Austin Heil of Hardin County is the guest editor of the March 27, 2017 edition of the Growing our Generation e-newsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.
Six Generations and Counting
The early 1800s were a period in the history where Germany was in conflict and young men were taken off to fight. Agriculture was struggling and people were starving. The year was 1829 when one young man at the age of 21 was faced with the fact that he was not going to inherit the family farm. He made a decision that all he wanted to do was farm instead of being drafted in the military. He chose to leave his family and friends to spend 2-3 months at sea to immigrate to the United States. To pay for his travel expenses, he served seven years as an indentured servant. After those seven years, he homesteaded a farm in northwest Ohio in the summer of 1839. That young man had a vision and that young man was my great-great- great-grandfather.
Hello from Hardin County. I’m Austin Heil and I farm alongside my father on our family’s century farm. We mainly raise corn, soybeans and hay. I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2009. I work off the farm at Honda Research and Development in Raymond, testing the next generation of automobiles. In 2014 I started Homestead Precision Farming. The rest of my time is split over various activities and hobbies. I serve as the policy chair for Hardin County Farm Bureau. While serving on the board, Farm Bureau has sent me out to Kansas City for the Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference, our Ohio YAP Conference in Columbus, annual meeting where I had the opportunity to present a policy on night time flight of UAVs, and recently Ag Day at the Capital. Along with Farm Bureau I serve on the board for my local YMCA. In what time, I have left you will find me training for half Ironman triathlons.
Homestead Precision Farming took shape in November 2014 as a way to share our experiences on our farm with others. As young ag professionals, we all face a challenge as we introduce technology to the previous generations on our farms. Our farm only produces 110 acres of corn while the rest is in soybeans and hay. By utilizing a Precision Planting Seed Sense onto our 30-year-old White corn planter, we came away with results that were overwhelming and much needed improvements had to be made. Being faced with these results, how do we make an investment in planting technology profitable on a farm that only has 110 acres of corn? The answer was custom corn planting. My father and I refurbished a used John Deere corn planter with current planting technology and now assist local farmers that are faced with the same issues that we observed on our White corn planter. This year we are entering the 3rd year for this enterprise and each year we continue to make improvements to the planter. Custom farming is one way as smaller farmers we can make technology affordable.
We all have heard the phrase “If there is a will, there is a way.” In the fall of 2015, I signed up for my first half Ironman triathlon which is 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike race, and 13.1 mile run all in one event, knowing that I could not swim more than 50 yards. The book by Les Parrott “3 Seconds” says “Embrace a Good Challenge.” That is us as agriculturalists. Every year we embrace the challenge of growing a commodity or raising livestock to take to market. Never do things go as smoothly as we all hope. If we aim at nothing we are sure to hit it. I teamed up with Lauren Vallee from Base Tri Fit to form a plan. By having a specially chosen team we have a much greater rate of success of achieving our goals. So in a matter of months I went from not knowing how to swim to finishing Ironman Ohio 70.3 on Aug. 21, 2016. The journey ended up not being about the triathlon but about being willing to embrace a challenge and trying something we at one time deemed impossible. For the 2017 season, I have six races with two of them being half Ironman distances in Ohio and Lake Placid. You may follow the hashtags on Facebook #ironfarmer #tritechfarmer or #FarmFit.
Drones, Ships, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles), UAS (unmanned aerial systems), or RPA (remotely piloted aircraft). There are many names used to describe this technology that has one goal: to increase efficiency. I am going on four years experience operating and analyzing data that has been collected from a UAS. Immediately I saw a huge benefit utilizing high resolution aerial images for use on our farms. Images may be utilized all the way from preplanting to right before harvesting. We may collect fun pictures and videos of what we are doing. Also we can collect data on plant health allowing us to understand how our crops are reacting and adjusting throughout the growing season. On our farm we have used our ship to calculate an area that needs drainage installed, to plant health in different management zones in a corn field to determine where to pull soil samples to determine our nitrogen need for a given field. In order to scout a 71 acre field with detail anywhere close to what an UAV can do, it will take 11 hours and someone walking 32 miles. As the laws and technology evolve around UAVs, stay tuned to www.knowbeforeyoufly.com and various forums. In 2015, I was featured on WOSU on this topic.