(Scroll down to see all 10 reviews, and click the links to go to the original story)
Land values soar
A host of financial drivers helped land values see a significant increase in Ohio and the Midwest in 2011.
Higher yield and commodity potentials, as well as low interest loans and low rate of return on money in the banks all helped push Ohio’s average land value up 7.5 percent, to an average of $4,300 per acre.
Pennsylvania farmland remained unchanged per acre, but all Midwest states saw an increase, with farmland in Iowa shooting up by 25 percent.
Development pressures took a back seat to farm interests, and farmers of contingent land were the dominant buyers, according to sources.
But the big question on the minds of farmers and the ag community at large, is whether crop prices will remain high enough into the future to make good on those costly land investments.
If crop prices fall amidst high land prices, it could mean some tight margins and a much longer payoff period.
Wettest year on record
Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance your county set or exceeded the all-time record for rainfall.
In the spring, it rained so much, day after day, that Ohio Department of Agriculture and other state officials called a meeting to discuss whether the 2011 crop could even be planted, and if so, how much.
Ted Lozier, chief of the Ohio Division of Soil and Water Resources, said it was the wettest April in more than 100 years. Some 7.7 inches fell statewide, surpassing the previous record set in 1893 of 6.37 inches.
The weather broke just enough a few days in early June, to allow farmers to plant more than half their acreage in under a week’s time.
Farmers questioned whether the late-planted crops would mature properly, but as summer came and went, most of the crop did better than expected.
Then came fall and harvest time, when the rain and mud returned. The wet fall kept the combines in the fields until the end of the year to finish the crop.
Some farmers will spend the first part of 2012 fixing ruts and washed out fields, while others were able to avoid such issues by either waiting for better weather, or using four-wheel drive equipment and dual-wheel combines and tractors.
Livestock care board finalizes standards
After a year and a half of intense meetings and discussions, the 13-member Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board finalized the nation’s first and most comprehensive state-specific animal care standards for each of the major livestock species.
The last of the standards became effective Sept. 29, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio law are now enforcing the new standards and inspecting complaints of violations.
The ag department held a series of public meetings in the fall to explain the new standards and how producers can comply. Officials said they intend to be producer-friendly about enforcing the new rules, but new fines and penalties are on the books that will be applied if necessary.
Ohio exotics issue
An executive order signed by former Gov. Ted Strickland that banned “possession, sale and transfer” of dangerous wild animals was left to expire in April after Gov. John Kasich and his staff determined they did not have legal authority to keep the ban in place.
The Kasich Administration instead created a special work group organized by Ohio Department of Natural Resources to set new standards of owning, or banning, certain dangerous animals.
The group’s work was expedited in October when Zanesville animal keeper Terry Thompson apparently set loose more than three dozen dangerous wild animals and then later killed himself. Most of the animals had to be shot in order to protect the public.
Kasich issued a new executive order by the end of October, calling on state officials to increase inspections and use of existing laws.
The work group completed its recommendations in November, and the state legislature is expected to draft legislation on the issue in the coming months.
Water quality issues
Nutrient and sediment loading into Ohio’s lakes and streams has been an issue for 40 or more years, and farmers’ conservation efforts have made a substantial improvement.
But, in the past year or two, it’s become increasingly clear more efforts are needed to tackle a slightly different issue: dissolved reactive phosphorous. Unlike other forms of phosphorous, the dissolved form is considered 100 percent available to unwanted plant growth — namely the harmful algal blooms.
Throughout the first part of the year, state officials put together a statewide task force to address what farmers should do. The group became known as the Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Work Group, and is comprised of staff from Ohio Department of Agriculture, the department of natural resources and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Dozens of farmers and farm agencies are helping the group form new recommendations for Ohio, to help improve water quality and reduce dissolved phosphorous levels.
By the close of the year, water quality was on the minds of grain and livestock farmers across the state.
Some changes within the state cabinet led to the eventual change of directors at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
James Zehringer, a past farmer from Mercer County, took the ag director office in January and transferred to become director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in November, replacing former ODNR director David Mustine, who took a position with the newly created JobsOhio to oversee energy development. State Veterinarian Tony Forshey is serving as interim ag director.
Zehringer said his experience handling the exotic animals issue, water quality and various other farm-related programs would be a plus in his new position at ODNR.
The question on the minds of many reporters was weather ODNR and ODA might be merging, but state officials, including Zehringer, said it’s not so, at least not now.
“That’s not going to happen at this time,” Zehringer said in November, adding the two departments may look at some “shared services” in the information technology sector, but there will be “no merging of the departments right now.”
Baker’s Golden Dairy
NEW WATERFORD, Ohio — Baker’s Golden Dairy in Columbiana County became one of the few Ohio farms selling whole milk straight to the consumer from cows milked on their farm.
Kevin Baker said he knew the farm needed to grow to sustain the family but adding cattle to the herd didn’t seem like the answer and instead decided to diversify. They currently milk 100 Holsteins, and are bottling over 10 percent of the production.
After milking, the milk goes into a portable bulk tank, which is then moved to the processing building. The milk is unloaded into the heat exchanger and cooler, and then moved into the pasteurizer. After the pasteurization process, it is bottled for the customer.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture is on site throughout the week at different times, keeping tabs on what is happening in the processing center.
U.S. DOT says no to new regulations for American ag community
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced Aug. 10 it will not propose new regulations governing the transport of agricultural products.
The agency also released guidance designed to make sure states clearly understand the common sense exemptions that allow farmers, their employees, and their families to accomplish their day-to-day work and transport their products to market.
After hearing from concerned farmers earlier this year, FMCSA initiated this review to make sure states don’t go overboard in enforcing regulations on agricultural operators, and to ensure consistent access to exemptions for farmers.
The agency said no regulations will be proposed for any new safety requirements or changes to the rules governing the transport of agricultural products, farm machinery, or farm supplies to or from a farm.
Marcellus and Utica shale: The new Texas
SALEM, Ohio — The Marcellus and Utica shale boom begins to infiltrate Ohio in a big way, as property owners who waited to lease their acreage begin to get offers for as much as $6,000 an acre in some areas.
While some property owners have not signed leases, drilling rigs have moved in across Ohio.
Meanwhile drilling across the Pennsylvania state line moved forward and with it came the complaints of truck traffic.
Tom Murphy, Penn State University, extension educator for Lycoming County and co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research said the fracking process is not the major concern for pollution and safety. He said it was the truck traffic. Murphy said the biggest impacts from the shale drilling in Pennsylvania were the financial impacts.
While the benefits are taking hold, land owners who leased their land before the boom take to the courtrooms. One Columbiana County farm and several property owners in Carroll County filed lawsuits because of what they feel were unfair practices in their lease agreements.
In the central part of the state, many landowners have existing leases with Columbia Gas, and the Mohican Basin Land Owners Association is considering a court battle so those land owners can re-lease and gain benefits that new leases are giving landowners.
Pulling for Zack
It’s a story that repeats itself throughout Farm and Dairy country: A community pulling together to help a local resident who’s working through a difficult situation.
This past year in Harrison County, the support and outpouring for Zack Jones, who successfully battled undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma — a rare liver cancer — culminated in the surprise gift of an International 856 turbo pulling tractor.
Vo-ag teacher and tractor puller Todd Kendle, who led the almost six-month secret project, estimates more than $40,000 of donated equipment and labor was spent rebuilding the tractor. The tractor’s name celebrates the best gift of all: Survivor.