Portage County banquet: Dairy community honors its elite

RAVENNA, Ohio – A police barricade forced Jim Earnest to halt his cattle trailer just inside the Pennsylvania state line. Puzzled and surprised, he looked at the seven cruisers swarming around him.
Fourteen troopers shoved him against the back of his truck, accused him of cattle rustling and escorted him back to Bloomfield, Pa., to return the nine heifers.
Who would’ve guessed 25 years later the dairy industry would laugh about the cattle hauler’s innocent brush with the law and then honor him with one of its highest distinctions?
Finally, it’s time. For years, Portage County dairymen have wanted to show their appreciation for Earnest but he was never able to make it to the annual banquet. It’s always on a Tuesday night and Earnest usually spends his Tuesdays at the Mercer Livestock Auction.
But a recent knee replacement surgery kept Earnest out of the sale barn this year and Portage County finally had its chance to present him with its Friend of the Dairymen award at the March 1 banquet.
Earnest’s story. Earnest grew up in the 1950s working on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Deerfield, Ohio, but June 3, 1965 he was drafted and left for Japan. While Earnest was in Okinawa, his grandfather died and the farm was sold.
Earnest returned home two years later and started hauling cattle, soon bought his own truck and went into business for himself in 1967.
He spent long days hauling cattle and hogs across Ohio and Pennsylvania and nights working as a blast furnace operator at a shop in Alliance.
After 28 years doing triple-time with the shop, trucking, and his own small farm, the Alliance company asked Earnest to work the day shift instead of midnights.
He couldn’t do that, he said.
“I built this business all my life and I wouldn’t give up my trucking and let my farmers down,” Earnest said.
So he quit his night job, and ever since the early 1990s, he’s devoted 100 percent to his cattle hauling business.
And as for those Pennsylvania cattle he was accused of stealing, he was simply hauling them, he explained. Until the police forced him off the road, he had no idea the cattle were mortgaged and a bank actually owned them.
Legacy lives on. Although the Horning family has not farmed in Portage County for years, the memory of Mark and Marilyn Horning’s dairy in Randolph, Ohio, is still remembered. That legacy earned them this year’s Sherman Brockett Honorary Dairyman award.
Mark Horning was milking about 70 cows in 1974 when he fell and suffered a head injury that kept him bedridden and unable to communicate for the rest of his life. He passed away two years ago.
Even though it’s been many years since his father farmed, Horning’s son Matt had no problem filling in the 150 banquet guests about his father’s impact on agriculture.
The Hornings. Mark Horning began farming in 1949 on 130 acres that were so eroded a tractor couldn’t safely drive from one end to the other.
“From then on, Dad spent countless hours spreading straw, planting grass, loving and nurturing the land back to health and productivity,” Matt said.
“He helped lay more than four miles of drainage tile and adopted crop rotation and conservation tillage practices at a time when it may have otherwise been considered going against the grain of progress.”
Two years before his accident, Portage County Soil and Water Conservation District named Horning its Farmer of the Year.
Horning, his wife and five children hosted many tours at the farm and were proud to show off their pole barn with freestalls, which was one of the first in the area, and their herringbone parlor, which was one of only a few in the nation at the time.
Shortly after Horning’s accident, his family was forced to sell the cows, and Marilyn has rented the farm to neighboring farmers ever since.
Production award. The top production award went to Grac-Glen Farm in Ravenna, Ohio. With 28,349 pounds of milk, 1,022 pounds of fat and 870 pounds of protein, the farm owned by David and Rick Alger is one of the state’s top five producers on official DHI test.
Other herd production totals included on official test David Winchell (Holsteins), 22,611 pounds of milk, 777 pounds of fat and 703 pounds of protein; and on-the-farm-computer Congress Lake Farms, 24,300 pounds of milk.
Nominations. Kim Kinsey of Hartville, Ohio, was crowned this year’s dairy princess. Kinsey, a senior at Marlington High School, grew up working on dairy farms and has shown animals in Portage County.
Henry Kline, Bill Boldizsar, David Alger and Wayne Biltz were re-elected to the dairy committee.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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