WOOSTER, Ohio — The state agriculture director visited with farmers in Wayne County March 24, as part of his statewide effort to celebrate Ohio Agriculture Week.
David Daniels, who hails from a farm family in Greenfield, said the purpose of ag week is to “raise the awareness” about agriculture and everything it does.
He told the Wooster Kiwanis club that agriculture supplies everything from the cotton found in the shirts on their back, to the meals they eat and the timber in their homes. Ohio has about 75,000 farms, he said, and they average 187 acres.
He also praised agriculture for creating and maintaining jobs, even during tough economic times.
“When we’ve gone through hard times in our manufacturing economy, the one thing that continues to stand out and continues to operate is food manufacturing and production,” he said.
Roughly one in seven jobs in the state is related to agriculture, and as Daniels noted, Wayne County leads the state in dairy cows and milk production.
The county is adding new ag-related jobs over the next couple years, thanks to food manufacturers like Daisy Brand, which is building in Wooster.
While part of Daniels’ goal for the day was to promote agriculture, he also came with an open ear — and area farmers spoke their mind during an open forum with the director.
The top concern was water quality and nutrient regulation.
A set of bills are moving through the Ohio legislature that would ban the application of manure and fertilizer to frozen and snow-covered ground, and although the bills currently only apply to the western Lake Erie basin, farmers said they expect the ban will eventually be statewide.
That means farmers will need to expand their manure storage and handling capacity — a costly endeavor that some said could range from $1,000-$1,400 per cow.
Stan Carmony, a multi-generation dairy farmer from Wayne County, said the cost to his own farm could be a half-million dollars or more, something that doesn’t make sense at his age and at this point in his business.
John Douglass, whose family operates a dairy near Marshallville, said everything from engineers to concrete companies would need to be hired, and there would be increased need for manure handling, and getting it onto the fields in a shortened window.
“There’s not near enough equipment in this state to move the manure out in three weeks — there’s just not,” he said.
On a smaller scale, there’s also concern over how a manure ban would affect the area’s large population of Amish farmers. Most do not have large manure storage, and they rely on small manure spreaders that can be pulled with horses.
Some of the farmers requested Daniels look at possible funding to help educate farmers about the new rules and to offset the cost for manure storage structures.
But Daniels said he wants to first be sure of what the new law contains. A statewide ban has not yet been introduced; only for the western Lake Erie basin.
“I don’t even know what the bill looks like yet, so I don’t know how much funding to ask for,” Daniels said. “We have to see what the bill looks like before we know what to ask for.”
Daniels said he’s talked with the governor about making the rules statewide, but so far the decision has been to work in the western basin.
“We’ve kind of talked about it,” he said. “I think there was some recognition with limited resources, we need to determine an area we need to work on before making any kind of a statewide (decision).”
He said the rules being put together still allow farmers to apply nutrients under certain exceptions and emergencies, as long as they follow things like the NRCS nutrient standards.
“We have not asked anybody to build anything yet,” he said. “We’re asking the people to take a look at their management and their operation and see if there is a way they can apply and better apply (nutrients).”
In other matters, produce grower Fred Finney, of Moreland Fruit Farm, noted his concern over how the federal Food Safety Modernization Act will be implemented in Ohio. The Food and Drug Administration has spent the past couple years trying to define the new rules and how they will be enforced.
Daniels said the program is still being finalized, with rules that he expects will be approved around October.
He said the federal government has set aside funds to help cover the cost of inspectors and their training, and that the new program will be an adjustment for ODA and for farmers.
“Probably for the first time, we’re going to be on a lot of farms that we’ve never been on before and it concerns us as a department,” Daniels said. “FSMA is going to put us on a lot of farms and orchards that we just haven’t been on before.”
Concerns were also noted that there’s more to the nutrient issue than just agriculture — a point Daniels said was true. He said the Ohio EPA knows that municipal and septic systems contribute to the problem, and is working with those entities to improve their systems, as well.
Daniels said the governor “recognizes that this is a multi-industry issue and that everybody has got a piece of it.”
On a lighter side, Daniels’ ag week visits also included a $1,000 check that he helped present to Brandon Read, a Bath Elementary student who grew a 42-pound cabbage and won the Bonnie Plants cabbage contest.
On March 23, he joined the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and Farmer Veteran Coalition in a visit to Bush Valley Farm, in Adamsville, where he inducted the owners into Ohio’s Homegrown by Heroes program.
Homegrown by Heroes is a recognition program that certifies Ohio agricultural products from farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who have served or are still serving in any branch of the U.S. military.
Bush Valley Farms is owned and operated by Scott and Jean Bush, who are both retired from the U.S. military.
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