandfather. He raised some livestock and worked at the local grain elevator.
The entire farm is 564 acres farmed between Aultman, his father and grandfather. “Some of it is on shares, and we each own some ourselves,” he says. “But we all share responsibilities in our operation. My grandfather and I do all the planting and the spraying, while my dad stays ahead of us working ground.
"In the summer, we all work on maintenance of the crops. In the fall, my grandfather gets in the produce mode and drives the pumpkin and backyard market, while my dad runs the combine. I strive to keep everyone operating, keeping things fixed and the wagons moving. My wife and kids all pitch in to keep the operation moving forward.”
Love grows too
Matt and Morgan knew who each other was as their paths crossed as youngsters in 4-H, but it wasn’t until 1998 when they got to know each other better as friends at the 4-H fair — both serving on royalty courts.
As a senior in high school, Matt got a job at the local elevator, where he was trained by Morgan, who already worked there. They started dating during Matt’s senior year of high school. She said yes to his marriage proposal in 2000, and they were wed in 2002.
They have two children, Sophia, 14, and William, 11. “He's my nurturer; he’s my farm kid who loves working with the pumpkins and farm market because he's a social guy,” says Matt, while noting that Sophia is the artistic type. “She sees things that I don't see. She also enjoys livestock.”
Both Matt and Morgan are 4-H advisers, and their children have been actively involved in livestock projects. “We like having them involved with 4-H and on the farm, but we don’t push it,” Matt says. “When we need help, they know they got to work, but I don't want them to hate agriculture. I want them to love the things that they love.”
In the past couple of years, Morgan ventured out into the fresh-cut flower business. “She’s always supported my ideas, so I’ve been supportive of her getting that started," Matt says. "She’s very passionate about the farm and stands beside me every day, working as hard as anybody I know.”
Over the years, Matt has added acreage, and in 2011, he purchased a farm and has rented more ground from his grandfather, who is starting to wind down. “He’s in his 80s and is still involved in the day-to-day operations — that’s pretty impressive,” Matt says.
Matt’s knowledge in feed nutrition helped him develop a business supplying specialized feed for customers interested in non-GMO and diversified livestock feed products.
“Through word of mouth, the feed business has doubled its production this year,” McGlinch says.
Matt is also an Ohio Certified Seed producer and distributor.
Giving back and making an impact are important to Aultman. He serves on several agriculture and youth boards that help to promote and ensure agriculture is alive and strong, McGlinch says.
“He spends countless hours during the evening mentoring young 4-H and FFA members on how to be successful in beginning their future agriculture endeavors,” McGlinch says. “As a 4-H club adviser, county Farm Bureau board member, former Farm Service Agency county committee representative and a member of countless state organizations, he uses these leadership roles to share his agriculture experience for the greater good of the community.”
Aultman says a business card given to him in his early 20s had a great impact on his direction in life. “Mr. Irmscher, a business owner in the community, gave me the card, which is pretty tattered and worn now, but I still have it by my computer,” Aultman says. “The abbreviated version of what it says is, ‘You only have one life, and what are you doing to make a difference?’ For me that meant, what are you going to do to change your community, and if you were gone tomorrow, what did you leave your footprint or handprint on? Can you look back and know you changed things for the better? I've tried to live my life that way.”
Aultman says he still can’t believe he’s a Master Farmer. “I'm the guy who likes to sit in the background, do the best with what I have and share with others what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he says. “I’m not big on being in the spotlight, but I am thankful and grateful for this honor.”
Master Farmer profile
Name: Matt Aultman
Farm: Aultman Farms, 564 acres owned (475 tillable, 16 acres of pasture, and 65 acres of managed woodland, plus land for buildings and homes). Raise corn, soybeans, seed wheat, hay, produce, garden mums, livestock and many other agricultural projects.
Nominator: Greg McGlinch
Community Leadership: County commissioner; Darke County economic development treasurer; past chairman, Darke County Chamber of Commerce; past chairman, Coalition for a Healthy Darke County; Darke County Visitors Bureau Board; Main Street Greenville Board; Wayne Hospital Foundation Board member; American Red Cross Board, Northern Miami Valley chapter; township zoning board; county Republican Party vice chairman and men’s club treasurer.
Ag leadership: Ohio Farm Bureau state trustee; past vice chair, Ohio Farm Bureau Young Ag Professional Committee; past president, Darke County Farm Bureau; county Farm Service Agency committee; Darke County Agriculture Society vice president; chairman of the Chamber Ag Committee; Wright State ag advisory committee; Ohio State Extension Darke County ag advisory council; Darke County 4-H County Committee; 4-H Club adviser for nine years.
Awards: Graduate of the Ohio Farm Bureau AgriPOWER program, 2012 Darke County Chamber Agriculture Advocacy Award, 2011 Top 20 under 40 awardee, Ohio FFA Top Agribusinessman Award, Big E Agribusinessman winner, American and State FFA degree, multiple State FFA Proficiency awards, Honorary Versailles and Ansonia FFA Member, 2014 2nd Quarter Becks Young Farmer Award, 1999 Dekalb Award winner.