Karl Hirzel (right) got into the details with Marilyn Hoffman (center) when explaining how the company turns raw tomatoes into chopped tomatoes for Hirzel Canning's customers - Putnam Sentinel
Karl Hirzel (right) got into the details with Marilyn Hoffman (center) when explaining how the company turns raw tomatoes into chopped tomatoes for Hirzel Canning's customers (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

PUTNAM COUNTY — The 2019 Ag Tour took place last Saturday, August 24, beginning and ending at the Kalida Fish & Game Club. Organized by the Putnam County Soil & Water Conservation District, with assistance from the Farm Bureau and Ag Credit. Following a continental breakfast provided by Hoyt’s Sweet Corner and Little Red Bakery, this year’s tour brought members of the general public to Hirzel Canning, Powerhouse Electric Supply, Remlinger Manufacturing, and the recently built wetland located on Kalida Fish & Game Club property.

“We are in the midst of tomato season here at Hirzel Canning. We just started last Tuesday,” says Karl Hirzel, just before the tour at the Ottawa plant begins. “We’re running, today, about 650-700 tons. We have trucks coming, and there’s about 22 tons on each truckload. Through the course of the day, we’ll see 50-60 loads…As an overall view, we contract with about 30 different growers. They are scattered from southeast Michigan, which is Monroe and Lenawee Counties, all the way down into Putnam County.”

The plant can process up to around 1,000 tons during a typical workday day, according to Mr. Hirzel. That time includes shutdown and cleaning, which also occurs daily. The company mostly supplies its own Dei Fratelli brand of chopped tomatoes. However, its facility in Ottawa mostly does not.

Instead, Ottawa’s Hirzel Canning primarily produces 30 gallon barrels and significantly larger 300 gallon totes of diced tomatoes and crushed tomato bases for its customers, who then use those ingredients in their own food products.

Powerhouse Electric Supply of Ottawa was Superior Energy Solutions’ first solar installation back in 2009. When the company expanded in 2017, an additional system was added. The two systems now account for approximately 90 percent of Powerhouse’s annual electricity needs. From the company’s perspective, the system turns a month-to-month variable cost into a flat annual cost. It is grid tied, meaning Powerhouse Electric still receives a bill. Any energy produced beyond what the company uses during any given month becomes a credit which can be used during months will less solar intensity.

The original 2009 system consists of 54 panels and was installed at a cost of $81,000 before government and other incentives. The newer system, which produces approximately the same amount of electricity, consists of 31 panels and was installed at a pre-incentive cost of $28,600. Both systems are 10.8 kW in size. This represents an approximate 183% decrease in costs in just eight years for essentially the same system. In 2009, the payback time of the system was estimated at 15.2 years. The new system’s payback time is estimated at just six and a half years.

The payback time frame on new technology is clearly important to Remlinger Manufacturing as well. It recently completed an automated LED lighting system, a $107,000 investment with $20,000 from AEP for incentive. The company expects savings from the system to effectively payback the investment in just two years.

Most of the recent changes have occurred on the factory floor, where robotics play a bigger role than ever. According to Jim McElwain, who has been with the company for over 50 years now and is currently in charge of special projects, Remlinger has just a few presses left.

It purchased its first CO2 laser cutter in 2008. The piece of equipment was standard at the time, according to Mr. McElwain, and is now rarely used, having been replaced by more effective laser cutters. “We’re just doing things better and smarter,” Mr. McElwain says, “We can mill, drill, everything on these machines. We don’t have to take it to a separate op.”

As an example of such progress, and in addition to its own products, Remlinger proudly displays the Diamond Harrow frames it manufacturers for the North American market for Australia’s Kelly Engineering.

The tour’s final stop took place where it began - Kalida’s Fish & Game Club. Here, a new wetland has recently been constructed on the club’s property through a collaboration between the club and PC Soil & Water.

Currently, it appears to be little more than a large dirt berm encircling an area of land. By next spring, it should be much more. A 17 acre watershed will then drain into the roughly two acre wetland, which will seed itself with vegetation. Ducks Unlimited will provide duck boxes, and Pheasants Forever will create habitats for the pheasants as well.

The wetland was designed by PC Soil & Water with assistance from ODNR. Gerding Ditching constructed the wetland, with the Ohio EPA providing some cost-share funding. A control structure will remain open until the berms are seeded and grass begins to grow. Then, the area should begin to look very different, very quickly.