Harker receives 2016 Outstanding Staff Awards from the Ohio State University and the OSU College of Food Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

By Brad Bergefurd, Extension Horticulture Specialist

Thomas C. Harker, Horticulture Research Assistant at  the OSU South Centers and  a 20-year dedicated OSU College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and OSU South Centers Horticulture and Field Research team member,  was recognized with a plaque presented by OSU President Michael Drake in May as one of 12 from over 25,000 staff members at the Ohio State University selected to receive the prestigious 2016 Ohio State University Distinguished Staff Award.  Annually OSU honors twelve individuals for their outstanding achievements, service, leadership and dedication to The Ohio State University. The Distinguished Staff Award is the highest honor bestowed upon staff at the university since its inception in 1984.

Thom was also recognized and received the OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) 2016 Staff Advisory Council (SAC) Above and Beyond Innovation Award. This award is given annually by CFAES to recognize a staff member for developing and/or participating in project initiatives and/or process operations improvements that enhances CFAES, Extension, OSU Agriculture Technical Institute (ATI) or OARDC and its mission. Thom was recognized and received a one-time cash award and a plaque which was presented to him by the CFAES Administration at the CFAES Staff Advisory Council’s staff recognition banquet in November at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center.

Thom oversees daily management of Horticulture field & greenhouse research and Extension education projects at Piketon, Bowling Green and Wooster CFAES campus locations. He manages this research with an innovative approach, practical, and whole-hearted effort.  He has developed creative and innovative solutions to CFAES research facilities that have resulted in significantly more effective, economically viable, and efficient research operations. He provides outstanding and ongoing excellence in service to all program leaders, farmers, agriculture industry clientele, and OSU faculty, students and staff to enhance the CFAES research and Extension mission.

As new projects or ventures are implemented, Thom as a “Farmer Engineer” has invented machinery, equipment and/or processes to accomplish important agricultural research tasks at very modest costs, saving the University thousands of dollars.  Some of these innovative examples have been;  the modified grape hoe, deer fence, drip irrigation, hop high trellis system, moveable greenhouse or high tunnels (which have now been adopted by the agriculture industry), whole-farm underground irrigation and a bird netting applicator that can protect grape, berry, and fruit plantings, Israeli style micro-irrigation technology, tomato plant grafting methods, field plasticulture technologies, micro-fertigation of crops, and greenhouse food crop production technology.  Many of these innovations have been adopted by farmers not only in Ohio, nationwide but also by African researchers, students and farmers at the Université Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis, Sénégal. 

Thom currently manages operations of eleven field and greenhouse research projects that account for over $380,000 in external funding.  With his attention to detail, Thom can spot potential problems with field research operations before the problems affect important data collection and he rectifies the problems immediately to protect data collection.