Wagner Farms is 106-acres in Rome, NY of soybean, corn, raspberries, greenhouses, onion, eggplant, figs and much more. Owned by Ron Wagner, he prides himself on working smarter instead of harder while at the same time appealing to market trends.
“We’re a conventional farm,” Wagner said. They do use pesticides and herbicides, but they use them as needed and use their older but efficient methods for chemical application.
On June 17, 2017, Wagner invited the public to his farm for an open house and some field demonstrations. The basis of the entire field demonstration was the use of equipment for cultivation, planting and reduction in packing.
“We will be demonstrating a non-chemical option. We’re a part of the movement to bring back older walk behinds,” said Wagner.
Due to the amount of rain for the season, Wagner was unsure of exactly how many walk-behinds he would demonstrate. Some parts found on his equipment are made of wood and might have swollen along with other unforeseen circumstances. “We’ll do two walk behinds, maybe three,” Wagner said in regards to the demonstration.
The walk behinds were an assortment of finger weeders, seeders, spiked-tooth harrowers and many others. The earliest machine was from 1936 while the others followed close behind being manufactured in the 1940s. Yet, Wagner has modified many attachments or machines for raised beds or for multiple crops.
Within the movement encouraging walk behind use, numerous farmers are sharing their improvements. Wagner’s friend out in Washington took a wire weeder idea and improved on it. “My buddy reversed engineered it” over the winter, Wagner said. However, the device prefers loam soil and Wagner Farms is mostly clay.
One of Wagner’s most noticeable walk behind had been rigged with an onion set planter from the 1930s “which can plant a bushel in 10 minutes and was advertised to replace 12-25 guys in the field,” said Wagner. A fertilizer drip was also added to side-dress while planting and can run organic pelleted chicken manure.
Spraying is also done with a walk behind, with a 50 to 60 gallon of water per acre focus. “We’re putting it where it belongs. We get better weed control and little drifting,” Wagner said.
The purpose for his switch happened three years ago, when the growing seasons began getting very wet and were plaguing many farmers with flooding.
Wagner claims he is able to plant everything from dill seed, winter squash and pelleted seed for carrots using his collection of altered and antiquated devices, making them a great resource for him to use on his farm. However, caution needs to be taken.
“You need to keep these engines in good condition,” Wagner said. “There is no replacing it.” He uses leaded gas and oil for maintenance to keep his walk behinds in top condition. He did mention that if the engine were to fail, it is possible to keep the walk behind going, but it involves using a modern-day engine and adjusting it to work in the 1930s model.