By Susan Mykrantz
WOOSTER, Ohio — Since 1950, Ohio has lost 7 million acres of farmland and ranks second in the nation in the development of prime farmland, according to Brian Williams, Farmland Policy Specialist with the mid-ohio regional planning commission.
Williams added the development of prime farmland in Ohio was not to accommodate an increase in the state’s population, but rather to accommodate the existing population in the state.
Williams presented information at the monthly Northeast Ohio Agri-business Forum at Buehler’s Fresh Food Market in Ashland.
“Agriculture is a $98 billion industry in Ohio, it is the core of local economies,” said Williams.
Williams estimated the market value of farm products in a 9-county area comprised of Ashland, Holmes, Wayne, Knox, Morrow, Richland, Huron, Lorain and Crawford counties to total 1.1 billion dollars, not factoring other assets such as inputs and implements, processing and handling, farm buildings and storage and real estate.
In Holmes County alone, the market value was valued at $133,827,000 BC or before cheese, which adds to the market value of the products.
Williams cited a study identifying Ohio as a “food colony,” growing the food, shipping it out of the state for processing and buying it back at higher prices.
“Processing (food) in Ohio contributes to the local economy and it creates jobs,” he said.
Another benefit to preserving farmland is that it saves tax dollars. Farmland uses 37 cents in services for every dollar in taxes, while residential land requires $1.19 in public services for every dollar in taxes.
“New housing adds tax revenue, it also requires water, sewer, roads, police, fire protection and schools,” Williams said.
“It adds to the size and cost of government. Why is agriculture a bargain; because cows don’t go to school.”
Williams said it was important to plan for agriculture, not around it.
“Communities need to recognize agriculture’s role in the local community and build on that success,” he said.
“Focus on agriculture in economic planning and in land use planning.”
Tools such as easement donations, agricultural security areas, agricultural easement purchase programs, agricultural districts, current agricultural use valuations and estate and business planning are all ways farmers can protect farmland and preserve the infrastructure.
“Strong cities will save the farm and remove the need for people to move out and build in rural areas,” he added.
Communities can also use tools such as economic development planning, local land use planning and zoning and public/private partnerships.
“The best way to preserve farmland is to make sure farming is profitable,” said Williams. “Look at new niche opportunities.”
Local food production is one route to profitability and it is good for farmers, good for consumers, good for the economy and good for the land. Many times communities focus their economic development on bringing in new factories, but developing their local food system will add value and keep jobs in Ohio, says Willliams.
“Ohioans spend $43 billion on food at grocery stores and restaurants and that does not include institutional food service,” he said.
“There is enormous potential, but a lot of what we eat we aren’t able to grow in Ohio, but there is still potential for growth. We need to have the processing and distribution facilities, recapturing that money is part of the key to local economic development.”
In the end, without farms, Ohio risks losing dairy and other processors, seed and equipment dealers and other support industries.
“By promoting farms we create new opportunities for processors and farm suppliers and potential new jobs in food processing and distribution,” he said.
“There is a lot of potential for Ohio agricultural products. We need to capitalize on the demand by consumers for local products. We need to look at what is being done nationally and find a way to do it better.”