Generations of success at Shady Lawn Farms since 1906

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and Soybean check-off

Just outside of Columbus Grove is a beautiful farmstead known as Shady Lawn Farms that has been stewarded by the McKanna family since 1906. Joseph McKanna purchased the farm that was put together by a developer and moved his family east from Paulding County 118 years ago. The multi-generational farm is now being tended by the third, fourth, and fifth generation, with the 6th generation waiting in the wings.

Jeff McKanna and his nephew Robert Gray operate Shady Lawn Farms, which raises corn, soybeans, wheat, and also rents some acres out to a neighbor for tomato production. The Putnam County farm was originally purchased by Joseph McKanna. Joseph’s youngest son Robert McKanna then took over the diversified operation of crops and livestock. (Robert Joseph Gray, 5th generation, is named after the first two patriarchs.) Robert McKanna’s son Lyle was the next generation to manage the farm. Lyle, at a young age, had an unusual situation in an attempt to remaining on the farm. It took the help of his uncle Ralph, moving back to Pleasant Township from a lucrative job in Toledo, to be a guardian for Lyle after the untimely death of both Lyle’s parents at an early age. Lyle and his late wife Janet ran the farm for over 50 years, transitioning it to strictly a cash grain operation. Their work enabled it to be passed on to the current generation(s). Currently Lyle’s son Jeff and Lyle’s grandson Robert operate the farm. Jeff McKanna’s and Robert Gray’s young boys are the 6th generation, and excitedly learning about farming and the family legacy.

Jeff attended college at Purdue University and received a degree in Agricultural Economics. He returned to the farm after graduation and farming with his father, along with managing McBee Grain and Trucking. In 2002 Jeff moved to work in the financial industry in Cincinnati. Jeff returned to the farm 12 years ago. Robert grew up helping on the farm, and when he was in high school became more involved in the day-to-day operations.

The farm and a majority of the acres are located in southern Putnam County. They also farm some ground in northern Allen County. The farm ground is primarily within 5-6 miles of the base operation. The farm lays in the Maumee River Watershed (via the Blanchard River). They primarily farm Hoytville clay soil. Subsurface tile drainage is very important to the productivity of their clay soils.

Shady Lawn Farms has started using cover crops as a practice recently. “Like any new practice, there are learning curves,” said Jeff. “We’ve learned some things and seen some benefits, but the proof comes over time with the increased soil health.” No-till was a practice that Lyle started on the farm back in the 1980’s and they still use it as much as possible today.

Shady Lawn Farms delivers corn to their local refineries, such as Guardian in Lima and Poet in Leipsic. Their soybeans are shipped to Bunge in Delphos and also ADM in Fostoria. The wheat is sold to the local co-op and also Cargill in Lima.  

Shady Lawn Farms is constantly adding and evaluating technology in their operations. Robert has taken on the task of implementing and learning about the latest technology. This past winter, with the help of Ag Info Tech, they installed hydraulic downforce and electric drives on their planter using Ag Leader equipment. “We are trying to get a little more precise and a little cleaner with what we are doing in our planting operations,” said Robert. “Every piece of technology has a learning curve. The changes we made to the planter have been very positive. It put in a really nice stand of corn this year. It is precise and looks like a picket fence with even emergence and spacing. It is interesting to watch the monitor and look at how the downforce pressure changes on the go. Now we have a lot of data to go through. The data gives a confirmation of what you may already know, and also shows us spots in the field that we may not have realized had something going on.”

Serving the agriculture industry is something that is valued at Shady Lawn Farms. Lyle was active on the county farm bureau board for a number of years and also served on the Ohio Soybean Council. Jeff served two terms (6 years) on the board of the Ohio Soybean Association serving as both secretary and treasurer. He is now serving as a board member on the Ohio Soybean Council representing district 5, which is Allen, Putnam and Hancock counties. He serves on the Education Committee. “One role of the Council is to conduct research growing soybeans and using soybeans. Another responsibility is to educate both farmers and the next generation of producers, even if the future generation is not currently engaged in agriculture. The GrowNextGen program is introducing science educators to unique, hands-on ways to teach about the science in agriculture and the potential jobs that are available.

Jeff and Robert are excited about the future of Shady Lawn Farms and the next generation getting involved. They are interested in growing the operations and creating opportunities as they move forward. “We are in a really good place with highly productive soils and great market opportunities available locally,” said Jeff. “We have a bright future ahead.”

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