Nine years ago, as Tom Harrod and his son, Korey, first started sidedressing standing corn with liquid hog manure, about a dozen trucks slowly paraded by their farmland in Rossburg, Ohio. At one time, there were seven trucks stopped alongside the road, with drivers turned sideways in their seats to watch.
“There was a lot of curiosity and interest, but even today, there are only about three or four farmers in this county utilizing this application,” Tom explains. “It’s a slow process to get others on board.”
The Harrods, who also farm with Tom’s son-in-law, Sean Gerber, are not afraid to take calculated risks. It’s a concept that has provided benefits. “We built our first small custom injection system to try the idea,” Korey says. “We saw the benefits, and now we use one of three larger tool bars available through Ohio State University Extension that are loaned out throughout the state.”
The Harrods are farming 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, finishing 20,000 hogs, and have two barns raising contracted turkey starters.
When it comes to conservation practices, they’re early adopters with 90% of the farm in no-till, and 300 acres are seeded with cover crops. “It’s just the right thing to do, and it’s what everyone should be doing,” Korey adds.
About 15 years ago, a nutrient management plan was started and added onto until the entire farm was covered. In determining and implementing what is best for the land and other natural resources, the Harrods have also added filter strips, waterways, a wetland and wildlife habitat.
Both Tom and Korey believe in sharing their knowledge and experiences. They’ve hosted many tours, including legislators, for people interested in how these practices are implemented and the benefits.
Both have served in leadership roles in the ag industry — Korey with Farm Bureau and Tom with SWCD. For their efforts, leadership and outreach, the Harrods have been named an Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award winner.
“The Harrod Family has been concerned about conservation efforts in our community for many years,” says nominator Matt Aultman, Darke County commissioner. “From serving on the Farm Bureau board, the soil and water board, to being involved within our community through activities and programs, they have made an impact by being a leader or by getting others involved. Tom and Korey have even been innovators by being one of the first farmers in the world to work with agencies, including the Soil and Water Conservation District and Extension, to successfully use and improve methods of applying swine manure to growing crops. I am glad to know the Harrod family and appreciate all they do and bring to our county to make it a better place to live.”
Using soil testing as a guide, the Harrods have applied commercial fertilizer for more than 30 years, but Tom wondered if he could do away with commercial fertilizer on manure-injected fields that could utilize that nitrogen for a growing crop.
The Harrods began working with Ohio State University manure specialist Glenn Arnold and OSU Extension agent Sam Custer, and it turns out, the answer is a yes! Not only have they done away with commercial fertilizer on those fields, they’ve seen a 13-bushel yield bump over conventionally managed cropland, largely attributed to manure staying available longer for corn — not reduced by rainfall or sunlight.
However, because it is liquid, the Harrods began installing drainage control structures to keep nutrients in the field. They recently added more structures and now have 100 acres that are managed by three different control structures. “It prevents nutrients from washing away, and we have also had good yield bumps by having that moisture control,” Korey says.
Adopting conservation practices
A particularly sloped area of the farm was prone to flooding and erosion. “It also wasn’t very farmable, and it had trees on it,” Tom says. So, in 2004, the Harrods started a 5-acre wetland, which is now 15 acres.
In another area of the farm, again to control erosion, the Harrods installed a three-pond system that catches and slows water, each filling before spilling into the next. The last pond eventually overflows into a grass waterway before emptying into a ditch.
On fields with cover crops, they are planting in green (mostly rye), and then immediately spraying to burn the crop down. “It’s really improving soil health,” Tom says. “The cover crops soften the ground, and it’s easier to plant. We’ve also seen a yield increase. The key is not getting the rye on too thick — we’re still figuring out how to use it best.”
To utilize water and traces of nutrients, the Harrods pump liquid from the manure lagoon and, when crops are dry, they use a center pivot to cover about 40 acres.
To environmentally dispose of dead turkeys and hogs, the Harrods built a compost facility about 20 years ago and added another three years ago. Each has three compost piles that are covered with turkey litter and turned every six to eight weeks. “In all, it’s about a six-month process,” explains Tom, who says the end product is utilized as fertilizer on the farm.
The family has 43 acres enrolled in conservation practices. The family frequently looks to the Darke County SWCD for new programs and new practices to try on the farm.
“Farmers cannot be afraid to change,” Korey advises. “There’s usually a learning curve, but many of these practices not only benefit the soil and environment, but also provide cost share and increased yields.”
About the award, Tom says, “It’s nice, but it’s really just the right thing to do.”
Korey adds, “It’s nice to know people are paying attention, but we don’t feel we’re doing more than what everyone should be doing.”
The Harrod family
The family. Tom and Jayne Harrod farm alongside their son, Korey, and his wife, Brittany. Their son-in-law, Sean Gerber, helps part time. They have 11 grandchildren.
The farm. The Harrods purchase weaned pigs from a neighboring farrowing unit and finish out around 20,000 pigs a year. They have two contract-turkey starter barns. They farm 1,200 acres in Darke County, raising soybeans and no-till corn, all of which is used as hog feed. They are currently planting 300 acres of cover crops in the fall.
Nominator. Matt Aultman, Darke County commissioner
Outreach and education. The family has hosted legislators and educators to help educate and promote their manure sidedress application practices. The family was awarded the 2018 Darke County Chamber Achievement Award. Tom was the 2003 Darke County SWCD Cooperator of the Year, and Tom’s dad, Harold, earned that same award in 1973.
Community leadership. The Harrods are members of the Darke County Farm Bureau, where Korey has been a board member for multiple years and is in his second term as county president. Tom has been on the Darke County Soil and Water Conservation board for 12 years and has served as chairman of the board. Tom is a past school board member of the Mississinawa Valley School District.