Ohio Farmer

Tim Norris finds balance in farming, life

The 2023 Ohio Master Farmer is known as a strong advocate for agriculture.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

March 14, 2023

9 Slides

Farmers will often tell you their favorite part of farming is harvest. Tim Norris, a cash crop farmer from Gambier, Ohio, was like most.

But then he retracted and said, “You know what, it might be planting because it’s a clean slate. When you’re harvesting, it’s a great feeling to be done, but you know what you got. Whereas planting takes faith … faith in the hopes it will produce a really good crop — that’s my favorite.”

Norris raises about 800 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and sunflowers and custom-farms about 900 acres for neighbors. He is a 2023 Ohio Master Farmer for his farming and business skills, but also as part of the requirement for the award, he has an expansive list of ag and community volunteer and leadership activity.

He’s learned a lot of things to do from his parents, and one very important thing not to do from his dad. “I've learned not to make the farm the only thing in your life,” he says. “I feel there needs to be a really good balance between your work, your play, family and giving to others. If you have any one of those out of balance, there's not harmony in your life.”

He’s a third-generation farmer, but he’s second to farm the land he’s on now. “This was my aunt's farm,” Norris says. “She purchased it in late 1943. I grew up just across the river, about a half a mile from here on my father's farm, which is where my brother now farms.”

As a kid, Norris remembers growing corn, wheat, oats, hay and a little bit of soybeans while raising cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens. “There was always something to do, and I knew I wanted to be a farmer.”

He loved farm machinery. At about 2 years old, his mom recalls a story of looking out the lane. “I had crossed the cattle guards and was climbing up the hill on all fours chasing after my dad, wanting a tractor ride,” Norris says.

At age 14, he rented his first field of 11 acres for an FFA project. Using 4-H money and cash from his crop, he made a down payment on a John Deere 4240, and he grew it from there.

In the early 1980s, for his junior and senior years of high school, Norris attended Knox County Career Center for Ag, learning how to repair farm equipment before graduating and returning to the farm.

“I didn't want to deal with the livestock,” he says. “I wanted to grain farm, and shortly thereafter, my aunt passed away, leaving her farm to my brother and I, and I bought out his half.”

Off on his own

Norris was doing well farming on his own, increasing his acreage to around 900 acres. But then there was the drought in 1988, followed by two extremely wet years and another drought in 1991.

With a new bride of two years, Heidi, and a young son, Eli, “I had to make a decision,” he recounts. “Do I risk our family farm and the chance of losing it by farming one more year? Or do I sell out and go get a job in town? So that's what I did. I sold out.”

The equipment was sold at auction, bills were paid, and Norris went to work for the elevator in town. He did not farm for about five years, but he gradually started picking up farm equipment and farming 48 acres.

The elevator sent him to crops development school. He became a certified crop adviser. “I found something really neat that interested me when I was there. I was introduced to grid soil sampling in 1993. And I thought, wow, if that can work here, where there’s an 80-acre field and there's two soil types, what's it going to be like if we take it back to Knox County where there’s a 20-acre field with six or eight soil types. From then on, it was my passion.”

Norris worked his way to manager at the elevator and started Precision Ag there, before branching out on his own starting Ag InfoTech in 2003 at the farm, providing grid soil sampling for hire while farming 300 acres he had built back up. With the help of employee Matt Dugan, he moved into selling and installing yield monitors, and then guidance systems, autosteer and planter controls.

Computers and technology came naturally to Norris. “I’m really proud and thankful that I got to work with so many great farmers over the years and help them with technology,” he says.

“While driving one day, God told me I've got something for you, get ready to sell the company at some point, and I didn't really know what that meant.”

He sold the company in 2019 at the same time Smart Ag recruited him to develop a dealership network to sell autonomous grain cart systems.

Today, he’s back to farming full time and has grown his operation to 800 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans and custom-farms another 900 acres. Dugan joined him farming about a year ago.

Tim and Heidi’s sons are grown and married. Eli (Cierra) works in the grounds crew at Kenyon and second son, Alec (Kianna), is in the Army in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Tim is known in Ohio and throughout the country as a strong advocate for agriculture, a respected voice and excellent resource person for precision ag issues,” says nominator F. John Barker III, assistant professor and Extension educator with Ohio State University. “He is always very willing to share his insights and experiences with others and has been invited to be a guest speaker at many state and national conferences.”

Something new

In 2021, Norris put in some sunflowers, which were a big hit with passersby. In 2022, they cut paths in the sunflower fields, put out a welcome sign and blasted it on social media. Norris estimates more than 1,000 people visited with their cameras.

He no-tills most of his corn and soybeans. After a multiyear hiatus, he’s returned to plant wheat, followed by an eight-way cover crop that includes sunflowers.

“The idea was we would harvest the sunflowers and sell for birdseed, hoping to make enough money to pay for the cover crop,” Norris says. “We didn’t get a great stand last year with the drill, so the plan this year is to plant the sunflowers first with the corn planter and then follow with the drill.”

Grass and woods setbacks of 120 feet along the Kokosing scenic river were established to deter the potential for runoff.

In the next five years, his goal is to expand his own operation to about 1,200 acres and retire from custom planting and harvesting.

When talking about lessons learned, Norris points to a plaque in his office that reads, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest —Ecclesiastes 11:4.”

He adds, “Don’t wait your whole life and realize you've done nothing. Just do it.”

Tim Norris at a glance

Farm: Norris Grain Farms, Gambier, Ohio; growing corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers on 800 acres and custom-farming another 900 acres.

Nominator: F. John Barker III

Ag and community: Served or continues to serve: Mount Vernon Farmers Exchange board of directors; manager of the Mount Vernon Farmers Exchange Co.; instrumental in forming Central Ohio Farmers Co-op; founder of Ag Info Tech LLC; co-founder and president of C.O.R.N. Inc.; Central Ohio RTK Network; co-founder of Knox County Jr. Miss Scholarship Program and served as vice president and judges chairman; member of Knox County Farm Bureau; lifetime member of the National Farmers Organization; served on the Knox County Soil and Water Board (2010 to 2015) as secretary, vice president and president; Knox County Extension advisory committee; FSA County committee member; moderator for the Independent Precision Ag Alliance; served on the Precision Planting Advisory Committee; and founding member of both the Ag Leader Peer Group and the Independent Precision Ag Alliance, Mount Vernon Jaycees for 20 years; member of the Harrison Township Zoning Board of Appeals; member of the Harrison Township Zoning Commission; member of National Write Your Congressman; member of National Federation of Independent Business; member of the Republican National Committee; member of Life Point Church in Mount Vernon and serves on its Management Leadership Team, small group leader and nursery worker; co-founder of Box Concepts Consulting LLC; presented on precision agriculture in 11 different states and Canada.

Awards: 1984 Goodyear Conservationist of the Year for Knox County, 2015 Precision Ag Magazine’s Most Valuable Dealership Award, 2016 Speaker of the Year for the Precision Farming Dealership Summit. 2022 Ohio No-Till Council Outstanding No-Till Farmer Award, several sales awards from Ag Leader, Trimble and Precision Planting.

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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