Staying in the Field
Ohio custom applicator chooses helping hog producers over producing hogs
September 10, 2014 by Tony Kryzanowski
Carmony rhymes with harmony and that’s the best description for Carmony Stock Farms. They are an Ohio-based, custom manure applicator that foresaw a brighter future providing this service in combination with grain farming than raising hogs because of constraints limiting how large their hog business could grow.
Despite exiting the hog business, Carmony Stock Farms still provides an invaluable service to the area’s dairy and hog sectors, viewing themselves as a vital tool for other farmers by helping them to fulfill their manure disposal and application needs.
While still active in grain farming, Ross Carmony, with the grateful assistance of long-time employee and family friend, Henry Braun, has built a well-respected custom manure application business. His sons, Clint and Sam, are also part of the business. The company provides drag hose liquid manure application service exclusively to clients in the central Ohio area. At present, they apply over 100 million gallons of liquid manure annually within about a 100 mile radius of Wooster, Ohio, which is located about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus.
Wayne County, where Wooster is located, is home to the largest concentration of dairy farms in Ohio, explaining why 75 percent of the Carmony Stock Farms customer base comes from that agricultural sector, with the remainder primarily from hog farms.
They supply three types of custom manure drag hose application services. These are surface application with a splash pan toolbar, an injection toolbar system, and a GenTill toolbar system. This system perforates the soil and allows the manure to seep into the ground. When customers want to apply manure longer distances from their farms, Carmony Stock Farms offers a ‘Tank ‘n Drag’ service, where they deliver the liquid manure with tanker trucks to a holding tank near the field site, and use surge pumps to feed their drag lines in the field.
“We’re here to help our clients meet their margins and keep them in business so that we can stay in business” says Sam Carmony. “We still have our original customers and we are always invited back.”
That speaks volumes because Carmony Stock Farms does not sign contracts with its customers but depends on their continued satisfaction with the custom manure application service provided by the company. Sam adds that they are still a bit ‘old school’ in how they deal with their customers, where a phone call and handshake is as solid as a signature on a contract.
They provide manure pumping and application services to farm operations of all sizes, from as small as 100 milking dairy cows to large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and have never had a reason to expand into a tanker manure application system because of the amount of business they attract and the satisfaction their customers have with their drag hose systems.
“We can grow probably as much as we want to but we are more focused on servicing the customers that we have correctly and making sure that their needs are met before we start to expand into other markets and doing other things,” says Sam.
Ross Carmony has a degree in agricultural economics from Ohio State University and built his farm business on hog and grain farming. Back in 1979, he developed a custom manure pumping and irrigation system for the hog farm, where manure was pumped from the lagoon through hoses to irrigation guns. About a decade later, he developed his first drag hose system for use on the farm and requests from his neighbors began arriving to help them dispose of their manure in the same way.
By about 2000, he recognized that growth of the hog business was constrained for two reasons. The first was finding enough good employees to operate the grain, hog and custom manure application divisions of the business. The second was the inability to grow the hog operation on the main farm site because it sits directly adjacent to city limits. So Ross shut down the hog division and dedicated his time to grain and custom manure application. The hog barns are still in operation, but have been rented out for use by other hog producers.
Henry Braun has been with the business since the 1990s and has been instrumental in helping to design and build their custom pumping units. Once the family made the commitment to custom manure application, and Ross and Henry worked hard to establish their core of repeat clients, Clint, who has a business economics degree from Ashland University, and Sam also joined the business. With more hands on deck, this has helped to expand the equipment fleet and grow the business.
The Carmony story is becoming more common in farm circles. Some farmers have recognized both the business opportunity and lifestyle benefits of developing a professionally managed, custom manure application business. It helps that there is significant demand for this service, particularly in areas of high concentrations of dairy and hog farms. Also, as farms grow bigger and nutrient management guidelines become more demanding, many custom manure applicators have discovered that, depending on their location, they have the opportunity to grow as large as they’d like, with the most constraining factor often being just finding enough employees to fill a crew complement.
One lifestyle benefit is knowing exactly when the business will be operating full out and when the weather makes it impossible to operate, meaning the business owner and employees can actually plan a vacation away from the business.
However, when the phone starts ringing from their well-established list of clients, they understand their equipment needs to be ready to go and they must be prepared to work very long hours for long periods of time, provided it’s not raining, to meet customers’ expectations. So, there is pressure involved in operating a successful custom manure application business, but it is a different kind of pressure wrapped around working very hard within a defined time interval, human resource management, and attention to detail when applying the manure.
The Carmony’s recognize grain farming is a good complement to a custom manure application business because there is potential cross over in equipment usage, particularly with tractors, between the two businesses. Also, both types of farm-based businesses have defined seasons. They crop 800 acres, consisting of corn and soybean.
“The manure pumping operation really makes it possible for us to be efficient grain farmers and vice versa,” says Sam. “Because we need so much equipment for manure pumping, we have equipment that we can use in both endeavors.”
Given the demands for better nutrient management and rising costs of commercial fertilizer, there is no doubt that Ross Carmony entered the custom manure application business at precisely the right time, but because there was little by way of off-the-shelf equipment when he first started, he developed his own, customized pumping units with Henry Braun’s help. After starting with one custom built pumping unit, the company has since evolved to four pumping units and a total of six employees. Because manure application is so weather-dependent and there is a great need to apply the manure for customers in a timely manner, they will often have three application jobs on the go and at various stages at one time, with their busiest seasons being the spring and fall.
Bambauer is their main drag hose, hose reel, injector toolbar and pump supplier, one reason being that they are handy, with a location in southern Ohio.
“We started using their equipment and they’ve been effective at creating efficient equipment that works well, and it’s sort of one-stop shopping for us,” says Sam. Bambauer has also been responsive, he says, to listening to their needs and working hard to address those needs.
In addition to Bambauer equipment, Carmony Stock Farms also uses Cornell and Doda pumps, Houle agitators, Cornell flow meters, and John Deere tractors.
They have enough hose to apply up to three miles away from the customer’s lagoon. Most often, the manure is applied on the customer’s farmland, but, occasionally, there are neighbors who also want the liquid nutrients applied on their land as well.
An interesting aspect to how they manage their custom manure application business is they give the customer the option of providing their own tractor, with Carmony Stock Farms providing the pumping rig and manure application equipment as well as the crew to run it. It varies from farm-to-farm, Sam says, and with the years of experience they have supplying many of their customers, they have a good understanding of what equipment is needed for each customer.
Most customers will have a good idea of how many gallons of manure they want applied per acre based on discussions with their agronomist and the nutrient content of their manure. Carmony Stock Farms controls the application rate based on formulas they use pertaining to the flow rate of the manure through the drag hose and speed of the tractor, and these can be adjusted depending on the customer’s requirements for various parts of a field.
“I would say the number one concern of our customers when we do a job is safety and then the second concern is the correct amount of nutrients applied on the field,” says Sam. “We strongly try and make sure that nothing leaves the property through our application techniques.”
As the saying goes, the pursuit of happiness is not always wanting more but being satisfied with what you have, which describes Carmony Stock Farms to a tee as they base their success on a list of satisfied customers and years of repeat business.