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, and, 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

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.