BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Agriculture is claiming a stronger toehold in the Third Frontier.
Ohio’s ag industry gained a little more recognition in the high tech world June 29 as Ohio Gov. Bob Taft designated the Toledo-based Center for Innovative Food Technology as a Thomas Edison Center, one focused specifically on agriculture and food processing.
The state’s seven Thomas Edison Centers each advance a particular high tech industry. Taft’s announcement at the center’s Agricultural Incubator Foundation in Bowling Green elevates agriculture as a high tech component in the state’s economic development efforts.
Economic driver. Agriculture is a “huge base” in Ohio’s economy, Taft said, adding it’s becoming more of a priority for economic development.
He said the Edison designation recognizes the facility as a “world-class center for the development of new food technologies.”
Taft called it a “commitment to advancing agriculture” as part of Ohio’s economic development initiative.
“We have to build on our farm sector here in Ohio.”
Taft also presented a Department of Development grant of $50,000 for the center to conduct a study on technological resources, programs and research in the public and private sector available to farmers, entrepreneurs and the agribusiness community.
The Center for Innovative Food Technology, or CIFT, is an outgrowth of the Edison Industrial Systems Center, which is being dissolved, according to CIFT Director Dave Beck.
Conduit for information. Instead of a researcher doing his thing in one corner and a farmer or entrepreneur in another wondering how to find the latest technology or get an answer to a farm or processing problem, the center puts the two together.
“We connect them,” said Rebecca Singer, the center’s manager for agricultural business. “We’re the only entity outside of a university that does this.”
“The food technology side has always been there, but now we’re adding the agriculture side.”
She said they have worked with companies the size of processing giant Kraft, on down to one-person startup companies.
Proud ‘parents.’ Joe and Bill Hirzel of Hirzel Canning Co. and Farms listened to the governor’s proclamation with obvious pride.
The Hirzel family’s company was the first member of the center’s consortium and purchased the 140-acre former Heinz farm site near Bowling Green that today houses the center’s Agricultural Incubator Foundation.
“It’s such a struggle for farmers,” said Joe Hirzel. “Everybody can’t be an ADM [multinational ag processor Archer Daniels Midland]. Where are they going to start?”
His own grandfather reinvented his business as a farm and tomato and sauerkraut processor when Prohibition slammed the door on his brewery.
“He had to readjust to the times,” Hirzel said.
“We didn’t want young people or beginning farmers to get discouraged,” he said of the family’s commitment to the center. “There has to be something there in the environment to get excited about.”
The Bowling Green facility includes a kitchen incubator for budding entrepreneurs to stir their salsa, and outside you’ll find a Garst Seed test plot, a Heidelberg College soil percolation test, one of Ohio State’s organic transition test plots, the Naturally Native Nursery, and in one of the pole buildings, Ohio State’s latest indoor aquaculture research.
Technical solutions. The center itself helps individuals, companies, organizations and institutions develop or adapt emerging technologies and practices.
It has completed technology development and commercialization projects in the food-processing sector for small onfarm operations, food packaging companies, food equipment companies and greenhouses.
With its diverse resources, it helped establish American Ag Fuels, a 3 million gallon/year biodiesel processing facility in Defiance and is currently working with Herzfeld Poultry Farms to develop and license salmonella-free eggs.
On the “low tech” end of the scale, the center developed a network connecting local chefs with local farmers.
The center works with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Soybean Council, and the Ohio Corn Growers Association, and has partnerships with the Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.
The common thread with all the plans and partnerships, said Director Dave Beck, is “all these projects really begin with entrepreneurs.
“The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive in Ohio agriculture.”
Unique partnership. The center is an example of a successful public/private partnership, said Bob Moser, dean and vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State University.
“One thing we do in Ohio is we produce it and add value to it,” Moser said. “And we’re capitalizing on that here.”
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)