Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Those who love Oreos may not be too interested in the fact that the Ohio wheat breeding program just got a grant for new harvesting equipment, but they should be -- it could lead to improvements in cookies and the other wheat products we enjoy.

Ohio is recognized around the world for growing high quality soft red winter wheat that is used for making products like crackers and cookies (including Oreos). The hard red wheat grown widely in the western U.S. is better suited for making breads.

“The big difference between a hard wheat and a soft wheat is that the hard wheat flour absorbs a lot of water and holds it and the soft wheat flour does not hold much water,” said Clay Sneller, who heads up Ohio State University’s wheat breeding program.

The resurgence in the interest in the dietary value of whole grain has added a new twist to the traditional uses of these two different types of wheat.

“Everyone should be eating whole grain because it is good for you, but we are having a bit of a problem making whole grain soft wheat products. If you’re making whole grain bread, you’re using hard wheat and you’re making a flour that absorbs and holds a lot of moisture. As you add the bran back into the flour to make it whole grain, you further increase the capacity of that flour to absorb water,” Sneller said. “When you’re making bread that is great, but when you’re making cookies or crackers, increasing that water holding capacity by adding the bran is actually bad for making products with the right shape, texture and size. Adding the bran for whole grain makes less desirable soft wheat products.”

While consumers are interested in eating more whole grain, no one is going to buy a misshapen Oreo with a funny texture. For this reason, Sneller is looking for a soft red winter wheat variety that does not hold as much water, which would allow it to be used for making whole grain cookies and crackers. In addition to this trait, the wheat variety would also need all of the necessary characteristics to be profitable for Ohio’s wheat farmers to produce. Finding such a variety is daunting, at best -- akin to locating a very small needle in a very large pile of straw.

This numbers game involves screening a myriad of wheat varieties, selecting some, growing them, and evaluating them for possession of the necessary traits. This process takes years of screening and testing, though it has been sped up in recent years with technology using molecular markers to narrow down the list of potential varieties to plant in test plots. From there, the new harvesting equipment will come into play. 

“The Oho Small Grains Marketing Program and the Ohio Seed Improvement Association have awarded us a grant to buy a combine for our research station up in northwest Ohio. With that combine, we can increase the lines of wheat that we can test. The combine we will be buying has an automatic weigh unit so one person can combine a plot and it measures how much grain, the moisture and test weight and puts that information in a computer and dumps the grain. One person can do well over 1,000 plots a day with this combine,” Sneller said. “When they’re done harvesting, the data is already colleted in the computer. Right now we have four people up there, and they can do about 600 plots a day. Now we can send one person and they can do 1,200 in a day, if not more. The benefit of this, of course, is that we can look at more lines of wheat, which gives us a better chance of finding new varieties and it will make us more competitive with getting grants.”

In short, the new combine increases the odds of finding the right wheat variety for making a healthier Oreo.

“If we can allow the industry to make these whole grain products better, cheaper and more acceptable to consumers, then the consumers will eat more whole grain, and that is good for them,” Sneller said. “So maybe someday they will be able to eat a whole grain Oreo that tastes just like the original Oreo and is good for them. I don’t think there is much we can do for the white icing inside, though.”


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.





Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The blazing fire indoors kept us warm, but it was cold outside. In fact, I think it was probably the coldest day we’ve ever been open for business at the family Christmas tree farm in Hancock County. The thermometer told us the temperature was well below zero, with a wind chill of around -30. It was in late December near the end of the sales season, just a few days before Christmas.

None of my brothers were too eager to spend much time cutting trees outside that day. When customers would arrive, we would take turns, each hoping for a customer who would make a hasty decision in the tree field so we could quickly return to the warmth of the barn. We were in the middle of an intense euchre game when the door opened with a swirl of snow and a bone-chilling breeze. In walked a family that was very well bundled up. It was my turn to help and I feared that they would want to spend a long time in the cold selecting their tree based on their heavy jackets. My brothers gave me taunting grins as I walked into the frozen gale and glanced back to see them reclining around the card table in the comfortable warmth of the fire. Fortunately for me, despite the heavy coats, the cold weather inspired a very quick tree selection and I was back in the barn soon.

The next customer to arrive was a weathered looking man wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. I’ll take this one, my younger brother quickly volunteered upon seeing the man’s apparel.

“Hi there. How can we help you?” my brother pleasantly said to the man. “We have a lot of nice trees pretty close to the barn here, or we have trees farther out in the field, but it is awfully cold out there.”

“I’ll be right back,” the man said.

The customer ran out to his truck and returned moments later zipping up a pair of coveralls that appeared to be crafted for hunting arctic seals on treks to the North Pole.

“Let’s go,” he said.

My brother’s eyes widened and it was our turn to do the taunting as he headed out into the cold. They returned almost an hour later with a tall tree from the farthest reaches of the farm and my brother had turned a shade of purple due to the cold. He was certainly glad to be back in the warmth of that cozy fire.

Warm fires and this chilly time of year have been associated for a very long time through the tradition of burning a Yule log, which has its roots in a Pagan celebration of the winter solstice. The cold weather and long nights in Scandinavia, and the promise of longer days ahead, were ample reason for a celebration around a roaring fire many centuries ago. In the Fourth Century, when Pope Julius I decided to celebrate the birth of Christ around the time of the winter solstice, the Yule log tradition became associated with Christmas.

The huge Christmas Yule log, sometimes pulled by a team of horses, was brought into a large hall or home on Christmas Eve as a centerpiece of the celebration throughout Europe in the following centuries. People would symbolically cast their faults and sins into the flame of the Yule log to start the New Year with a clean slate. And, the log was never completely burnt so a piece could be saved to start the Yule log fire the following year. Pieces from the log were also said to be a source of good luck throughout the year.

The Yule log tradition continued in 19th Century America where slaves did not have to work as long as the Yule log burned, so they would choose the biggest, greenest log they could find. In more modern times, generations of viewers, particularly in New York, have gathered around their television sets on Christmas morning to listen to holiday music and watch a filmed Yule log burning brightly on the screen. For centuries, the bright flames leaping from the Yule log have conveyed an important reminder for Christians around the world, bringing people together for celebration in the light of Christ amid the dark, cold winter surrounding them.

Stay warm and have a Merry Christmas.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

‘Tis the season. Christmas lights are up, along with heating bills, electricity bills and gasoline prices. Amid all the holiday merry-making, many Ohio residents with tight budgets are more than a little concerned with energy costs during this time of year. It is, however, a season of hope; and with regard to the future of renewable energy sources, Ohioans do have a lot of reasons to be hopeful.

Last year, Governor Ted Strickland signed Senate Bill 221 that gives Ohio the third most aggressive advanced energy portfolio standard in the nation and mandates that 25 percent of all electricity sold in Ohio come from advanced energy sources by 2025. This builds on a number of other good things Ohio has going for it with regard to renewable energy.

First, Ohio is home to a number of ethanol and biodiesel plants and the production of a bountiful amount of feedstock in the form of corn and soybeans. And along with the state’s strong agricultural sector, there are a number of important industrial components in Ohio to support the Christmas future, and present of renewable energy. Here are some recent highlights of Ohio’s vibrant renewable energy industry.

· On Nov. 30, Governor Ted Strickland announced that 25 Ohio projects will receive more than $13 million in grant awards to Ohio companies for renewable energy development. The grants will be used by public and private entities to install wind electric, solar electric and solar thermal technologies at businesses, schools, parks and other public locations throughout Ohio.

· Ohio is the No. 1 State for Renewable and Advanced Energy Manufacturing. Ohio brings in more new renewable energy facility projects than any other state. The Ohio Third Frontier has invested more than $150 million in energy technology development delivering assistance to Ohio manufacturing companies that sustain Ohio’s global competitive advantages for product development, company growth and attraction, job creation and wealth creation.

·Ohio ranks in the top five in the United States for clean energy, energy efficiency and environmentally friendly production jobs. 

·Ohio is home to a number of national leaders in the renewable energy industry including: First Solar in Perrysburg has the largest manufacturing plant of thin-film solar panels in the country. First Solar is capitalizing on Northwest Ohio’s history of expert glass manufacturing and knowledgeable workforce and is expanding its Ohio manufacturing operations to build a new facility to support increased development activities associated with its advanced thin-film solar module manufacturing technology

R.E. Burger plant in Shadyside, Belmont County is building one of the largest biomass facilities in the country. Units at the Burger plant are being re-powered to generate electricity primarily with biomass. This project, announced in early April, anticipates the plant will be capable of producing up to 312 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 190,000 homes, which makes it one of the largest biomass facilities in the country.

Minster Machine in Minster (Auglaize County) is diversifying its equipment manufacturing from the auto, medical and food industries to include energy-related parts manufacturing. The company began as a blacksmith in 1896 and recently the Minster Machine Company has been forging the giant cast-iron hubs that keep the blades attached to the center of a wind turbine.

And, many of Ohio’s best known manufacturers such as American Trim, Avon Bearings, Dovetail Solar and Wind, Lubrizol, Owens-Corning, Parker Hannifin, Sherwin Williams and Timken are now key suppliers to the nation’s advanced energy industry. The traditional manufacturing processes used by these companies transition easily to supply bearings, performance coatings, advanced plastics, composites and other energy-related components that will help create the future of clean energy.

· Ohio has the nation’s largest comprehensive public system for higher education and Ohio universities invest $2 billion annually in research and development. And Ohio’s “green collar” workers are trained in dedicated university and community college programs focused on advanced energy. 

· The Ohio School Facilities Commission is making more than $4 billion available to partner with local districts to build new schools, but those schools must achieve at least the silver level rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, called LEED. Ohio has more LEED registered schools than the next three highest states combined.

If the Fa-la-la-lectric bill has got you down and paying a high heating bill is not on your Christmas wish list, try not to let the energy woes of this year result in a blue Christmas. There is a lot of promise for many greener holidays ahead. 

 Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fresh Country Air Nov. 2009

Everyone knows that we are far too dependent on foreign oil in this country. Of course, one of the first things we think about with regard to our oil is the amount of driving we do, but we often do not think about all the oil that goes into the many other plastics and petroleum-derived products we use every day. From those little plastic windows in envelops to the toys we buy for our children, petroleum is almost everywhere around us.  

The fact that Ohio’s consumers want to stop using so much petroleum was made clear in a summer consumer attitude survey conducted by the Ohio Soybean Council. The survey found that 88 percent of Ohioans would prefer to purchase bio-based products instead of traditional chemical or petroleum-based products.

The survey randomly sampled 600 registered voters providing a good statistical representation of Ohio consumers. And, despite the rough economy, nearly 60% of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay up to 10 percent more for the bioproduct over the price of the petroleum-based competitor.

With the holiday shopping season here, there are a myriad of bio-based products out there for great, domestically produced, petroleum-free stocking-stuffers of every kind. To find out more about holiday bioproducts, you can go to www.soynewuses.org, www.biopreferred.gov and www.soyclean.biz, or simply visit a nearby Christmas tree farm. Real Christmas trees are probably the oldest holiday bioproduct around — beautiful, fragrant, and 100 percent petroleum free.

At a time when Americans are placing more emphasis on environmental stewardship than ever before, a growing number of people are discovering the numerous environmental benefits of choosing a real Christmas tree.

“Some people still don’t understand that real Christmas trees are far more environmentally friendly than the artificial alternative,” said Dave Reese, owner of Kaleidoscope Farms in Mt. Cory and president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association. “At the time they are harvested, most real Christmas trees have been producing oxygen, sheltering wildlife, conserving soil, improving water quality and absorbing carbon dioxide for seven or more years.”

Christmas tree farms around the state are planting hundreds of thousands of trees every year, and with those trees come a host of environmental benefits. The vast majority of Christmas trees purchased in this country come from a farm where growers plant one to three seedlings for each tree harvested. Close to half a billion trees are currently growing on U.S. tree farms.

Then, after the season, Christmas trees are recycled for use as mulch, fish and wildlife habitat and for controlling stream bank erosion. In sharp contrast, plastic, petroleum-based artificial Christmas trees never biodegrade, and after their useful life will likely go to a landfill.

Along with being a much more environmentally friendly option, real Christmas trees offer customers a chance to visit a farm and see those benefits on display.

“Have you ever seen where an artificial Christmas tree comes from? Chances are they don’t give many tours at those Chinese factories,” Reese said. “Tree farms are great places to visit for their natural beauty and the chance to spend some time outdoors in the country.”

As consumer interest in bio-based products continues to grow, there will undoubtedly be more new-fangled bioproducts wrapped up beneath the Christmas tree this year than ever before. People will be cleaning for holiday gatherings using soy-based cleaners, gifts will be shipped in bio-based packaging materials and, when it gets cold, people will de-ice their windshields with a bioproduct.

There are a lot of people spending a lot of money to find new ways to utilize bioproducts to make all kinds of new products. Many of these efforts are taking place in Ohio and, in the process creating jobs and bolstering the state’s economy. These types of products are fantastic and rightfully deserve the consideration of consumers. But, with enviro-concious consumers tripping over themselves to find the latest bio-fiber shirt or earth-friendly coffee pot for a gift under the tree this Christmas, let’s not forget about the holiday bioproduct that has been around since the 7th Century. Real Christmas trees, after all, are naturally superior.  

For more information, or to find a Christmas tree farm near you, visit ohiochristmastree.com.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 2009

Imagine if you had just won the lottery, what a great day. But, unfortunately, the Ohio Lottery Commission imposed a new rule. You get a lump sum of money right up front in a huge stack of one-dollar bills, but you have to put that massive stack of money out in a field somewhere. Once in place, the lottery officials mandate that you have to dig a shallow moat around the money and you can only remove it from the pile one shopping cart at a time when the moat is completely dry.

You are so thrilled about winning the lottery, you don’t worry too much about this minor inconvenience at first, but then it starts raining. It rains for three days in a row and you have only had the chance to get just couple of shopping cart loads out of the field. The moat is overflowing and it rained so hard that some of the money washed away.

The sun finally comes out and the wind picks up, blowing more of the lottery winnings out of your grasp. After long days of waiting, you can finally get back over your dry moat, racing to get as many cartfuls of money out before it starts raining again.

After another day of showers, you are forced to sit and watch as a pair of deer and a fat raccoon shred dozens of dollars and trample many more in the muddy ground. You’re beside yourself as the winds pick up again. Finally the ground dries up and you rush out to get as much as you can and run it to the bank to make a deposit only to find that the bank is closed for the day.

As you can imagine, this process would be pretty frustrating, but it is not much different from the challenges farmers are facing this fall. The extended cool, wet summer that most of Ohio experienced this year produced strong yields in both corn and soybeans, but the resulting slow development has held up harvest. Even once the crops mature, the cool, wet harvest season is keeping farmers from harvesting those good yields. To make matters worse, every rain that re-wets the drying crops can hurt their quality and condition; winds that come through can blow the crops over and make them unharvestable. In addition, the longer the crop stands out in the field, the more opportunities pests have to destroy it.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of Oct. 26, only 90% of the state’s corn crop was mature, compared with the 99% average over the last five years. Just 17% of the corn crop was harvested by Oct. 26 compared to over half at the same time last year. Soybeans are typically ready for harvest before the corn crop and 75% of soybeans were harvested by Oct. 26 compared to 87% last year.

In general, farmers are fairly pleased with their crop yields this fall, but frustrated about the challenging harvest conditions. Many farmers aim to be finished with harvest by Thanksgiving, but it looks like there will be plenty of Christmas corn stalks left standing this year.

Mark Kemp, who farms in Union County, had just about finished up with soybean harvest by Oct. 26, but was just getting started with corn harvest.

“I’m still quite a bit behind where we normally are. I think I finished [harvest] in late October or early November last year, so I am really behind this year,” Kemp said. “I shelled corn over the weekend to get it started. I don’t know anyone else who really has much corn off. I had 180 or 190 bushels in the high ground and 220 to 230 in the low ground or better. It is good corn, but I’ve only [harvested] 20 to 25 acres.”

Kemp’s soybean yields are also very strong at a farm average of around 59 bushels per acre. But, as harvest drags on through this month, concerns about crop loss from pests, diseases and the weather will increase.

Farming is quite a bit like the lottery, but it is more expensive to play. The chances of success are higher with farming, but even hitting it big is no guarantee of success until the crop is out of the field and sold at a profitable price, which will be challenging this year. Hopefully for consumers, the farmers and weather will end up with a winning combination this year. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

mid-October 2009


Back when my wife and I were dating, we would try to go to one new restaurant a month to expand our culinary horizons. Sometimes the new places were great. Sometimes they were not so great. Either way, it made for a fun date back in the days when we had time for such things.

But, after two children and seven years of marriage, those horizon-expanding trips to fine dining establishments have been exchanged for ordering pizza and trips to Bob Evans (for special occasions). Biscuits anyone?

Since we rarely get the chance to re-live our tradition of trying new restaurants these days, when we do, we want to make the most of it. When such an occasion presents itself we inevitably face a tough decision -- so many places to try and so little time.

Of course, every new restaurant makes its own pitch for being the best around and it can be challenging to make the right choice. For help in these crucial matters, we rely on the sound advice of trusted friends to make recommendations from the places they have been. We know who to listen to when it comes to places to eat and we heed their sound advice, since we have so little time to try new restaurants on our own.

With the election coming up, many voters will be similarly seeking the advice of those in the know on how to cast their ballots on the issues. There is so much rhetoric out there from every side of every issue that it can be difficult to sort through to find the facts that will guide your vote. With more information to sort through than ever before, it is often prudent to see how respected leaders and organizations are planning to vote. After all, these are the folks who have the time and resources to get the facts of the issue to form an opinion.

In the case of Issue 2, which puts in place the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, you have undoubtedly heard arguments from both sides. If passed, Issue 2 will establish a 13-member board of Ohioans to set standards for livestock and poultry care to enhance food safety, local availability and affordability of food, and farm management practices for animal well being. So, what are people in the know saying about how to vote on Issue 2?

A handful of groups oppose Issue 2. Most notable on this list is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS opposes Issue 2 because the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board would stand directly in the way of efforts to get their own measures into the state constitution in 2010 to further their anti-meat agenda in Ohio. HSUS is also opposed to the production and consumption of any meat in the U.S., favoring vegan diets and equal treatment for humans and animals.

In sharp contrast, Issue 2 boasts the broad support of more than 1,000 Ohio endorsements from the Governor to the farmer down the road. More than 30 statewide organizations support Issue 2 including most agricultural groups, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. Nationally, the American Humane Association (the group that helps cats and dogs) endorses Issue 2. Nearly every state legislator, Republicans and Democrats, also supports Issue 2 along with an extensive list of local leaders from around the state.

The important vote on Issue 2 will shape the future of agriculture and consumer choice in Ohio. If it fails, we leave the door open to let out-of-state activist groups like HSUS tell us how to eat and run our businesses. If Issue 2 passes, a board of appointed Ohioans subject to the state legislature will determine the standards for animal care in the context of their impact on animal health, farm biosecurity, disease prevention, food safety and food production.

But don’t just listen to me. Anyone who likes to try new restaurants knows that decisions about our food should not be taken lightly. Take some time to research this important issue and consult the leaders in your community that understand the ramifications of Issue 2 on Ohio’s future. Ask them while passing on the street, after a meeting, or at the local Bob Evans. Enjoy a delicious biscuit and vote “yes” on Issue 2.

To see the list of endorsements for Issue 2, visit, www.safelocalohiofood.org.


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com





Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October Fresh Country Air

There is no doubt that our society loves choices. For evidence of this, one only needs to visit a new movie theater that features an ever-expanding number of screens, look at the growing list of options on a car or go to buy a pair of jeans at the shopping mall. I’m not that old, but I can remember the days when jeans were just blue, the local theater just had one movie a week, and people either drove a Ford or a Chevy with manual windows.

Businesses have learned to offer so many more choices through the years because consumers want them. Few places have had a greater response to the desire for expanded choices than the grocery store.

In the past, the milkman brought milk. Now we have so many milk products available in the store, it can make your head spin trying to select one. Plain milk is still an option, but now we have countless brands offering organic, grass fed, all natural, hormone free and just about everything else you can conjure up. All the options are great for the people who want something specific and are willing to pay a little more for the extra effort required to produce it. But, there are some of us who just want safe, low-cost, high quality, “regular” milk.

The same story applies to the eggs and meat that now come in free range, organic, all natural and “regular.” Some people want organic; some people want free range; some people want “regular;” everybody, it seems, wants choices.

Well, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has decided that their anti-meat and pro-vegan agenda is more important than your choices at the grocery store. The group was behind the voter-passed regulations in California that will put many of the family farms that produce California’s “regular” products in the grocery store out of business. The regulations hurt agriculture and consumer choice but do nothing to benefit the animals HSUS claims to be protecting.

While the HSUS emotional appeals resonate with consumers who are not familiar with animal agriculture, the changes advocated by HSUS are contrary to generations of research and experience with regard to animal husbandry. Plus, consumers who favor these animal housing conditions can already purchase the specialty product of their choice at the store.

Last winter, HSUS announced that Ohio was their next target for imposing their rigid, inflexible and impractical rules on how livestock and poultry are housed. If such rules are enacted in Ohio, it would lead to higher costs for consumers, put food safety at risk, increase the amount of food imported to Ohio, cause thousands of farmers to go out of business, and endanger the overall health and well-being of Ohio's flocks and herds.

In a proactive effort, agriculture and Ohio leaders have responded with Issue 2. Issue 2 puts in place the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board that will allow Ohioans (and not an animal rights group) to set standards for livestock and poultry care to enhance food safety, local availability and affordability of food, and farm management practices for animal well being. These standards will be considered in the context of their impact on animal health, farm biosecurity, disease prevention, food safety and food production.

The Board will be chaired by the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and will be made up of 13 Ohioans, including: three family farmers; two veterinarians (one of whom is the state veterinarian); a food safety expert; a representative of a local humane society; two members representing statewide farm organizations; the dean of an Ohio agriculture college; and two members representing Ohio consumers.

Issue 2 has broad support from the state’s elected officials and consumer and food-related organizations throughout the state because they understand the importance of agriculture to Ohio’s economy, the value of locally produced consumer choices in the grocery store and the incredible value of safe, high-quality, low-cost food.

Consumers in search of high value and quality can still go out and buy blue jeans, drive a no-frills Ford and watch a movie at a single-screen theater. A “yes” vote on Issue 2 will make sure we can do the same with our food, because sometimes “regular” is the best option.

For more about Issue 2, visit www.safelocalohiofood.org.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 2009

By Matt Reese

September 2009

“Hello, nice to meet you. Where are you from?”
Like most people, when I first meet someone, one of the first things I ask about is where they live. This is probably because that provides a little insight into their background. No matter where they are, it seems that people carry at least some of their home with them and it shows up in their tastes, personality and lifestyles.
Wine is much the same way. The effects of soil, climate and terrain on the grapes used to produce it shape much of the rich personality of an individual wine. This is known to folks in the wine industry as “terroir.” Each unique place produces its own unique terroir. Growing regions with similar growing conditions, resulting in wines with a similar terroir, are called appellations. Ohio is home to five recognized viticultural appellations. The two most noteworthy appellations in Ohio are along the border of Lake Erie and the Ohio River Valley that stretches through southern Ohio.
The best way to taste the terroir of Ohio wines is to make sure the wines you are drinking are made entirely from grapes grown in the state. Such wines are making a name for themselves in national and international wine competitions as they continue to pile up awards.
Bill Skvarla understands how to win awards with the wines he makes from grapes grown in his Harmony Hill Vineyards just outside of Cincinnati in Clermont County. In 2001, Bill and Patti Skvarla started growing grapes for selling to the rapidly expanding wine industry in the area.
“We were just going to grow the grapes to sell to other wineries around us. We had a good market for them around here,” Skvarla said. “We had been making basement wine for years. I made all my mistakes early in my wine making career. Then, just for fun, we entered some competitions for amateur wine and we started winning. So, we decided we would use our grapes to start making wine.”
The couple won medals at the Indiana International Wine Competition, the largest wine competition in the United States, in 2002, 2003 and 2004. This has been followed up with a pile of recognitions for Harmony Hill including a double gold for Harmony Hill 2007 Rubato and a Gold for Harmony Hill 2006 Rhapsody at the 2008 Appellation America Competition.
Though among the smallest commercial wineries in the state, Harmony Hills still makes 1,200 cases of wine a year using all of their own grapes unless they have a short crop. From harvest through bottling and labeling, the entire process is done by hand with as many as 25 seasonal workers, including volunteers, 12 part-time employees and the Skvarlas.
The harvested Ohio grapes go into a destemmer/crusher that “replaces Lucille Ball stomping on the grapes,” Skvarla said. Yeast is added, and the duration of the contact between the juice and the grape skins through the fermentation process in the fermenters (ranging from a couple of days to three weeks) determines the color and flavor of the wine. From there the wine is separated from the dregs in settling tanks and transferred for storage in an appropriate container — stainless steel for white and oak barrels for red. The stainless steel tanks keep air away from the white wine, which turns brown with oxygen, while the oak barrels allow air to mix with the red. To avoid pumping the wine, which diminishes its quality, the red wine is gravity fed to barrels in an underground wine cave, one of only four manufactured wine caves in the country.
The Skvarlas cater to customers who can bring their own food to the vineyard and enjoy live music and high quality wine in an open rural setting. People can even bring their pets to Harmony Hills.
“We work hard to make a very sound product here, but it is not even about the wine,” Skvarla said. “It’s about the ambiance. We’re 30 miles from Cincinnati, and this place makes people feel like they’re in the country.”
The pleasant autumn weather prior to the cold winter months offers an ideal opportunity for people to visit the state’s many wineries and sample the tastes of Ohio unique terroir. Wine connoisseurs will find that like the wines, wineries and wine makers each have a terroir all their own. So this fall, before you take a sip of high quality Ohio wine, be sure to ask where it’s from and let your taste buds tell you.
For more information about Ohio wines visit www.tasteohiowines.com. For more information about Harmony Hills, visit www.hhwines.com.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. For more columns visit freshcountryair.blogspot.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Fresh Country Air

My wife and I just celebrated seven years of blissful marriage. Every once in awhile, she will pull out the old wedding album and reminisce about our fancy wedding day. With plenty of help from our extended family, we did almost everything from the food to the d├ęcor for the big event and my attentive wife missed no detail -- except for one. We did not have doves.

According to Craig Miller, owner of Craig’s Releasable Doves in Allen County, the elegant birds add a special touch to a wedding or most any event. Miller, now 22, grew up raising just about every kind of poultry he could through 4-H. Back in 2005, he came across an advertisement that intrigued him. 

"I saw in a magazine that there was a dove business in Columbus and I thought that might be something good to have up here," Miller said. "Then, at one of the swap meets I went to, I got some white homing pigeons to start my dove business. We use the larger, white birds because they are easier to handle."

Miller was immediately excited about the idea. After all, what could go wrong with a business plan including animals that come back after being sold? Miller said the birds are pretty easy to care for and stay very clean.

He started out with four birds that reproduced prolifically. Now he has about 80 on his northwest Ohio farm.

"You need to have plenty of birds because you are going to lose some. Only about 75% of them fly back," Miller said.

Thus far, weddings and funerals account for nearly all of Miller's dove release events. Releases are either done by hand or simply opening the top of the cage.

"We typically release two for a wedding, one for the bride and one for the groom," he said. "The bride and the groom each hold one and release them at the same time. The birds usually fly up and do a circle then fly off. Everybody loves it."

Funeral dove releases tend to evoke even stronger emotions.

"In a funeral we can help with the healing process a little bit," Miller said. "This symbol means so much to some people that it is really amazing. At funerals, releasing the dove is almost like they're letting that person go."

At a funeral for a friend, the four children of the deceased each released a dove at the funeral. One of the doves, instead of returning to their home, went to the home of the deceased several miles from the gravesite and the opposite direction of Miller's home.

"The wife thought that was really special," he said.

Miller does not have a set fee, but bases his cost on the specifics of the situation and the amount of travel required.

"We have gone to events in Putnam, Van Wert and Paulding counties, and if someone hears about us and wants us to go somewhere else, we're willing to do some traveling," Miller said. "We really try to be flexible so we can meet everyone's needs. The brides and their moms tend to love the idea of releasing doves. The grooms usually aren't too excited about it. Getting the initial sale is the tough part. After that, it is fun coming up with ideas about how they want it done."

The business is fairly small at this point, with about one dove release a month, which is fine for Miller who is a senior in agricultural engineering at Ohio State University. His dad, Kenny, helps with the birds and the business while Miller is in Columbus. Miller does not release the birds in the cold winter months or in the rain to protect the birds.

For events, Miller shows up at the appropriate time dressed in a suit with wet wipes, hand sanitizer and the proper number of doves in an elegant looking cage under a cloth cover.

"I get them out of the cage and hand the birds to the bride and groom or whoever is releasing them," Miller said. "Typically they're really docile birds and they don't mind being handled."

Though my wife may lament the lack of doves at our wedding, all hope is not lost. Our young daughter will probably have a fancy wedding someday, and my wife may kill me for complaining about paying for it. Wedding or funeral -- either way, we’ll probably need some doves.

For more about Miller's Dove Business, please contact Craig at 419-233-8200 or e-mail kmiller179@woh.rr.com.


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 2009

You can’t believe it. You spent months working on a big presentation at work and the day of the big event you got a terrible strain of the flu and couldn’t be there. As a result, Steve -- the tardy guy at the office who never takes showers -- had to fill in for you. Of course, Steve showed up late and your clients couldn’t concentrate on the presentation because he smelled of old socks and musty cantaloupe.

Our fellow humans can make for pretty poor coworkers, but working in a cooperative relationship with the weather can make even stinky Steve at the office seem appealing. As in any profession, agriculture’s high quality crop production is a team effort requiring coordinated cooperation of all participants. The challenge with agriculture is that the weather is an important coworker on every farm project.

The weather does show up to work every day, but that is the only thing about it that is dependable. At any minute, the Ohio weather can change for the better or worse. It is entirely possible for Ohio crops to experience late frost in the spring, too hot, too cold, too much water in the spring, too little water in the summer, hail, and high winds all in one growing season (much like in 2008).

Some years, the weather just does not cooperate for Ohio’s farmers. But some years it does. While the growing season is not yet done, 2009 is shaping up to be a very good year for Ohio crop production. Timely rainfall, cool temperatures, technology, and sound farming practices have combined for potentially record setting state average yields.

Following the early summer wheat harvest, the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service estimated winter wheat yields at 71 bushels per acre, just one bushel shy of the record of 72 bushels per acre set in 2000.

“This was the kind of year where if a wheat variety is outstanding, cooperating weather and low insect and disease pressures can show how good a variety really is,” said Jim Beuerlein, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist. “There really wasn’t much this year to hold the yields back.”

Like wheat, Ohio’s corn crop is also performing well thanks to the weather conditions and low insect and disease pressures. If disease levels remain low, and good harvest conditions persist through the fall, corn production should be excellent in Ohio this year.

The state’s average corn yield is estimated at 165 bushels per acre. If the number holds up, it will be a new state record, six bushels higher than the previous record set in 2006.

“The environment, timely rains and moderate temperatures, have been the major factors in driving these high yields,” said Peter Thomison, an OSU Extension agronomist. “Moreover, when nighttime temperatures are relatively low, as has been the case much of this summer, it’s beneficial for the corn crop because it’s reducing respiration and promoting a longer grain fill period.”

Despite some disease pressures, such as white mold, brown stem rot and sudden death syndrome, Ohio’s soybean crop is also performing well this year. According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service, only 6 percent of the soybean crop is in poor condition. Soybean yield is estimated at 47 bushels per acre, tying the record set in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Continued rains this month will be crucial to the success of the state’s soybean crop.

Every year, farmers must lay the groundwork for great yields by picking the right crop rotation, planting the proper hybrids and varieties, selecting the best seed population, choosing the ideal disease, pest and weed control strategies and a myriad of other factors to maximize the potential for a profitable year. After that, the farmers’ unpredictable coworker takes it from there.

The weather was certainly not ideal everywhere in Ohio this year. Parts of northwest Ohio, in particular, faced some pretty dry conditions that will hurt corn and soybean yields. But, in general, it appears that the weather really came through this year, so far. Only time will tell if the weather will continue to cooperate through the harvest of 2009 or if it will pull a stinky Steve.


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 2009

Fresh Country Air


By Matt Reese


I have to thank my parents for a lot of character. Whenever faced with an unpleasant or challenging task while growing up, they always told me, “Don’t worry. It builds character.”

Although, in most cases, I felt as if I already had quite enough character I would (though often begrudgingly) do whatever needed to be done. Whether scooping manure, mowing acres of towering weeds on hot summer days, or cheerfully helping customers on the family Christmas tree farm on a 33-degree December day in the pouring rain, I was able to develop the type of character that can only be forged amid the elements on a farm.

In agriculture, long hours, labor and inputs go into producing a product from the land that can be taken away by the whims of the weather or pests and diseases. Then, what’s left of the crop must be sold in an unpredictable market in a manner to maximize the income in order to pay for the next round of production and, hopefully, make a little profit. If that doesn’t build character, I don’t know what does.

The inherent character building that accompanies agriculture is a new part of the Turning Point Applied Learning Center program in Hillsboro. The much-heralded 13-week program provides employment training assistance for unemployed adults.

The program combines classroom and on-site work experience to help prepare participants for success in the state’s workforce. In addition,Turning Point works with troubled at-risk teens in the summer months through the Jobs for Ohio Graduates (JOGs) Program.

This year, Turning Point added agriculture to the list of work opportunities for Turning Point participants so they can build character from planting through marketing of the crops they grow on a renovated industrial site.

“We decided we would start specialty fruit production, so our at-risk teens and adult participants could learn about the production of food, agriculture, mechanical skills, carpentry skills and customer service skills,” said LuAnn Winkle, the center’s executive director. “The eventual goal is for our workers to sell the berries at the local farmers market or a road-side stand to generate income for the Turning Point Program. We’re always trying to train people for the available jobs and a lot of the jobs that are out there right now require customer service skills.”

Blueberries, strawberries, red raspberries and black raspberries were planted this year. Turning Point participants provided the labor for preparing the site, planting, weeding, installing the irrigation and building the trellis support system for the berries.

This is an exciting new venture for Turning Point, but due to the fact that berries will not be ready for harvest this year, the labor force needed an additional project.

“In the meantime before the berries start producing, we are keeping the workers in the program busy with sweet corn, green beans, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, cucumbers and other vegetables,” Winkle said. “We didn’t want the program to compete with the many farmers in the area, so we decided that everything we raise in the vegetable garden will be donated to the needy. The JOGs kids work out here in the garden when they are here in the summer, and the adults in the program work in the garden when the kids go back to school.”

The community has really rallied around this charitable effort. A local equipment dealer came out and did the tillage work for the garden outside the Turning Point facility near the Southern State Community College campus. All the seed and plant material was donated by local businesses.

“The need out there is overwhelming, and the response to this has been very positive,” Winkle said. “And the folks that are in our program see how the community has gotten involved with giving back, so maybe they can do the same some day.”

The experiences of participants through the challenges they face in the production of food at Turning Point will last a lifetime and hopefully help them successfully navigate through a career and life in general. There is no doubt that agriculture can be a frustrating and challenging endeavor, but there are plenty of rewards, and not least among them is the unique character it builds.

While the new agricultural venture has been a success so far, the participants have learned that the weather, pests, and diseases are not nearly as charitable as the local community. Deer especially have done extensive damage to the Turning Point crops this year.

Farming is tough. But don’t worry; it builds character.


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 2009

We have a female miniature donkey in with the Horned Dorset sheep in the barn and small pasture behind our home for novelty and protection from local coyotes. Our friends have several donkeys and dwindling pasture, so we decided it would be a win-win by bringing a male from their place to our barn. They could give their pasture a break while we could hopefully (eventually) gain a cute baby donkey.
Before the male was even unloaded from the trailer, the female donkey in our pasture was showing a lot of interest in her new companion. By the time the male’s hooves hit the ground it was clear that the interest was mutual. All of the specifics of the situation were accompanied by a lot of kicking, biting, maneuvering and a series of eardrum-ringing donkey love bellows that alerted the northwestern corner of the county to the goings on at the Reese home.
It was a beautiful summer evening with cool temperatures inspiring us to open every window in the house to let in the pleasant breeze. Despite the perfect summer weather, sleep was scarce for us that night, however, thanks to the deafening soundtrack of the ongoing barn romance. “Heeeee-Haaaawwww.”
The next morning, I took our young daughter out to give the donkeys their morning treat, though the donkeys seemed more intent on treating themselves. As the donkeys once again began their ritual, we dropped the treats and I turned to run back inside trying to shield my daughter from the spectacle. Half-sobbing, half-laughing she kept saying,
“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no Daddy.”
The following several days and nights were comprised of extensive repeat performances of the persistent donkeys. In short, these animals were behaving like, well, animals. In fact, all of the animals on our small farm act pretty much as expected. We have some meat chickens that eat, drink and flock together; we have sheep that follow each other around and graze all day; we have a dog that barks at cars and fetches sticks; and we have some tomcats that go roaming about, but are sure to return home to fight amongst themselves and eat their food.
For millennia, farmers have studied the behavior of their livestock to better care for them and meet their needs so that the animals can more effectively serve their purposes of providing food and fiber. With rules being considered for regulating animal care and welfare being considered around the country, it only makes sense that those who understand animals are the best ones to make these important decisions.
This is why the recent passage of Amended Senate Joint Resolution 6 (Am. SJR 6), which authorizes a statewide ballot measure to create an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, is so important. If Ohio voters approve the measure this November, it will establish a board of people involved with the livestock industry (including veterinarians, state agricultural leaders, a local Humane Society representative and farmers) that will determine and enforce guidelines for the care of livestock and poultry in the state.
If this board is not put in place to set the rules for Ohio’s animal agriculture, there are plenty of outsiders who are more than happy to try to set their own rules. It is no secret that an extreme animal welfare organization has plans for their own version of anti-meat animal care regulations on the Ohio ballot in 2010. Such regulations set by outsiders would severely cripple the state’s top industry of agriculture, hurt the Ohio economy, likely raise meat and egg prices for consumers, and limit consumer choices of Ohio-produced food.
Now it is up to those who favor agriculture, consumer choice, animal husbandry and high quality, safe Ohio-grown food to celebrate the fact that Am. SJR 6 is on the November ballot and vote “yes” when given the chance this fall. A “yes” vote on this measure will result in rules for the welfare of Ohio’s livestock and poultry that are created by the people who understand that animals are animals.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 2009

Fresh Country Air

By Matt Reese

Several years ago, I was traveling in the Czech Republic and one of the top rules to remember was not to drink the water. While locals drank straight from the tap with no repercussions, we were warned that our weak American immune systems would be no match for the water that was somewhat dodgier than we were used to.
One evening I was particularly thirsty after a day of walking in the hot sun and a glass of water from the hotel room was pretty tempting. Being a stout-stomached young man with a rural Ohio background, I figured that just a little water would not hurt. Unfortunately for the trip, my assumption proved incorrect and led to some pretty undesirable consequences, especially since I didn’t know the local term for “Pepto-Bismol.”
We are fortunate in this country to have plenty of clean water, a clean environment and a level of food safety not enjoyed by most immune systems of the world. There is a current effort underway to set global standards for food safety around the world that, in most cases, U.S. food processors are already exceeding.
“Right now, there is a new global initiative for food safety standards,” said Dale Hart, director of food processing for Cooper Farms in northwest Ohio. “We already meet and exceed requirements and, for us, it is just a matter of doing the paperwork for certification. We just hope our overseas competitors live up to their end of the bargain. We have some concerns about that.”
Food safety is serious business at Cooper Farms, a leading wholesale supplier of pre-cooked and ready-to-cook turkey products to customers around the United States and in Mexico. From the live bird care through the purchase by the consumer, Cooper Farms takes extensive measures to ensure that their products are safe.
“We have a responsibility to provide safe food and we take a lot of pride in that. Our standards are actually tighter guidelines than the government requires,” Hart said. “We have six full-time employees in the food division just to handle certification, quantification and documentation of the food safety regulations we follow. When you look at the Cooper Farm team members for food safety, we have more than 30 people, aside from the top management, who are just monitoring and maintaining controls for food safety. Food safety is not taken lightly here.”
In addition to the Cooper Farms staff, the facilities are subject to rigorous and regular inspection from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials.
“Both of our processing locations are inspected and governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are four people onsite during the day at one site and at the other site they have 24-hour access. During a harvest operation they practically live at the plant,” Hart said. “All of our plants have a Hazardous Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan under USDA guidelines. We also have a team at each location that meets on a weekly basis to review our plan and to make sure that our controls are in place with regard to our HACCP plan.”
To go the extra mile with food safety, Cooper Farms has what they call “seek and find” teams that are comprised of people not trained in food safety to visually inspect the facilities from a consumer’s standpoint.
“Seek and find teams go out looking for any potentially unclean conditions that could lead to problems. They look for the things that may not be required and conditions that may look dirty. We do a lot of proactive work to be sure that our sanitation procedures and cleanliness are maintained,” Hart said. “We do this to make sure our story is true. It is not that we think it is clean. It is clean because everything we do is science based. We prove it is clean with numbers and we give it the seek and find test as well.”
Like countless other food processing businesses in the state and country, Cooper Farms goes the extra mile for food safety because they know that business depends on the safety of their food.
“We need to do this to make sure we are protecting our consumers and our business,” he said. “We always consider that what we are making today may be eaten by our grandmas.”
We are truly blessed to live in a country where our immune systems enjoy the world’s safest food supply and a meal (complete with a glass of water) does not require a side of Pepto-Bismol to keep your immune system in Czech.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

July 2009

Fresh Country Air

By Matt Reese

July 2009

My 21-month-old daughter gets into pretty much everything, particularly if it is filthy. Trash cans, barn floors, toilets, shower drains, dusty corners, algae filled fish ponds and mud all seem to hold an irresistible attraction for my daughter. And, during these warm summer days it is constant effort to try and keep her clean. With her fondness for filth, and general lack of utensil use, meal times could easily result in a horrifying Petri dish of filthy fingers and fondled food.
Because of this, regular hand washing is important in the Reese house, though washing a squirming child’s dirty hands in the sink each time she touches something dirty is very difficult. Thank goodness for a handy dandy new hand sanitizer made from soy protein and aloe. I got the sample-sized bottle of this fine product as a handout at some agricultural event and have found it to be very nice stuff. It works well and leaves hands clean and moisturized for even the busiest toddlers, and uses all natural, environmentally friendly products. The problem is that my sample is running low. How do I buy more?
This answer, and the answers to many bioproduct quandaries, can be found at www.biopreferred.gov. This section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site features a vast array of American made bioproducts (mostly produced from U.S. crops instead of petroleum products). The site includes information about where to buy the products, the contents of the products and performance data of everything from office supplies to landscaping options.
Those interested in purchasing bioproducts have more options than ever before. Just last year there were 28 new soy-based products introduced in the U.S., including foam for seats in many Ford vehicles. Corn and soybeans have also found their way into environmentally friendly t-shirts, fuels, many kinds of plastics and even material used for maintaining and repairing roads.
“Businesses, government offices, schools and all homeowners can incorporate at least some of the many soy-based product options that are already out there,” said Rocky Black, the Ohio Soybean Council director of bioproduct utilization and outreach. “Consumers are trying to find ways to be environmentally-friendly at home and work and to reduce their dependence on petroleum products. We want to make sure that they have every opportunity to do this with products that are made from soybeans.”
Since 1993, a partnership between the Ohio Soybean Council and Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus has resulted the development of a soy-based powder coating, a soy-based plasticizer, a soy-based toner and soy-based polyols that are used in a wide variety of applications including printer cartridges and coating for components of John Deere tractors. Ohio manufacturers are working on the commercialization of these and other bioproducts and, in doing so, are creating jobs, boosting Ohio’s economy and supporting Ohio farmers through this growing component of the agricultural industry.
“The bioproducts industry continues to grow, so we need to position Ohio as a leader of this industry, both in research and development, as well as in utilization and business growth,” Black said. “The market opportunity is there, and we will be working hard on behalf of all Ohio soybean farmers to make sure that it continues to grow.”
In addition to providing a list of available bioproducts, the Federal Biopreferred Program also requires federal government entities to adopt the bioproducts into their operations as long as the products are not significantly more expensive, lower in quality or difficult to obtain. A similar biopreferred effort is being considered in Ohio with the recent introduction of Senate Bill 131, sponsored by State Senator Karen Gillmor (R-Tiffin).
“During this time of economic stress, we need creative solutions to help fuel our state's economy," Gillmor said. "The combined purchasing power of the state and our public colleges and universities is enormous. This bill will help capture those dollars which the state is already spending and channel them directly back into Ohio's economy." 

Ohio’s strong agricultural sector, combined with the state’s universities, leading polymer industry and research and manufacturing companies (such as Battelle Memorial Institute, Proctor & Gamble, Sherwin Williams, The Scotts Company) are on the way to establishing a thriving bioproducts industry in the state. These bioproducts products can do a lot for those who want to improve the environment, support the local economy or simply try to keep a very busy toddler’s hands clean.
For more information on soy bioproducts, visit www.soyinside.org and www.soynewuses.org.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

June 2009

Fresh Country Air

By Matt Reese

I have found that sometimes it is important to first understand how things used to work so we can fully understand how good we have it now. My generation has been blessed with unprecedented technology. The distribution of this column, for example, would probably not have been possible without the benefit of e-mail and Internet unavailable just a few years ago.
I was reminded of this on a recent family trip to South Carolina. My wife, daughter and I went to a quaint lakeside cabin in South Carolina with her parents and sister. The cabin is very nice, but lacks the convenience of a garbage disposal that we are all accustomed to in our homes. My sister-in-law, having all her life enjoyed the benefits of a garbage disposal, thought nothing of scraping the dirty dishes directly into the sink. Though we were fortunate to dodge any serious repercussions from this, it was only after a lengthy sink/dirty-dish history lesson delivered by my father-in-law.
Along with kitchen conveniences, it may be hard for many younger members of society to fathom the challenges of wrestling with 8-tracks and records (yes, these were around in my youth) when compared to the unbelievable technology of today’s MP3 players. I was also recently told that a young man buying his first car was mystified by windows that had to be manually rolled down and dumbfounded by a lack of automatic locks in the older vehicle he was considering.
By understanding the past, we can better appreciate the present. The same is true with agriculture. June is dairy month and those who will enjoy some delicious ice cream in commemoration (myself included) can rest assured that they will be incurring a much lighter carbon footprint than that of ice cream lovers in the past.
In 1958 the U.S. had 18.8 million milk cows producing on average 6,585 pounds of milk per cow. That amount of production also came with 264 pounds of methane, 110 pounds of nitrogen and 48 pounds of phosphorus, according to David Galligan a professor of animal health economics with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
The current 9 million milk cows in the U.S. produce 19,576 pounds of milk per cow, tripling per cow production in the last five decades. U.S. cow numbers fell 52 percent since 1958 and total milk production grew an amazing 40 percent. Because of these tremendous gains in efficiency of today’s dairy farms, on a total basis, methane production dropped by 60 percent, nitrogen excretion dropped 6 percent and phosphorus excretion dropped 50 percent.
Dairy is certainly not alone with the tremendous improvements in production through the decades. Pork, beef, lamb and poultry producers are producing higher quality, lower fat and more consistent meat products than ever before. This is done in a more efficient manner, which improves animal health and minimizes environmental impacts.
Crops too have made great strides. Between 1987 and 2007, corn production has seen a 30 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions per bushel. Crop yields in general, including corn, soybeans and wheat, have boomed thanks to genetic improvements, biotechnology and tremendous strides in on-farm management.
As an example, from 1931 to 2006 there has been a 28.4 percent decrease in the number of acres planted to corn. During the same time period, the average per acre corn yield increased by 508.5 percent, bumping up total production by 372.4 percent on the reduced acreage, according to the National Corn Growers Association. It is with these kinds of advances that crop producers have continually been able to outpace world demand for food, feed and fuel.
These crops are planted, cared for and harvested with modern equipment that provides safety levels, precision and performance that could not even be imagined by previous generations. Now, many tractors, sprayers and combines -- using satellite guidance – to prevent over application of pesticides and nutrients, reduce driver fatigue and deliver never-dreamed-of precision to crop production.
With the ever-increasing scrutiny of every aspect of agriculture, from the environment to food safety, sometimes it can really help to take a look at the past to see how good we really have things today. So, whether at home or on a family vacation this summer, take some time to enjoy the wonderful food we have available thanks to centuries of agricultural improvements. And, when cleaning up after dinner, make sure there is a garbage disposal.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

June 2009

Fresh Country Air

By Matt Reese

My job as an agricultural journalist is fun because it allows me to travel this fascinating state on a regular basis, often on Ohio’s 26 beautiful designated scenic byways (five of which have a national designation). The five National Scenic Byways in the state highlight some of the state’s finest features, including Ohio’s bountiful agricultural production.

Lake Erie Coastal National Scenic Byway
June is wine month and there is no better route in the Midwest to travel for fine wines than Ohio’s northern coast. Ohio’s wine business is booming and gaining more international recognition every year for its high quality wine production along the temperate shores of Lake Erie.
“We have grown by 1.5 to 2 new wineries a month opening their doors in Ohio. We had 123 wineries in the state as of the end of April and record wine sales to date,” said Christy Eckstein, executive director of the Ohio Grape Industry Committee. “The kids are getting out of school and people are thinking about vacations, but with the economy, people are staying closer to home and wineries are a good option. There are a lot of different wine tasting events going on this month. And, we’re launching a GPS wine-on-the-go program where people are going to be able to download an itinerary of where they want to go and door-to-door directions on their Garmin, I-phone or home computer.”
This route also offers ample natural attractions for fishing and bird enthusiasts and the thrill-seeking appeal of Cedar Point. Roller coasters, walleye and wine, how can you go wrong?

Historic National Road National Scenic Byway
Much of this byway is lined with interesting agricultural attractions. Dull Homestead Farm in Montgomery County features a diversified operation including hogs and seed corn, but the real attention getter is the farm’s towering windmills and dedication to renewable energy. The Dulls have a visitor’s center to inform guests about the farm. Devine Farms and Pigeon Roost Farm in Licking County offer pumpkins and a myriad of fun family oriented activities in the late summer and fall. The trip through Belmont County passes near the state’s largest Christmas tree farm run by the Feisley family. The renowned Dickinson Cattle Co. Longhorn Cattle Ranch is also near the route, just outside of Barnesville. Also, be sure to note the productive corn and soybean fields lining much of Route 40 that are pumping dollars into the economy and biofuels into our vehicles.

Amish Country National Scenic Byway
Few routes through Ohio offer more picturesque glimpses of modern and Amish agriculture than this byway winding through the heart of the nation’s largest Amish community in and around Holmes and Wayne counties. Grazing dairy cattle, rolling hay fields and plenty of down home Amish appeal (and merchandise) attract many visitors each year. Ohio leads the nation in Swiss cheese production, and ranks high in other types of cheese production, largely due to this region of the state. Along with a variety of delectable cheese products, hungry visitors can find almost every other kind of homemade farm fresh food, furnishing and knickknack.

Ohio River National Scenic Byway
It is hard to beat the rolling landscape, charming towns, historical and agricultural attractions that ooze from this 452-mile route along the Ohio River through 14 counties. A few of my favorite stops along the way, or nearby the designated byway, include Sweetapple Farms (agri-tainment), Stacy Family Farms (strawberries) and Grimm’s Green Acres (apples) in Washington County; the bridge from Galia County to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, home of the mysterious Mothman that inspired a book and movie; the appealing murals in Portsmouth; and some tasty Montgomery Inn ribs and a Reds game in Cincinnati.

The Canal Way National Scenic Byway
This byway runs from Cleveland to Dover along the path of the Ohio and Erie Canal and offers several agricultural destinations. The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area preserves 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, including a working farm.
Hale Farm and Village offers the sights, sounds and smells of a bustling Western Reserve township in 1848. Also, not far from this byway is the city of Barberton, where visitors can learn the fascinating history of O.C. Barber’s eccentric and opulent agricultural estate that featured jaw-dropping buildings, many of which can be visited.
Each of Ohio’s designated scenic byways has much to offer visitors and summer is a great time to travel. So, find a scenic byway near you and have a great time learning about agriculture and many other things in our fascinating state. Maybe we’ll cross paths.
For more information about Ohio’s summer travel opportunities, visit www.ohiobyways.com, www.ohiowines.org, http://www.geovative.com/GeoTours/premium/MiniSite-tours.asp?75r4Vq=EHDHJ and http://consumer.discoverohio.com.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

May 2009

Fresh Country Air

By Matt Reese

I was recently talking with an entrepreneur who grew up in New York City. His work has brought him to Ohio, in part to collaborate with farmers interested in efficient and renewable energy production. I asked him how his energy technology would fit the specifics of Ohio’s farms and he said, “Well, that’s up to the farmers to figure out. I’m a city boy and I’m used to just running to the store anytime I have a problem with something. These farmers are incredible. If something doesn’t quite work right, they get some duct tape and fix it themselves. They’re used to fending for themselves.”
For generations, farmers have had to be self-reliant and independently functional out of necessity. When these traits are combined with the entrepreneurial spirit required to run any successful business, it is no wonder that farmers are a pretty independent bunch, each with their own ideas and ways of doing things.
For this reason, and the fact that farmers are an ever-shrinking segment of society, they can be a fairly easy group to pick on. As a group, mainstream agriculture can rarely come to a consensus on much of anything. What is good for the corn grower is not often good for the cattle rancher, or the western wheat grower, or the poultry producer. Because of this, any organized, targeted opposition to one aspect of the diverse agricultural industry can usually divide and conquer. This is what the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is counting on.
This animal rights organization (not the local humane societies that take in stray dogs and cats) promotes extreme vegan diets and ultimately seeks to eliminate the use of animals by humans for any reason. HSUS used powerful emotional appeals to win over voters in California who chose to regulate the independence of livestock farmers through their ballots. Now HSUS is targeting Ohio.
The HSUS ballot initiative seeks to put into place regulations on poultry, veal and swine housing that are contrary to generations of on-farm experience and volumes of scientific research. There are already stringent regulations in place for livestock operations and marketplace alternatives for consumers who wish to vote with their pocketbook, with options including cage-free eggs and free-range pork.
And, in reality, the HSUS supported measures do nothing to promote animal health or comfort. In fact, arguments can be made that these measures actually degrade the quality of the animals’ lives. What the HSUS measures do accomplish is a reduction in the options farmers have for the production of economical, high quality meat, dairy products, and eggs and the food options consumers have at the grocery store.
HSUS is counting on farmers that argue among themselves and a voting public that is unfamiliar with production agriculture and can be swayed by high dollar ad campaigns and emotional appeals. It seems that Ohio agriculture has other plans.
In response to the enormous challenge facing animal agriculture, the Ohio Soybean Council has launched a billboard/sign campaign to educate consumers about the issues they will be facing in the grocery store and the polls. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) has conducted numerous industry wide meetings to educate farmers about what they are facing and get them on the same page concerning this critical issue. OFBF has also launched a new department, the Center for Food and Animal Issues.
The Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Ohio Livestock Coalition, Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Poultry Association and other organizations are as close to marching in lockstep as they have ever been on any issue before. Some of the members of these groups would be affected directly by the HSUS measures, while others would face the same indirect effects as all businesses and consumers in the state — a reduction in the freedom to run their business and purchase their food in the manner they choose. If voters can decide how farmers run their business and how consumers buy their food based on the whims of an animal activist organization, what is the next step?
The independence, iron will, elbow grease, individual perseverance and the other things that have guided farmers for generations will not address this new challenge. The farmers of the state have realized that solving this problem is going to take teamwork. This isn’t a problem that can be solved with duct tape.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com. This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.