WILMINGTON — As a boy, Tony Nye wanted to remain on the Henry County family farm when he grew up — an operation with some 150 sows, almost all of them purebred.
While he was at Ohio State University studying animal science, however, the great farm crisis of the 1980s hit the rural countryside and Nye really didn’t have something to go back to.
“My dad made a decision to get out of farming because it was eating us up, more than just financially,” said Nye.
It was a turning point for Nye. Instead of returning to a family swine operation, he navigated the sharp curve in the roadway and ended up with a different career that was still within agriculture: OSU Extension work.
Following college and time as an Extension agent-in-training, in December, 1988 he was named Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources in Clinton County where he’s been ever since.
Nye is the middle child of Larry and Pat Nye’s three children, all reared on the grain and swine operation that was between Bowling Green and Defiance. His father also worked as a Pioneer seed dealer for more than a quarter century.
For years his mother worked for Campbell Soup located at Napoleon, the seat of Henry County. When the kids grew older, she was a homemaker, mom, a 4-H advisor, managed the swine farrowing house a few winters and worked the ground on a tractor.
Nye’s memories of childhood range from good to bad to an ugly blizzard.
“One of the fond memories is neighbors knew neighbors, and neighbors communicated with neighbors. It was truly a sense of community,” he recalled of the farm life in the northwest corner of Ohio.
But when Nye was 9, his father was injured in a tractor accident.
“When my dad was run over by the tractor I was driving, I went from 9 to about 29 in a matter of days. And to this day, it’s impacted me; I still don’t like tractors, though I will drive them. That’s probably why I don’t grain farm our own property.”
The Blizzard of 1978 was difficult for everyone, and certainly livestock farmers outside town were no exception.
With the roads impassable and their home telephone service knocked out (remember there were no cell phones yet), Nye and his father walked two miles to check on Tony’s grandparents. Tony stayed at his grandparents’ home and cared for the livestock there for several days, while his father went back home and saw to those farm animals.
For Nye, youth meant hogs, get-togethers, baseball and, if he had to, driving a tractor. His dad coached Pony League baseball and Tony played catcher and third base mostly. Once he even pitched in a varsity game for Patrick Henry High School which was far enough ahead “it didn’t matter,” he said.
Of course he also was involved in 4-H and won a state proficiency award for commodity marketing, no longer offered as a 4-H project.
In public school, math was his best and favorite subject, his enjoyment due partly to the teacher he had. Overall, he said he received “plenty of Bs” in school.
As a high school student, Nye had a straw business. He would hire neighbor boys to help him and they would bale 5,000 to 6,000 bales of straw that would be sold at hay and straw auctions in the Amish area during the winter months. The income helped Nye pay for college.
More than 20 years ago he met his future wife, Dicka Gray. She works for her father, Dick Gray, in a farm accounting, tax and business planning firm. She also home schools the three Nye children — daughters Celeste and Sadie and son Wesley — who all go to the office with her.
Homeschooling the children has worked out well, said Nye, and fits Dicka’s and his lifestyles and careers.
“We have a very close-knit family because of it,” he added.
The children are involved in Nye’s hog operation on his 30-acre Fayette County farm, where the kids and everyone step in and take care of things. In fact, he and his son Wesley have a commercial meat goat herd that Wesley is in charge of.
That project started a number of years ago when meat goats got profitable and popular, and Nye began giving talks to farmers who were new to the goat business. In order to gain a better understanding of the species, he got goats for his home farm. Wesley manages about 25 to 30 does presently.
While Nye’s primary work for OSU Extension is as Clinton County’s ag and natural resources educator, he also serves as the agency’s small farm coordinator for the state of Ohio. Currently, he’s getting ready to head up three eight-week “small farm colleges,” in Miami, Athens and Brown Counties, starting in mid-January and running through March.
Almost 800 people have utilized small farm colleges since 2005, encompassing about 25 different counties, he said.
In December, Nye was completing plans for an annual small farm conference in March held on the Wilmington College campus, with a second conference, “Living the Small Farm Dream,” scheduled for the first Saturday in April at Wooster.
As a result, in agricultural circles outside Clinton County, Nye often is known in connection with small farm programming or by reputation as a “goat guru.”
Another specialty area for him is the purebred swine industry. His 30-acre small farm in Fayette County includes a purebred swine operation, along with grain production plus pasture ground for goats.
His youthful wish, then, to run a family swine operation has been realized, even if it’s not his exclusive livelihood. Although truly a business with its own pressures and issues, he said “it’s my golf game to kinda unwind” after OSU Extension duties.
A couple years ago he was injured by a boar during that relaxation time, reinforcing his prior interest in farm safety. Safety on the farm is a topic of discussion he weaves into many programs, Nye said.
One task of Extension educators, he feels, is “to make sure farm families don’t repeat the ’80s crisis. We won’t have the (same high) interest rates, but we can still have the financial stresses and some of those things if we don’t pay attention.”
Extension ag educators, said Nye, deal with a lot of on-farm issues such as commodities, disease, drought, the animal or crop product, marketing, “or what have you.”
And whether the farm is a large or small one, he said he’s passionate about working with farm families.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.