In the heavily industrialized Mahoning Valley and Northeast Ohio, many of us lose sight too easily of the mammoth impact farming wields on our local and state economies.
But release last month of preliminary results of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture for the U.S. provides all Ohioans an eye-opening opportunity to rediscover the prominent role farming plays in the state’s livelihood.
It also stands out as a reminder of the too- often unstated gratitude all of us owe state farmers for enriching our quality of life by filling our tables with fresh and nutritious foodstuffs. In addition, the results reinforce the need for public officials at local, state and national levels to work cooperatively with the farm community to ensure our state’s No. 1 industry continues to prosper.
The Census of Agriculture, conducted once every five years, yields many enlightening facts that Ohio’s urban and suburban populations would do well to digest. Consider, for example:
Farming is a growth industry in the state. Ohio cracked the top 10 in 2012 to rank seventh in the nation in the number of farms – 75,462. That number far exceeds the pace of U.S. farm growth, which dropped 4.3 percent in five years. Though the U.S. lost 7.5 million acres since the 2007 census, Ohio has added 4,000 acres of farms in five years, bringing its total to more than 13.96 million acres.
Ohio farms are national leaders in crop production. Over the past five years, 14 million of acres in the state produced 526 million bushels of corn and 43 million bushels of wheat, and Ohio ranks first in the U.S. in production of Swiss cheese, second in eggs and third in tomatoes.
In the Mahoning Valley, farming continues to be an important but often undervalued mainstay. The last official agricultural census reported Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties have 2,604 farms covering a total of 320,000 acres. The federal government defines a farm as any place from which $1, 000 or more of products are cultivated annually.
FARMERS FACE ADVERSITY
Despite such optimistic data, all is not utopia for state farmers these days. As Joe Cornely, spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out in a recent Vindicator story, crop prices — most notably for the Ohio staples of corn and grains — have begun to plummet because of international competition.
“It was a good five years, but we are well on the off side of that cycle where prices are heading down,” he said. Or as Canfield farmer Wayne Greier put it more bluntly, “It’s going to be a tough few years.”
That’s one reason why Ohio residents and public policymakers cannot ignore the interests of state farmers. Fortunately, the farm and lawmaking communities have cultivated a history of cooperation and productivity. On the federal level, the deeply divided do-nothing Congress managed earlier this year to adopt a farm bill that the Ohio Farm Bureau has praised as producing significant reforms to the way U.S. government programs support farmers and rural communities.
On the state level, the capital budget signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich infuses the Clean Ohio Fund with millions of dollars toward preservation of farmlands in every corner of the state.
Such public-private partnerships between farming and policymaking will continue to be critical to ensure robust health for this vital industry and to give deserved respect for Ohio’s rich agrarian roots.