Visitors to Hirzel Farm view high-tech ag systems

By Bill Ryan

Sentinel Tribune, 8/23/16

Visitors from across Ohio gathered at Hirzel Farm in rural Luckey on Friday for a tour of the farm. After meetings, lunch and the tour there, they traveled to the company’s composting facility in rural Pemberville to see that operation.

The tour was part of the 2016 Farm Tour by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

At the Luckey site, the visitors were shown the grain movement, grading and storage facility which uses state-of-the-art equipment, which maximizes the value of the crops to food buyers.

Hirzel composting

The movement of grain uses no augers, but rather paddle conveyors, which minimize damage to the beans, for example.

It was explained that a split bean loses all its nutrient value and lowers the value of the entire lot of beans. The conveyor moves the crops slower but the speed of traditional augers is what can damage them and lower the commercial value to food buyers.

The organic crops carry a higher price tag, but also require a higher standard of quality to be met.

The visitors also were able to see a new sophisticated optical scanner that can grade the beans, even down to subtle differences in colors. Again, it is all part of the commercial grade needed to sell to the buyers for the optimal price. The equipment also provides for full traceability of each lot.

From the farm, the group visited the composting facility.

Mike Chandler is the site manager of the facility. He explained he is a geologist by trade and works the composting as a scientist.

One of the primary sources for their compost is scrap vegetables, including cabbage and tomatoes from their own farms as well as cucumbers from Hartung in Bowling Green.

Joe Hirzel Sr., though somewhat retired, is still active in the operation and was on hand for the tour.

Though there was initial resistance to the composting as well as switching over the processes to organic, he said the success has “proven how wrong we were.”

His sense of humor showed when he talked about the work involved in maintaining a healthy compost facility. He said, “I love work. I can watch people work all day.”

Chandler explained, “Compost is an art form. It’s a living organism and needs attention.”

He added that the changing weather along with the high moisture content in the food waste used provides challenges.

“For me, it’s a lot of trial and error, but he said by maintaining the proper mixture of carbon and nitrogen in the materials used, they can have the “compost cooking” to 160 degrees within two to three weeks.

Aside from the food waste, they also include bulking agents such as manure, grinding hay and fodder, along with such odds and ends as coffee, and egg waste from Hertzfeld Poultry.

Hirzel said they are proud of their Class 2 certified organic facility.

“It’s very costly to develop and maintain such a facility,” Hirzel said, noting for the permit it is $2,300 a year compared to $100 a year for a canning facility permit.

He noted the stack of paperwork required, not as a complaint, but rather as a warning device.

“These are the laws and we simply must follow them,” Hirzel said.