Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I think I have convinced my children that I am pretty smart. They are at the ages where they ask copious amounts of questions. And, every time they ask me a question, I have an answer for them.
“Daddy, why is this soccer ball round?”
“So it rolls after you kick it.”
“Daddy, why do we have a fireplace?”
“So we can stay warm in the winter.”
“Daddy, where do baby puppies come from?”
“Ask your mother.”
And, while it is important for all-knowing parents such as myself to have all of the answers, it is a matter of political survival for politicians. The reality is, though, that nobody has all of the answers. In the case of what to do about the oft-discussed algal blooms in Lake Erie, there are no clear answers. But, an “I don’t know” from a politician in response to an angry constituent who got a gooey glob of blue-green algae stuck in his jet ski is not acceptable.
So, the politician offers, “That is terrible, I’ll look into it.” Soon the disgruntled jet skier becomes Lake Erie’s 5 million water drinkers and $10 billion recreation industry and there is a political cry for funding to solve the problem.
This funding goes to experts in the field, consultants, advisers and so forth, who know that the real answer is, “I don’t know.” But, it is amazing how quickly a couple of million bucks can change those, “I don’t knows” into, “We need to conduct more research into the situation in an effort to solve the problem.”
The current result is millions of dollars being poured into land use, agricultural management education, and research of a problem that may not even be solvable.
“We see signs of the problem, but the science hasn’t figured it out yet. There is no denying the pea soup in Grand Lake St. Marys, but at the same time we’re seeing close to the same thing in southeast Ohio where there are no livestock operations or nutrient applications,” said Mark Wilson, with Land Stewards, LLC in Marion. “We have science that says that dissolved reactive phosphorus will result in an algal blooms, but we don’t know the triggers. We’re going to see laws and regulations put into place and I’m a little uncomfortable with the approach that the government, USDA and Extension have taken because, while there is an educational need here, there is also some self-interest on the parts of these organizations to receive and distribute funding. The government wants to throw money at this to show they are being responsive, but nobody really understands the science of it. It makes the constituents in those areas feel like they are getting some attention from government, but in the bigger picture, it really isn’t going to make a whole lot of improvement overall.”
Even if all of the research, funding, and land use changes are a complete success and totally stop dissolved phosphorus from entering our streams and lakes (an impossibility), there is ample phosphorus already in lakes and streams to support harmful algal blooms for many, many years to come.
“There is enough phosphorus in the system that agriculture is set up to fail,” Wilson said. “This is about managing expectations. Right now there are a lot of expectations that
agriculture will fix this problem and I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. People will say, ‘Look, ag hasn’t been able to get this done and we need to force them to get it done.’ But we’re not going to appreciably change the levels of dissolved reactive phosphorus because it is such a minute quantity.”
The massive government funding efforts for a “quick fix” of this extremely complex situation seem misguided on this issue when the chances of solving the problem in this manner seem so small. With all of this being said, though, these efforts are still worthwhile. Regulations or not, there is still much that can be done within agriculture to improve nutrient management, both for the benefit of disgruntled jet skiers and for farm production efficiency and profitability.
“There are good things that go along with putting these management practices into place, but I really don’t see significant changes taking place in the ecosystem and how these things are balanced with regard to dissolved reactive phosphorus,” Wilson said. “No matter what we do, we will have a nutrient enriched landscape that will continue to deliver nutrient enriched runoff.”
This situation will leave the algae situation unsolved. And, until there is an answer on this issue, I just hope my kids don’t ask me about how we can control harmful algal blooms.
“Daddy, what causes harmful algal blooms?”
“Uhh. Politicians. Ummm, phosphorus. Uhh…jet-skiers…Ask your mother.”
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
To celebrate Ohio Ag Week (the second full week of March) at the Reese house, we made an all-Ohio meal. We used fresh eggs gathered from our own hens that day, bacon and ham from a hog we got from our neighbor, Snowville Creamery Milk from Pomeroy, Ohio and some cheese. The cheese came from the local grocery, but we’re not sure about the exact origin of the cheese, so we fudged a bit there.
Our four-year-old daughter made the meal from the cracking of the eggs (she has been doing this since she was two) to adding the cheese, with some supervision from her mother. The scrambled eggs were delicious and the meal was (almost) all from Ohio. It was a great meal, a fun family project, and a fun way to help the kids learn about where their food comes from during Ohio Ag Week.
During the second full week of March the new Ohio Department of Agriculture director David Daniels also took the opportunity to remind Ohioans about the importance of the state’s top industry.
“Today, agriculture tells a much different story than it did when I was growing up,” Daniels said. “Ohio farmers are on the cutting edge of technology. They are doing things faster and more efficiently, using precision equipment and GPS-guided tractors, and the effects are resonating far beyond Ohio’s borders and into a global marketplace.”
Daniels toured two new facilities that highlight Ohio agriculture not only in terms of benefitting those within the state, but also people around the world. He went to Bluegrass Farms and Central Ohio Logistics Center near Jeffersonville, where food grade Ohio soybeans are cleaned bagged, and shipped around the world. He also visited Feed the World, LLC, in Sabina that exports high quality livestock to foreign countries.
“Ohio farmers and agribusinesses are now sorting and sending thousands of bushels of identity-preserved, food-grade soybeans to Japan and Korea. Through this high-tech process, a customer in Asia can trace back the beans in each bag to the plot of land right here in Ohio they were grown on. The process creates jobs, and the Ohio farmers growing these soybeans are often paid a premium above the standard price of the commodity,” Daniels said. “Ohio’s quality livestock are also in high demand and are being shipped all over the world. In 2010, Ohio exported 7,034 livestock animals compared to the 25,836 livestock animals Ohio exported in 2011. The volume of livestock going through the state is projected to exceed $3.1 million in economic activity, just in feed costs.”
These businesses are a great benefit to the local agricultural economy and to Ohioans in general.
“When Ohio farmers and agribusinesses are successful, we all benefit. There are more jobs and income, and money from these transactions filters through the community and helps support the bank, the grocery store, the local car dealer, or any other number of community businesses,” Daniels said. “The food you buy to feed your family costs less. Simply put, every time another country invests in Ohio agricultural products, it means a better way of life and a secure future for you and your family.”
Agriculture has been the lone bright spot in the darkest of economic times for Ohio.
“Now, more than ever, we need to look toward agriculture. Even when other industries are challenged by changing trends, agriculture continues to be our top industry, adding $107 billion to the economy and providing thousands of jobs to people who live in our state,” Daniels said. “Did you know Mercer County is number one in the state in agricultural production? It is also number one in the lowest level of unemployment in the state. That is no coincidence.”
Agriculture means much more than a great meal of scrambled eggs, and the rest of the plentiful food on the table, for Ohio. Agriculture has always been the engine driving the state’s economy and will continue to fill this role moving forward. For this reason, for every Ohioan, every week should be Ohio Ag Week.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
“The budget situation is only going to get worse,” said Joe Shultz, senior economist for the U.S. Senate Committee of Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, to attendees at the Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium back in mid-December. “There are going to be some real challenges as agriculture programs are targeted for cuts.”
As commodity prices have risen, input prices have followed. Farmers have enjoyed profitability in these times of high prices, but a drop in commodity prices could mean huge losses for every sector of agriculture due to the higher level of costs associated with production. The success of the current farm bill, along with crop insurance, provides protection for farm businesses in the case of plummeting prices or weather disasters.
“I see highly volatile prices in the markets. Folks that don’t understand agriculture don’t understand this risk,” Shultz said. “We know there will come a time when prices will dip and we’ll have lower prices with continued high input prices.”
In the current good times for agriculture, farm policy has proven its efficacy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced that, during the current strong farm economy, government payments have dropped significantly -- the farm bill is doing what it is supposed to do. The amount paid directly to agricultural producers is expected to total $10.6 billion in 2011, a 14.4% decrease from the estimate of $12.4 billion paid out in 2010. If the estimates are correct, this would be the lowest amount paid to producers since 1997.
The largest decreases in payments are expected in disaster relief payments and Average Crop Election Program (ACRE) payments. This good news for taxpayers and the budget is a very timely announcement in terms of the farm bill debates, but the political wave from this announcement may not be much more than a ripple in Washington’s sea of budgetary woes.
“This is how the programs are supposed to work, they pay when farmers need help. They don’t pay when they don’t,” said Adam Sharp, with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “It should matter, but likely won’t matter much politically.”
Instead, agriculture is probably facing a disproportionate share of federal budget cuts because things are going well for agriculture right now. Such funding cuts could weaken the success of these programs and the safety net for producers that may be more important than ever with the high risk, high volatility months and years ahead.
In addition, as more scrutiny is being placed on environmental concerns, water quality and land use issues, the conservation programs included in the farm bill will also take on increased importance. In Ohio there are ample headlines about Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie. Improvements in these and other watersheds depend upon the implementation of state and federal conservation programs through the farm bill.
With this in mind, all of agriculture needs to encourage Congress to move forward with cuts that are equitable for agriculture in what will become an increasingly challenging farm bill amid the budget crunch.
“You need to tell members of Congress that we need to move forward right now because we all risk losing if we can’t move forward together,” Shultz said. “We are at a pivotal moment in farm policy right now. We are seeing a shift towards risk management and that means the work is hard.”
And that may mean that the wheels of agriculture need to start squeaking a bit louder.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
It really is not a secret that Americans (and Ohioans) are overweight. Any trip to the mall, visit to a restaurant or trip to the movies shows that, in general, there are ample expanding waistlines around us.
While there are many factors that played a role in this, there have also been many proposed solutions to America’s weight problem. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The proposed changes to school meal standards add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to school meals. Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories, and trans fats in meals. The Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program (OSGMP) decided to take things one-step further than food mandates by working with education consultants to change students’ behaviors and attitudes about their food choices.
“Rather than us writing a curriculum and handing it to them hoping that they would do something with it, we brought a team of teachers together from Mt. Gilead, which was the first school we approached,” said Carol Warkentien, one of the OSGMP education consultants. “We laid out some of the challenges we would be facing if we wanted to bring kids along with this notion.”
The initial meeting led to a decision to consult the students themselves on the best ways to shape their attitudes and behaviors about their foods. Soon, the Mt. Gilead FFA was working to change attitudes about food in the school. The FFA students started by making a video in the school cafeteria.
“The students did a video in their own high school lunchroom and asked other students what they thought about their healthy lunch. Of course there was some hilarity in the interviews, but there is also an awareness of some of the gaps in student knowledge of and understanding about their food,” said Jeanne Gogolski, another OSGMP education consultant working on the project. “One of the prime athletes at the school ate an entire pack of Oreo cookies for lunch. Naturally that produces some conversation about what it takes to have a healthy lunch.”
As a follow up to the video, the Mt. Gilead health class posted some nutrition information in the lunchroom listing the calories in some of the lunch food. The school also had a whole grains taste test event where students rated whole grain snacks and chose their favorites to include on the school menu to help reach the USDA requirements.
The Mt. Gilead FFA students also used their cafeteria video at some events to generate interest from other FFA chapters in their “Food for Thought Challenge.” For the student-created challenge, the OSGMP gave out $500 scholarships to nine Ohio FFA chapters (including Mt. Gilead) to help them develop a nutritional awareness campaign about healthy food choices for their fellow students.
Each participating chapter will make a presentation at the Ohio FFA Convention next May and the winning chapter will receive $2,000 from the OSGMP. Participating FFA chapters submitted campaign entries in September and were selected in October based on the originality of their campaign ideas.
The participating Food for Thought FFA chapters have already begun implementing their campaigns, which include promoting the use of student food logs, organizing educational fairs with health-related groups and providing healthy snacks between classes. Along with Mt. Gilead, the participating FFA Chapters are: Ridgemont, Northwestern, Clear Fork, London, Miami East, Ridgedale, North Union, and Twin Valley South.
“The schools’ progress will be monitored throughout the year as they launch a program in the school. The winner that can best show that they changed attitudes and behaviors in their district will win the award,” Warkentien said. “We think interest will be even higher next year. It is kind of fun and it has gotten kids working within their own districts and they are reaching out to younger kids in the district as well. Kids can be very innovative and creative and they are going to come up with a lot of ideas that can be shared around the state.”
The nutritional possibilities are limited only by the expanding imaginations of FFA students around the state — and imaginations are much more beneficial to expand than waistlines.