JOHNSTOWN, Ohio — One central Ohio farm family has a way of keeping things in the family — big time.
Jim and Kathy Heimerl and their sons Matt, Jeff and Brad manage a farrow-to-finish swine farm, grow field crops, manage their own feed mill and trucking division, and they sell Pioneer seed.
It’s a sizable farm. They own about 7,500 head of sows and contract with growers from Fort Recovery to the west, and to Pennsylvania in the east, who produce just as many sows. And they raise about 2,000 head of dairy steers each year and farm roughly 2,500 acres. The farm employs about 50 people.
The Heimerls haul a good portion of their own livestock to market and they haul feed produced on their home farm along Mink Road to about 60 percent of their operation.
Jim Heimerl, 54, said they buy some feed for farms further away, but having their own feed service and hauling division adds to the farm’s efficiency.
“We have control over what we’re doing when we do our own,” he said. “We know what we’re getting and what we’re paying for, and there is efficiencies of just doing it ourselves.”
And, there’s the benefit of biosecurity. By operating their own trucks, they know which trucks have been to which barns, and whether they’ve been properly disinfected between loads. That’s important for all destinations, but especially when selling outside the country, such as to Mexico.
“You can’t buy that security; you have to do it yourself,” Jim said.
He gets a lot of help from his sons. Matt, 29, is the oldest son and handles day-to-day operations like caring for livestock and running the feed mill. Brad and Jeff, both 25, are twins. Brad helps with logistics such as scheduling feed and livestock deliveries and making sure growers and truckers get what they need, when they need it. Jeff Heimerl helps with the feed mill and field work, as well as day-to-day operations.
Casey Heimerl, 32, the oldest Heimerl sibling, lives in Cincinnati.
Brad also maintains the farm’s website, which provides the history of the farm — what they produce and sell, and helps spread their mission: “To promote agriculture through strong family values, be a sound environmental steward, encourage good neighbor relations and make solid financial decisions. …”
Matt’s wife, Rachel Heimerl, does the office work with Kathy, and Matt and Rachel’s 4-year-old daughter, Lauren “provides the entertainment.”
Jim and his three sons all earned the American FFA Degree — the top honor — and they’re active in local, state and national farm organizations.
Jim is president-elect to the Ohio Pork Producers Council and he recently was elected to the National Pork Producers Council board of directors.
In December, Matt and Rachel were named Outstanding Young Farmers by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and in January they finished in the top 10 at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Honolulu.
“We all believe in promoting our product,” Jim said.
He and Kathy won the same Farm Bureau award in 1979. Jim said he looks forward to “two more opportunities,” with his other two sons.
The Farm Bureau award is highly regarded and took many hours compiling pictures and videos, and answering questions about the farm.
“It was a really intense application,” Rachel said, noting there were about 14 pages of hard-core questions, lots of typing and revising and a video that had to be produced.
The couple is now also serving on the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.
The award and recognition have helped Matt and Rachel network with other young farmers across Ohio and the nation, and make some new friends.
“I remember driving to our first meeting with the committee and telling Matt, ‘we don’t need new friends, we have friends,'” she said.
But they had a change of heart once they saw how much they shared with other farmers, even those in different parts of the country.
“They know exactly what you’re going through … they can feel your pain,” Rachel Heimerl said. “They’re probably some of the best friends that we have, because they’re farming and they know exactly what’s going on.”
With four different families working full-time on the farm, it’s important to be on the same page when it comes to major decisions. Matt said despite what people would think, the families generally get along pretty well.
“We all kind of have the same goals and we know where we want to be in five years,” he said. “It’s just the day-to-day stuff we get a little frustrated at each other (over).”
Looking ahead, Matt said the farm is where the family wants to be in terms of livestock, but they’re always looking for opportunities to expand crop acreage. There’s competition for crop acres from other farmers, but also major urban developers and retail chains.
Just a few miles away are the communities of Johnstown and New Albany, and Columbus is right around the corner.
“They’re moving out here and it’s just a natter of time until they’re beating on our door,” Brad said.
The cities also mean a lot of eyes are on the farm — and that brings criticism and sometimes misunderstanding.
“Dad always said they (public) smell with their eyes,” said Jeff, echoing a rule his father taught him.
But the Heimerls are serious about sharing their message with other farmers and nonfarmers and helping them understand what farming is all about. Their website and Facebook page have helped with that effort, and they also hold tours of their farm.
Brad said he tries to answer questions and explain what modern swine farming is about.
“Most people are really appreciative of what we’ve shown,” he said.
As the family grows — so does the importance to grow the farm. But Matt said the family is equally concerned about what it’s already doing, and finding the opportunity “to do things better than we’re doing now.”