March 15, 2023
Photo by Jennifer Kiel
Erosion. It’s a dirty word on Stateler Family Farms. It has and continues to be a motivator for better ways of farming.
“When you see the wind pick up and dust blowing, you know you’re losing a lot of valuable topsoil that takes years to build,” says Duane Stateler, who is the fourth generation at his farm in McComb, Ohio, and the fifth generation farming in the area.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to protect it, and it was the reason we went into no-till,” the 2023 Ohio Master Farmer adds. “We've learned a lot over time — some good, some bad. But looking at the water quality right now, we’ve improved some of the phosphorus runoff issues using science as our guide.”
His dad, Merrill, and grandfather, Mack, led by example in protecting the soil and water — a mindset Duane is proud to continue.
“They're not making any more of it, and we need this to last for generations,” he says. “Dad emphasized how we've got to make sure — whether it's in chemicals, fertilizer or manure — we stay within limits, without damaging what’s been given to us for a lifetime. They also taught me to not be afraid to try new things.”
A year before he came back to the farm, Stateler talked his dad into trying no-till. “With the help of Randall Reader [a now-retired Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer], we pursued it,” he says.
They got their start by renting a planter from the Hancock Soil and Water Conservation District. “And, in 1985, I bought my first no-till planter,” Stateler recalls.
Another influencer, he says, is his good friend Gary Wilson, former Hancock County Ag Extension agent. “He’s a proponent of protecting the environment and helped me get started with no-till,” he says.
Now, the farm has been and continues to be a main feature with the Blanchard River Demonstration Farm Network.
“They have entertained literally hundreds of people providing information and research on water quality as it relates to agriculture,” explains Wilson, who nominated Stateler for the Ohio Master Farmer award. “He’s grown his operation, and his ag leadership is spectacular.”
Stateler always wanted to be farmer since he was a little boy. But first, he went to work for McComb Farmers Co-Op, and as his dad started to retire, Duane returned to the farm with his wife, Margie, who was expecting their second child.
Three months later, Stateler learned he had cancer in his right arm. “It was a life-changing moment,” he says. Surgery and recovery followed, and a couple of years later, the decision was made to exit the farrow-to-finish hog operation. However, 20 years later, Stateler returned to hogs and is contract-raising 7,200 head for Hord Family Farms in Bucyrus, Ohio.
After five years of off-farm work that Stateler encouraged, just as his father did, son Anthony and his wife, Andrea, wanted to come back to the farm in 2005.
“I wanted him to have that off-farm experience, gain some insight, and give us some time to pay off the buildings to provide enough revenue to protect him and his family before he took over in 2018,” explains Duane, who grew the original 160-acre homestead to just over 400 tillable acres with some woods.
In total, they are farming 1,080 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans.
One of the best practices, Stateler says, is one they returned to after getting back into hogs. “That liquid manure is black gold with the nutrients and micronutrients you get from it,” he says. “So right away, in 2008, I was trying to figure out how to hold manure in the soil to get it through to next year.”
Stateler started dabbling in some cover crops at a time when they were just starting to get some attention. Corn tissue samples proved it worked, raising about 25% of the available nitrogen the following spring compared to the year before without cover crops.
With the algal bloom shutting down the Toledo water system in 2016, the urgency to contain nutrients ramped up; that’s when Stateler’s farm became a demonstration farm.
His great-grandfather, Sam, settled the farm between the first and second ridge of the Great Black Swamp. He cleared it, but the former lake bed with its heavy clay soils presents some challenges. “We have to have tile to drain it,” Stateler says. “The introduction of cover crops has been a real benefit being able to drain and build more organic matter.”
About 100 acres of his farm has been cover cropped for more than 15 years. “When we started, we had an organic matter of 2.9 to 3.0,” he recounts. “In last year’s soil tests, the field average was 4.6%, with some cores that went to 6%. We’re about halfway to where we want to be.”
The water-holding capacity also has improved. “For every pound of organic matter, you gain the capacity to hold another inch of rain, which is huge with these rain events,” Stateler says.
A lot of work on the farm has been in constructing grass waterways. “We're not getting much more rain than in the 1960s, but we're getting it in bunches,” he says. “We have more major rainfall events of 2 inches or more, and we’re trying to stop that big flush and runoff.”
Anthony has taken the reins implementing technology on the farm. About four years ago, they began experimenting with variable-rate application of manure to phosphorus needs. Regarding nitrogen, Duane says he’s watched Ohio State University try to go from the old 24-color scheme to NASA’s 240 infrared colors.
“Once we tie that technology in over the course of the next five or 10 years, it will be a game changer in prescription applying nitrogen,” he adds. “Maybe we’re not putting 150 pounds on at one time. Maybe we’re putting 120 pounds on a couple different applications and still getting the same yield.”
Taking Merrill’s advice, neither Duane nor Anthony are afraid to try new things. They’ve stepped down their soybean seeding rate over the past five years from 160,000 to 120,000 seeds per acre.
“Reducing the plant population actually increased yield, which is very positive,” says Duane, while noting Anthony has about 15 different varieties and tests planned for the 2023 season. “We have went lower in tests with just a little reduction in yield that at $13 beans returned 50 cents better return on investment. We will probably continue to look at it in the future.”
Duane is very proud of his family. His youngest son, Brandon, works at Chase Bank Corporate and is married to Amanda. They have three children, Hayden, Avery and Mack.
Having the opportunity to pass the operation of the farm to Anthony and Andrea, and their children — Peyton, Casen, Axton and Gracen — makes Duane particularly happy.
“Our drive has been to leave something for generations to come – a platform to start with,” he says. “We're not going to take anything with us from this world, so we’ve focused on preserving and improving it.”
Duane Stateler at a glance
Farm: Stateler Family Farms, McComb, Ohio, growing corn, soybeans, wheat and raising hogs on 1,080 acres
Nominator: Gary Wilson
Ag and community: Serving or has served as aOhio Farm Bureau member and county board, Ohio Livestock Coalition board, McComb Farmer Co-Op board and president; Blanchard Valley Farmer Co-Op board; National Pork Board (We Care Committee and Environmental Committee), Ohio Pork Producers Council and president; Vice President National Pork Producers Council board, budget committee and chairman of environmental committee; McComb School Board, McComb Fire Department, Oakdale Church superintendent and Sunday school teacher.
Awards: 2020 Ohio Pork Industry Excellence Award, 2021 Hancock County Ag Hall of Fame, 2022 Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Read more about:Master Farmers
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