Yes, agriculture IS Ohio’s No. 1 industry


The average consumer may not realize it, but if you’re an aggie on either side of the Ohio-Pa. line, we’ve all heard it: “Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry.

Politicians say it. Farm organization leaders say it. University officials say it. Farmers and allied folks like us say it.

But is it true?

PolitiFact (reporters and researchers from PolitiFact and its partner news organizations who vet claims made by public officials) decided to investigate the statement after hearing Ohio Gov. John Kasich at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation members at their annual meeting a couple weeks ago.

And the PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter says “True.”

The Plain Dealer and PolitiFact Ohio turned to the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and, in turn, to Ohio State University ag economist Tom Sporleder, who developed the OHFOOD economic model to calculate the economic contributions of Ohio’s agricultural industry.

By using a sophisticated set of computerized multipliers, Sporleder estimates the ripple effect on Ohio’s economy from agriculture. He includes production agriculture, agribusiness, forestry, processing, food service and wholesale/retail outlets — the entire food and agriculture production and supply chain cluster.

The most recent number-crunching was in June 2012, using 2010 data, Sporleder told PolitiFact. And here’s how PolitiFact shared the findings:

“In 2010, the study found, the total food and agricultural cluster contributed 11.7 percent, or $105 billion, of Ohio’s total economic output of $898.7 billion. The cluster’s share of the gross state product of $477.7 billion was $51 billion, or almost 11 percent (emphasis added).

“Ohio’s gross state product improved by 1.3 percent from 2008 to 2010, the study said, while the portion attributed to the “agrifood” cluster increased about 30 percent.”

Remember, the model is not just tracking “farming,” but the entire farm-to-fork chain.

Pennsylvania doesn’t have a similar model, but I’d wager the economic clout of the commonwealth’s agriculture chain would be similar.

Food processing is huge in Pennsylvania (2,300 food processing companies, including giants like Hershey Foods and H.J. Heinz), and the state also has an often-ignored forestry industry that ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for production of export grade hardwood, and forest products account for nearly $700 million of the state’s exports.

Pennsylvania also leads the nation in the number of slaughter plants and mushroom production.

If you want to make a case for agriculture in the Buckeye or Keystone states, look no further than these economic figures. And there are underlying tax dollars and employment numbers in that model, too.

People don’t think about this economic impact when they see a gallon of milk in the store . It’s up to us to make that connection.

That will take more than parroting “agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry.” Even though we now know that’s true.

By Susan Crowell


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