By Doug Graves
GREENVILLE, Ohio – There are farmers. And then there are Master Farmers.
The Master Farmer award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated how to farm more effectively, efficiently, environmentally and economically. The winners were nominated by their peers and honored at the Ohio Conservation Tillage & Technology Virtual Conference this past spring.
This year’s winners are Greg Waidelich, of Amanda, Ohio, in Fairfield County, and Matt Aultman, of Greenville, Ohio, in Darke County.
Waidelich has been working with the soil and water conservation districts in Fairfield and Pickaway counties for nearly 40 years to implement a wide range of practices to protect, stabilize and enhance natural resources on his 1,700-acre farm.
“When I graduated from high school in 1969 I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I attended Wilmington College for a year and studied agriculture,” he said. “I quit after just one year because I felt the courses didn’t pertain to what I wanted to do. I eventually went back to school, only this time I attended Ohio State University for only one year. There I studied animal science and ag economics.”
His interest in farming still wasn’t piqued until his uncle rented him 34 acres.
Waidelich has grown his 34-acre farm to a sprawl of more than 1,700 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and cover crops. And more than money, he strives to be a good steward of the land.
“As the district conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation District the past 17 years in Fairfield County, I have witnessed Greg demonstrate his strong stewardship ethic by his actions on the land, as well as his encouragement to fellow farmers,” said David Libben, one of many who nominated Waidelich for this honor.
“Nikki Drake, district manager with the Fairfield Soil and Water Conservation district, helped design a lot of these conservation practices I have implemented on the farm,” Waidelich said. “They have educated me extremely well.”
Waidelich recalls four-year rotations and pasture, wheat and hayfields. “We had more crops growing in the fields in the fall, winter and spring,” he said. “It held the soil in place and there were more earthworms, more life in the soil than you see today.”
His conservation practices, cover crops and crop rotations have helped him restore the soil on the farm. “Growing winter wheat is a big advantage, although a lot of people have given up on it because it’s a food-grade product,” he said.
Preventing erosion is high on his list of achievements and preventions. “We live in an area where the ground is rolling, and I knew I had to do something to stop it,” he said.
He installed chemical containment, two livestock pipeline/watering facilities, 16 subsurface drainage systems, 40 grassed waterways, two water sediment and control basins, two grade stabilization structures, stream crossing and variable-rate fertilizer.
Waidelich has installed projects through USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and he is enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“Two things my father told me has stuck with me to this day,” he said. “He said ‘take care of the soil and it will take care of you’. He also said ‘If you love what you do then it’s not work’. Farming is something I enjoy doing.”
‘Diversify’ is the best adjective to describe Matt Aultman, who tends to a 564-acre farm in Greenville.
“Here at our farm we like to grow corn, soybeans and wheat,” he said. “We have livestock and have chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. In the fall we have pumpkins, gourds, ornamental, flower and garden. And then there’s red clove, sorghum, malting barley, cereal rye, oats, grapes and clover.”
And there’s no slowing Aultman down. There’s more. He’s started a food forest, growing things such as pawpaws to utilize the woods. On his horizon of things to do are growing mushrooms, raspberries, wildflowers and groves of ramps.
“We always like trying something new,” he said. “For a small farm, it’s about trying to tap into those niche markets. I don’t have a large farm, but I do a lot with the acres I have.”
When he was just 12 his father gave him an acre and told him to learn to grow and take care of a crop. Turnip was Matt’s crop of choice back then. “That was the first crop I raised and sold. Since then I’ve always had this passion to try something different,” Aultman said.
Aultman 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.
Above all, Aultman is a big believer in conservation practices to help boost soil health. He also has a strong commitment to serving agriculture and his community in leadership positions. He gained a lot of knowledge, he said, by reading, attending conferences and field days, and talking to other growers.
“Conservation practices bring value back to the farm,” he said. “If you have more topsoil, consequently you can raise better crops and better crops make you more money.”
Aultman serves on several agriculture and youth boards. He is a county Farm Bureau board member, former Farm Service Agency county committee representative and member of countless state organizations. He is also an Ohio Certified Seed producer and distributor. Both Aultman and his wife, Morgan, are 4-H advisers.
“I’m the guy who likes to sit in the background, do the best with what I have and share with other what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he said. “I’m not big on being in the spotlight, but I am thankful and grateful for this honor.”