The 2016 Farmers of the Year are brothers Steve and Doug Zirkle.
The Zirkles received the award Monday at the annual Rural Urban Night. The event was created by the Urbana Rotary Club to foster understanding between rural and urban residents. The Farmer of the Year award started in 1972 to represent the entire farming community, said Judge Roger Wilson, who presented the award on behalf of fellow Rotarians.
The Zirkle farm began with Benjamin Franklin and Hester (Foltz) Zirkle, who purchased the land on Old Troy Pike in 1892. They had five children. Over the years, their descendants continued to work the farm. Doug and Steve took over the farm in the 1970s, and in 2005 it became a Century Farm, an Ohio Department of Agriculture designation indicating a farm has been in the same family over 100 years.
Steve Zirkle is the youngest of three children and is married to Robie. They have three children. He is a 1977 Graham High School graduate and attended Ohio University for a year before returning to farming. He also works as a precision welder at Stillwater Inc. in Troy.
Doug Zirkle is the middle child and is married to Penny. They have one son. Doug graduated from Graham High School in 1975 and attended Clark State Community College, obtaining an associate’s degree. He continued farming, and he worked and retired as a supervisor from Cargill in Sidney.
The brothers live next door to each other on the farm on Old Troy Pike. Together they own 1,000 acres and cash rent another 600-plus. Over the years they have worked full-time jobs to sustain the farm and have farmed a variety of crops and meats. The Zirkles have farmed with dairy, hogs and poultry, have produced grain, but now focus mostly on soybeans, corn and wheat alongside beef production and fresh produce.
Both are members of the Masonic Lodge, and Steve is a Jackson Township trustee.
Both winners were short, but sweet, with their acceptance speeches.
“I’d like to thank everybody,” Doug Zirkle said. “This is a big, big surprise. I had no idea. We couldn’t have done it without our family and friends helping us out.”
Steve injected a bit of humor into his response: “I’ve been preparing my speech for the last three or four years, but I forgot it. Just thanks a lot.”
Also honored Monday at the event were the Rotary 2015 Acre of Corn Club members. The Acre of Corn program allows farmers to donate the proceeds of the sale from an acre of corn to Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio. Since the program began, Champaign County farmers and Rotarians have donated over $125,000, Rotarian Mike Pullins said. The amount is matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Pullins said that amounts to over half a million inoculations for children around the world.
“That’s the same amount as every child 4 and under in Ohio,” he said.
The 2015 Acre of Corn Club includes Bob and Gloria Ward, Bud Runyan, Mike Pullins, Alan Thompson, Dale Circle, Doug Hurst, David Clapp, Don Bauer, Steve Prince, Michael Terry Family, Terry Howell, William Runyan, Jim and Nancy Virts, Lucy Millman, Bev and Ron Maurice, Tom and Pat Detwiler, John and Sandy Detwiler, Michael Farms, Tom Prince, Scott Haerr, Jason and Justin Dagger, Chuck Stadler, Todd McGuire, Paul and Michelle McGuire and Sons, Fred Maine and Burley and Pat Hall.
The event was catered by In Good Taste Catering by Amy Forrest, and Mumford’s Potato Chip Co.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.