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.