Ohio’s rich farmland, along with the families and workers who have cultivated it for nearly three centuries, are a study in diversity, perseverance and invention. The Briggs Family Farm is a perfect example of how bountiful the land can be in supporting a variety of agricultural ventures that create the unique benefits of the American family farm.
From hundreds of acres of row crops to herds of cattle, from boarding and raising horses to growing hundreds of thousands of peeps into chickens every year, Scott Briggs is a modern farmer who has the grit, intelligence and aptitude that showcase a proficiency in agribusiness.
When he was three his grandfather let him sit on his lap and drive the tractor (he still has that tractor in the barn). When he was in junior high school, he built a flock of chickens and sold eggs to his neighbors. In high school, when not playing sports, he would rush to his grandparents’ farm right after school to help wherever he could. “I guess you would say I have a life-long connection with the land and devotion for farming,” Scott Briggs says. “I have never wanted to do anything else. I never really considered another path in life.”For the last 70 years it has been quite a varied path for Scott’s family and the land where Briggs Farms and ScoMar Poultry Farm operate today. The farm has been the site not only of hay, corn, soybean (as well as small plots of wheat and rye) crops, but also herds of paint horses, cattle, a horse boarding operation, and today, a thriving chicken growing venture.
The family’s relationship with the land began when his grandfather bought the property shortly after World War II, and began breeding paint horses there.
“My great-grandfather, George, loved horses and was a trick rider,” Scott remembers. “I guess that rubbed off on my grandfather (Walter Briggs), because while he drove a truck to make a living, he had a passion for horses, farming and aviation. Not long after he bought the land, I believe it was the late 1940s or early 1950s, he decided to raise paint horses in addition to growing hay and corn, and he also built an airfield (officially recognized by the FAA as Briggs Field) on the top of the hill. My dad (Wayne Briggs) loved flying too and my uncle ended up being a professional pilot, spending his career flying for Flying Tiger Lines, the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States.” Flying Tiger Lines was bought by FedEx in 1988. “I like to fly too; but you know, it’s like I used to tell my dad, when it’s good weather for flying, it’s great weather for farming.”
After graduating from high school, Scott took a job with a company that specialized in wellhead clean-up and land restoration for oil drilling operations. “I loved being out in the country and helping bring back the natural beauty of the landscape, and it helped me confirm that I wanted to study agronomy in college. It was very satisfying work,” Scott reflects.
After working for three years, Scott began his studies full-time at Ohio State ATI in Wooster, before moving on to the main campus in Columbus where he later earned his degree. During that time, he developed a close, lifelong friendship with another agronomy student, Matt Lesko, with whom he commuted to ATI every day and then shared a room with, in Columbus. Today, Matt is a Senior Agronomist for Deerfield Ag Services, and continues to venerate his old friend’s remarkable technical and innate knowledge about farming and his inborn love of working his land, crops and animals.
“Scott is a very, very smart man who knows what hard work is all about,” Lesko says. “Nothing was ever handed over to him. He has earned everything he owns because he loves what he does and he never stops learning. He was one of the first students I knew in college that used a PC, and to this day, he continues to innovate with the new technologies that arise in farming.”
Straight out of college, Scott got an offer to go to work for the Tuscarawas Soil and Water Conservation District, writing and overseeing manure management programs for area farmers. “I enjoyed working with and learning from the people I served for the Conservation District. I spent the majority of my time out in the field until the last couple of years,” he recalls, “when my responsibilities evolved to include more management and less on-site work.” After working for 11 years he was finally ready to become a full-time farmer. “Office work was not for me, and I missed working the land.”
In 1993 he arranged financing to begin buying the farm from his grandmother and for several years raised Hereford cattle in addition to growing corn. “I had a lot of help from neighbor farmers, especially Gust Malavite, who owns Cricket Valley Farms. He’s like a second father to me, loaning me equipment to plant and harvest before I had my own and sharing his amazing knowledge,” Scott says. “He is from a wonderful family, some of whom are seriously successful rodeo cowboys, as well as good farmers.”
Because of various challenges and changes in the late 1990s Scott was forced to rethink the best way to manage Briggs Farms for the future. “I sold the cattle and a couple of years later, also liquidated all the other assets on the farm except the land. I was ready for a fresh start, so I focused on being a crop farmer, raising mostly corn and soybeans. I met my wife, Margie and we were married in 2003. She loves horses, so I built her a large stable and we began a horse boarding operation in 2006.
While the horse boarding business has diminished in recent years, the couple’s latest venture (in addition to growing 500 acres of corn and soybeans), is raising chickens for Case Farms Chicken, which they began about three years ago. Located where the Briggs airfield once was, at any given time 115,000 chickens reside in two state-of-the-art science barns complete with complex, sophisticated, computer interfaces which monitor and control the indoor environment for the chickens’ maximum comfort and growth.
“When Case first delivers the young peeps, we maintain the temperature in the barns at 92 degrees. It takes about 34 days for the chicks to grow to about 4 ¼ pounds, which is when Case comes and picks them up for processing. At that time the temperature in the barns has been gradually and systematically reduced to 68 degrees,” Scott explains. “The number one factor is keeping the environment perfect at all times, which in turn keeps them happy and healthy. An unhappy chicken won’t eat, so we have to be vigilant in maintaining an ideal, bio-secure environment for them.”
Once the grown chickens have been picked up by Case for processing, the barns are graded and cleaned, making them ready for the next batch of peeps to be delivered about a week later. A bonus byproduct of the operation is the rich chicken manure, which can be processed fairly easily and combined with other fertilizer to enrich the crop fields. Scott recently invested in a new hydraulic-driven, self-contained litter spreader that enables him to add the controller required to variable rate the litter, according to the formula derived from the grid mapping he’s been working on with Deerfield’s Agronomist, Marissa Dillon.
“Scott’s experience and extensive knowledge of agronomy practices and advances are amazing,” she says. “Our work with him is a real collaborative process because he knows so much. He had the highest soybean yield he’s ever had this year, after using his new litter spreader in concert with grid mapping and variable rate techniques we’ve developed together.”
Scott’s close friend, Matt, is quick to compliment his toughness, intelligence and generosity. “Throughout the years running the farm in its various manifestations, Scott has built a reputation as a knowledgeable and generous neighbor, advising and helping fellow farmers in the East Sparta area. He is very invested with his neighbor farmers, always ready to advise and help them. He is a great guy, and a wonderful customer to work with,” he says.
For nearly 70 years, Briggs Farms has been a bountiful home to a host of different critters and crops, showcasing the creativity, flexibility, hard work and determination of one of Ohio’s most valuable assets — the family farmer.