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Study Highlights Growth of Organic Agriculture in Ohio: Ohio Now 7th in the Nation in the Number of Organic Farms

Contact:
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, amalie@oeffa.org

Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, lauren@oeffa.org
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Columbus, OH—A government survey of U.S. organic farms shows that Ohio ranks 7th in the nation in its number of organic farms. Ohio is seeing double digit growth in the number of organic farms, organic land in production, and organic sales, illustrating the role of organic production in economic development.
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The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service’s “2016 Certified Organic Survey,” showed Ohio’s organic sales increased by more than 30 percent since 2015 and the number of certified organic farms in Ohio is up by 24 percent. Since 2015, Ohio moved up from 8th to 7th in the nation in the number of organic farms.
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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has prepared a two page summary of the findings, “Highlights from the 2016 Certified Organic Survey: Ohio in Context.”
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Overall, the U.S. saw $7.6 billion in organic sales, as well as an 11 percent increase in the number of organic farms. More than 5 million acres of certified organic acreage are in production in the U.S., up 15 percent since 2015.
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“The 2016 survey illustrates the strength of organic production and sales in the state of Ohio. Organic production continues to be a bright spot in U.S. agriculture,” said Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA policy coordinator. “As more farmers move land into organic production, it is important that we make sure we are doing all we can to support their success.”
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Despite this growth and strong consumer demand, investments in organic research through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Institute represent an average of just two-tenths of one percent of overall funding each year and Ohio has no extension educator positions dedicated to serving organic farmers.
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“Organic production has not been able to keep up with demand, so this is a good time to review our agricultural funding as well as state and federal agency services to make sure investments are made in this growth industry so more Ohio farmers are equipped with the information, resources, and support they need to take advantage of this economic opportunity,” concluded Lipstreu.
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Investments in organic farming could have larger economic impacts as well. According to a Penn State research paper on organic hotspots, on average, county poverty rates drop by 1.3 percent and median household incomes rise by more than $2,000 in counties with high organic activity that neighbor other high organic counties.
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OEFFA is one of the oldest and largest organic certification agencies in the country, and offers educational programming and support to organic farmers and businesses, and those looking to transition to organic.

New Bill Invests in Health of Farmers and Communities

Statement from Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator
    
For Immediate Release:
October 5, 2017

Contact:
Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, amalie@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, lauren@oeffa.org

Columbus, OH—Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act (HR 3941) yesterday. This legislation directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue positive investments in local food systems, community economic development, and public health.

Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA) Policy Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu, released the following statement:

“The bill introduced by Senator Brown makes important investments that will allow farmers to reach new markets; increase community access to fresh, healthy, local food; and support the food infrastructure that connects producers to buyers. With commodity prices falling, farmers are increasingly looking for new opportunities and for some that means investments close to home where markets for locally and regionally produced food continue to rise.

Even with the growing demand for food produced in Ohio, some farmers struggle because they don’t have access to the infrastructure they need. It could be storage, transportation, or processing that limits the growth of markets that enrich farmers and local communities. Ohio is home to many thriving cities, rural communities, and farmland. By connecting the dots we can create wealth and health and move toward greater sustainability.”

Young Farmers Get Helping Hand From New Ohio Program

WOSU, Debbie Holmes, 6/28/2017

It’s estimated that 10 percent of small farmers across the country leave farming every year. With a program called Begin Farming, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is trying to help beginning farmers with the challenges that come with running your own business.

Ohio currently has about 27,000 “beginning farmers,” which the USDA defines as those on the land less than 10 years. But program coordinator Kelly Henderson says the average age of farmers in the state is 56 years old.

“Which means we’ve got a retiring group that are going to be leaving farming here real soon,” Henderson says. “And we’re trying to get some of these beginning farmers on the land that these retiring farmers are going to be leaving.”

Begin Farming aims to not just help younger farmers purchase land, but also pass along knowledge from more experienced farmers. That’s necessary, Henderson says, because family-owned farms are finding that children aren’t interested in keeping up the trade.

“A lot of this interest in farming is coming from folks who are either coming on as a second career farmer, leaving previous occupations, or you know, folks that are coming from the city that are really interested in a new lifestyle,” she says.

That transition, though, is not an easy one. Henderson says that business planning and financial management, as well as how to access farm land and capital, are skills young farmers need to learn to be successful.

Henderson says training Ohio’s next generation of farmers needs to start early.

“I think the first wave is getting especially aspiring farmers, getting them on the land as apprentices and interns and getting their hands in the soil and getting a feel for what that work is really going to be like,” Henderson says. “Because I think a lot of people do romanticize farming. And while it is a lifestyle choice that makes a lot of people happy, and they choose it for that reason, it’s hard work.”

Community feature: Organic farming exhibit pops up at Central Ohio markets

Columbus Alive, Erica Thompson, 7/12/2017

The “Growing Right” project provides an oral history of Ohio’s ecological food and farm movement

Imagine moving to the Golden State to live like a Quaker. That was Columbus native Jess Lamar Reece Holler’s experience during 2011 and 2012 as an instructor at the Woolman Semester School in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California.

“We taught sustainability and environmental science and social justice and peace studies,” Holler said. ”[We] also had a one-acre organic … garden that fed almost everyone at the school.”

You could say the passion for organic farming runs in Holler’s family, though her grandfather might not have described it that way.

“My grandpa was a green grocer and did all kinds of organic gardening in his backyard, [but] he didn’t call it that,” Holler said. “He got [Rodale’s Organic Life magazine] … and fed my mom’s family with everything from the garden, but he didn’t talk about it a lot. So I grew up with that, but in more of a taciturn, old-man-Ohio sort of way and not like hippie California organic.”

“I liked Kentucky a lot but so many of my friends and people I know are a part of the food and farm movement here in Ohio,” she said. “I want to know the specific story of how this all came about [here].”

And so the “Growing Right” oral history project was born. In partnership with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), Holler is documenting the history of the state’s ecological food and farm movement, which began in the 1970s. Since 2016, she has driven to more than 40 farms in approximately 20 counties in her 1997 Honda CR-V, or “fieldwork mobile,” recording audio interviews with farmers and taking photographs. The content is being archived on growingrightproject.com, and presented via pop-up installations at farmers’ markets and grocery stores in Central Ohio. The next stop on the tour is Raisin Rack Natural Food Market in Westerville on Friday, July 14.

“Today, people take for granted that organic is available at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and it really wasn’t that way back in 1979 when our organization was formed,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “We’re really excited to be able to capture [the farmers’] stories and engage that next generation of not just people who are consuming the food but that next generation of farmers.”

At the pop-up exhibits, attendees can listen to multimedia shorts featuring audio and slideshows (full oral histories are online), as well as study posters created using Holler’s photos and read stories in print.

Hunt and Holler were thrilled to receive funding from Ohio Humanities and the Greater Columbus Arts Council, considering “Growing Right” is not a traditional arts project.

“In the past, people who get these grants might be the big cultural institutions: the art galleries, libraries [and] museums,” Holler said. ”[The funding] shows a really deep commitment to access [and] to a new type of public humanities and arts programming … that’s also concerned about environment and health.”

Holler’s interviews not only touch on the foundations of the organic movement, but also the farmers’ current challenges.

“You’ve got someone like Mick Luber in Harrison County doing small-scale, diversified vegetable production … totally surrounded by fracking. [He’s] fighting a completely different battle than someone like the Greggs, who are in Knox County, which is still the capital of no-till chemical farming,” Holler said. “So the stories look really different.”

Although the pop-up tour ends in August, the “Growing Right” project has opened up future areas of research for Holler, pending access to grant money.

“I’m looking at documenting more organic farmers who are trying to farm in counties impacted by fracking in eastern Ohio,” Holler said. “Another big issue that’s come up has been women in farming and … what’s accessible to them and possible for them in mainstream agriculture versus organic farming.”

Holler also acknowledges the gaps regarding cultural diversity in the “Growing Right” project, which is missing “black and brown faces,” due, in part, to the areas of research.

“Just because the folks who were at those founding meetings of OEFFA in the 1970s may have been white rural folks, it doesn’t mean there weren’t consonant movements that are part of this story happening in other places, too,” said Holler, who makes efforts to collect stories from diverse communities visiting the pop-up exhibits. She’s also considering new signage to pose questions about “missing voices.”

“I’m excited to connect those dots,” she said.

Holler hopes the installations are also starting points for visitors to put more thought into the “ecology behind their food.”

“We want to … have people think about that history and think about the entire world that’s behind the piece of corn or the peach they might buy,” she said. “Farmers’ markets, at heart, are about making choices, and we want to showcase some of what goes into the choice to buy something that’s certified organic.

Highland County home to Old Dutch Hops

Times Gazette, Michael Williamson, 8/1/2017

On a back road in Highland County, behind the Old Dutch Cemetery — a graveyard that dates back to the American Revolution — sits the Wilson family farm. The 250-acre plot of land, which has been in the family for more than 75 years, is home to two generations of farmers.

The elder, John Michael “Mike” Wilson, oversees the traditional farming practices such as harvesting corn and hay, carrying on the tradition of his parents who purchased the farm in the years preceding World War II.

However, Wilson’s daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Brady Kirwan, occupy a 2-acre stretch of that land where they hope to both carry on the torch as third generation farmers and start something new — organic hops production.

Journey home

Kirwan and Wilson operate the state’s first Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Certified Organic hops yard. Named after the neighboring graveyard, Old Dutch Hops is home to six varieties of hops plants including Cascade, Chinook, Magnum, Nugget, Columbus and Centennial.

“We were deciding on coming back here and started doing some research on what to start with,” Kirwan said. The two met in Kirwan’s home state of California while working as park rangers at Yosemite National Park. Kirwan had been working as a laborer for the park and Wilson was exploring an interest in park services after receiving her degree from Ohio University.

She found that she had a growing interest in farming and for being back home.

A growing trend

Kirwan began research into the subject of hops farming, particularly with regard to the work that Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with The Ohio State University, was doing into the subject. Bergefurd and his team operate a number of test hops yards at the OSU South Centers in Piketon.

According to Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences website, “The Ohio Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol-manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did all of 2010.” This spike started a trend that has continued in some capacity in the subsequent seven or eight years.

Many brewery, pub, tavern and bar patrons might see the effects of these statistics on the menus of their favorite beer-serving establishments. Craft and microbreweries are competing for page space with many of the nationally-recognized beer brands.

With the growing trend of micro-breweries popping up around the state comes the demand for more hops being grown locally. That’s where people like Wilson and Kirwan come in.

They are part of the Ohio Hops Growers Guild (OHGG), an organization formed in 2014 with the goal of uniting Ohio hops growers and creating a standard of quality and practices. Since that formation, the group has grown to more than 80 members whose primary focus is bringing information about locally-sourced hops to fellow growers and the general public.

On July 22, the OHGG sponsored an open house for nine hops yards around the state. Those interested in the subject could tour their local yards and learn about the whole subject of hops farming. Among the stops was Old Dutch Hops and their Hillsboro yard.

The process

“I think we like the idea of bringing diversity back to the way farms used to be,” Wilson said. Rather than solely focusing on the large crops of the surrounding fields, the couple decided to try their hand at something different. “I think that’s what drew us to it, also. It’s such an odd crop,” Kirwan said.

The set-up of a hops yard with its trellis system is an interesting sight among the traditional fields of soybeans and corn. With the exception of the height difference, the process is not dissimilar to the makeup of a grape vineyard.

The hops are grown on vines which crawl up strands of rope made of coconut fiber, and the ropes dangle from metal wires which are attached to 20-foot, wooden poles. They are planted in long rows, divided by open patches of grass. For Wilson and Kirwan, they use two of these open rows to house chickens.

“We are interested in the idea of sustainability and as much organic farming as we can,” Wilson said. “The chickens feed off the land and help to fertilize it.”

The technique of pasteurizing the chickens in this way is attributed to Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer known for his unique approach to the world of farming. That approach and thought-process is something that appeals to Wilson and Kirwan.

“A lot of people mis-characterize hops as an easy crop to grow,” Kirwan said. “It is and it isn’t.” Once the crops are in the ground and growing, weeding and watering is about their only maintenance. However, the accessibility of the crop leaves it open to insects.

“We’ve had some problems this year with bugs, especially the Japanese beetles,” said Kirwan, referring to the torn leaves of the hanging plants. For the most part, other growers are having the same issues.

Growing a business

Wilson and Kirwan sell their Old Dutch Hops products at two farmer’s markets, the Northside Farmers Market in Cincinnati, and the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market closer to home. They also sell to the Fibonacci Brewing Company in Cincinnati, a company with which they have a good working relationship. Wilson and Kirwan sell their hops at $6 per pound for wet hops and $15 per pound for dry hops.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has recently complicated the process by changing the rules for the pelletizing process with regard to water content in harvested crops. The state has also shut down the Ohio’s only commericial-sized hops pelletizing machine, which makes the hops grower’s ability to begin selling more problematic.

“It’s slowed down the process. But we have made more this year than we’ve put in,” Kirwan said. “But with harvesting labor and transportation, it’ll take more time to actually see a profit.” As with any type of farming, the profitablity lies in the process of learning how to grow their yield.

The Old Dutch Hops adventure is a more than two-year project for the couple and something they hope to continue.

“We haven’t figured out how to do it 100 percent,” Wilson said. “But we’d like to get to the point where it’s more sustainable.” Wilson works as a paramedic and Kirwan an EMT, both part-time.

“We mostly do it to help pay for supplies and the animals,” Wilson said. They split their time between the hops yard, work, and learning how to farm.

Eventually, they would like to learn enough about it to make farming their lives. They hope to keep the hops yard part of the process and to incorporate the ideas of true, sustainable farming intact. For them, it starts with experimentation and discovery. According to Wilson, they are still working on finding their place in the world of farming.

“That’s the part we haven’t quite figured out yet,” she said.

Green Corps plants seeds with teens in urban neighborhoods

The Plain Dealer, Greg Burnett, 7/28/2017

Sixteen-year-old Tamryn Dailey fondly remembers her first gardening experience. It was with her grandmother when she was younger. The elder was teaching her how to plant flowers. Dailey is now one of 50 kids involved with Green Corps.

Green Corps is an urban agricultural work-study program for teens ages 14 to 18. The Cleveland Botanical Garden founded the program in 1996.

Dailey learned about the program through her guidance counselor and wanted to start digging soil immediately.

“I was interested because of my gardening experience with my grandmother,” she said. “During the program, I planted watermelon, basil, tomatoes, scallions and cauliflower. We harvest our own garden and take the contents home. I’ve already taken basil home to my mom.”

The teens are paid minimum wage. But they must have a record of stability. After applying for the position, they have to submit a letter of recommendation and attendance from school to get an interview.

“Each summer, we employ youth to work 20 hours a week at the farm closest to where they live,” says Kelly Barrett, Green Corps manager of operations.

The program, in its 21st year, has created five Cleveland urban farms that encompass more than three acres on the East Side.

From 1 to 4 pm. Saturday, in conjunction with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the 2017 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshops Series will offer a tour at the Midtown Learning Farm, 1945 East 66th St., and the Dunham Tavern and Museum (which is next door). The event is free. Participants will get tours, led by the youths, that will discuss the farm as well as the program. A history of the Little Yellow House, a cooking demo from former Green Corps students, information from Katie Todd of the Ohio State University, who is conducting research on bees at all the farms, and tours of the Dunham Tavern and Museum are also planned.

Dailey’s grandmother passed away in 2013. Before she died, she talked about the two of them creating another garden. “My grandmother and I never got a chance to do another garden. So this experience has allowed me to honor her,” she said.

Researchers put soil balancing to test

Farm and Dairy, Chris Kick, 6/23/2017

WOOSTER, Ohio — Organic farmers have long believed in the benefits of a healthy soil and balancing nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Now, farmers and scientists are working together to look at the scientific differences in organic soils, and help bridge the gap between farmer experience and scientific study.

Researchers and farmers spoke about their collaborative work June 20 during a tour of Raymond Yoder Jr.’s organic farm, known as Artisan Acres. This 17-acre produce farm, part of the Greenfield Farms cooperative, grows vegetables that are sold in grocery stores like Kroger, Meijer and Earth Fare.

Collaborative effort

Yoder opened his farm to Ohio State University researchers to test and document the perceived benefits of soil balancing and organic agriculture.

So far, he said working with the researchers has required patience by both parties, but he said “it’s progress” and something the organic industry needs.

“There’s so much that we don’t know and there’s so much that we can learn by seeing what we look at and observing,” he said. “I think the only way we’ll get anywhere is if we continue doing what we’re doing.”Douglas Jackson-Smith, an OSU natural resources professor with a background in sociology, said the gap between organic farmers and researchers is still wide, but “we’re hopeful in the four years of this project, we’ll at least begin to close that communications gap and get us closer to a common conversation.”

Soil balancing

According to a fact sheet by OSU, soil balancing is a soil and soil fertility management strategy based on the Base Cation Saturation Ratio — or the optimum ratio of plant nutrients, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Soils can be balanced in a variety of ways, but the common method is adding calcium-rich minerals, such as limestone and gypsum, in order to raise the calcium levels.

Balanced soils can be difficult or even impractical in some locations, and usually require some maintenance, according to OSU.

Organic supporters are hoping the scientists will be able to document the benefits of soil balancing.

“We already know the practice works, they (scientists) just need to, through empirical evidence, anoint it as sound science,” said Eric Pawlowski, sustainable ag educator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, one of the project partners.

Results to come

The research at Yoder’s farm is still in the beginning stages, and is part of a larger research effort by OSU scientists, which includes additional private farms, and sites owned by OSU.

In addition to OEFFA, researchers are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide more clarity about the benefits and challenges of soil balancing.

What is clear so far, at the Yoder farm, is that he has achieved a solid produce operation that grows healthy produce and in an efficient, profitable manner.

The tour drew nearly 80 people, who observed a mostly weed-free operation, with loamy soils and lush produce. Many comments were made about the color and health of his plants, and the good progress that they appear to be making.

In the early part of the season, the farm grows cabbage, kale and red beets, and then zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, followed by mid-summer plants like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes, and fall crops of cabbage and kale.

Making sauerkraut

One of Yoder’s specialties is sauerkraut, which he and his employees process and ferment at the farm. He said the fermentation is a simple process, but one that has to be done just right, to make a quality product.

He got into the sauerkraut business to provide a market opportunity for some of Greenfield Farms’ second-grade cabbage. These cabbages are still healthy and safe to eat, but require additional processing, which makes them ideal for making into sauerkraut.

After the tour, Yoder explained some of his horse-drawn equipment and the different tools he uses for planting and cultivating. He said he hoped the people who visited his farm left with a better understanding of sustainable agriculture, and maybe a new idea or two.

“There’s so many things that you can do to get better at sustainable agriculture and my hope is just that somebody picked up a little bit that will help them on their farm,” he said.

Local farmers express concerns, wishes for next farm bill

Newark Advocate, Sydney Murray, 9/5/2017

NEWARK – Representatives from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office have been traveling the state to talk to Ohioans about the 2018 Farm Bill.

Last Wednesday, the group stopped in Licking County and about 15 people showed up to The Ohio State University Newark Extension office to discuss the bill and their thoughts and concerns about the future of agriculture.

Jon McCracken, with Brown’s Washington office, said it is expected the bill will pass out of committee in late winter or early spring.

He said conservation remains a top priority and there is a continued interest in helping smaller producers reach different markets.

According to a release from Brown’s office, one in seven Ohioans is employed in agriculture and food production.

Those at the table brought up a myriad of concerns.

Knox County resident Jazz Glastra said her organization received a rural business development grant to do a feasibility study for a food hub.

The hub will be aggregating local produce and redistributing it to restaurants and institutions.

“It’s a great program that has really benefited this organization,” Glastra said.

She said she feels good about the project, but is concerned about the small pot of money available to people in the state.

“There’s more than six or seven people in the state of Ohio who have cool ideas that will, like, spark small businesses and development in rural areas,” Glastra said.

Glastra said rural communities need small businesses and economic development.

Mike Laughlin, with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said he believes there needs to be more research on transition farming from one generation to the next..

He said he would also like to see more help for new farmers to deal with problems they encounter and developing new farming skills.

McCracken said this issue has come up a lot at other roundtable discussions.

“It’s a hard business even in good times,” McCracken said.

He said with high land prices, it can be hard for people to get their foot in the door unless they inherit, or marry into, land.

Franklin County resident Matt Hildreth said a few different things concerned him, including how energy is produced and used locally, healthcare in rural areas, and opioids.

McCracken said the bill touches all three in various ways.

McCracken said because opiods are a problem in both rural and urban communities, there is a real role for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be more proactive in terms of opioids.

Hildreth said he was also concerned about connections between communities.

He said he knows people who are part-time farmers who use a side job as another source of income, but he said some small towns have changed so much that getting people to live in those communities and the opportunity for the “side hustle” has gone away.

As another source of connectivity, many in the meeting expressed the need and importance of getting broadband internet to rural communities.

“Broadband is kind of a necessity of modern life, I think,” McCracken said.

McCracken said helping connect small communities can also help make sure the rural communities can attract the next generation and get people to come back home.

Crop insurance reforms must protect farm safety net while also supporting new farmers: Amalie Lipstreu

The Plain Dealer, Amalie Lipstreu 6/28/2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In case you were living under a rock, the Trump administration has released its 2018 budget proposal.

According to President Donald Trump’s plan, farmers in the crop insurance program would still be able to count on the federal government to pay up to $40,000 of their crop insurance bill — after which they would be cut off.

This would save taxpayers $16.2 billion over a decade.

This is a difficult time for Ohio farmers. Farm products are selling low while the cost of inputs and property taxes are on the rise. Farming is never easy and is just shy of impossible when dealing with the vagaries of weather and wildly fluctuating market uncertainties. But we have deemed farming a pretty critical endeavor — as we depend on it for our survival.

Northeast Ohio farmers markets in Tremont and Shaker Square are featuring wine samples this year. The region’s farmers market population is holding strong.

For some farmers, crop insurance provides the stability to “weather” not just the weather but also the economic challenges they face.

As we head into negotiations for the next Farm Bill, crop insurance will loom large, as the historical average cost of the program is more than $6 billion per year.

According to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service, the mix of policies translated into the government paying an average 62 percent of the insurance policy on each farm in 2014 — no matter how large or profitable.

But as we look at changes necessary for the program, it is critically important that we think about the farmers that will be impacted, including beginning farmers.

We face a crisis and opportunity ahead.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, nearly 100 million acres of farmland is expected to change hands as the next farm bill is implemented.

How do we want to see that land utilized? Is the “highest and best use” another strip mall or subdivision, or is there value in ensuring our food security by making sure that young farmers are able to grow food for their communities?

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association surveyed its farmers in 2016 and found that access to land and credit are the biggest business challenges. This is especially true for beginning farmers.

While land costs can fluctuate year to year, the long-term trend is one of increasing prices. As they seek to access farmland, these next-generation farmers face competition from not just real estate developers but also from existing farmers with history, capital and assets.

Because the crop insurance program provides subsidies to the biggest producers, these large commodity farms can outcompete younger farmers for land purchase or rent, making it nearly impossible for them to access land.

Quite often, these “new” farmers are interested in farming sustainably, protecting clean water and building healthy soil so they are less reliant on outside chemical inputs. Utilizing techniques such as long-term and diverse crop rotations, they build soil organic matter and reduce the potential for runoff.

These are the kind of practices we are incentivizing  to prevent the algal blooms that turn the water toxic.

As we minimize the unintended effects on beginning farmers, we also have an opportunity to link crop insurance subsidies to good conservation practices such as those mentioned above. It is common sense that linking financial support for crop insurance to reducing risk (and, potentially, crop insurance payouts) and improved environmental sustainability is a win-win for farmers, taxpayers and our communities.

We can protect the critical farm safety net — and at least some of the 100 million acres that will change hands in the next five to six years — while at the same time getting out of the way of beginning farmers and protecting our land and water.

Now is the time to improve the crop insurance program to better serve all farmers, and all citizens.

New Farmers Positioned for Success with Heartland Farm Beginnings®: Applications Available Now

For Immediate Release: Monday, June 26, 2017

Contact: Kelly Henderson, (614) 421-2022, beginfarming@oeffa.org

(Columbus, OH) The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is now accepting applications for Heartland Farm Beginnings®, a community-based, farmer-led, field-tested, in-depth farmer training program which helps beginning farmers create successful sustainable agriculture businesses.

OEFFA has partnered with the Farm Beginnings Collaborative (FBC), a national alliance of regional groups, which offers Farm Beginnings® programs in 13 states. The program has not been available in Ohio until now. Hundreds of farmers have graduated from Farm Beginnings® programs, and they have a strong track record.  For example, 71 percent of graduates were still farming in 2016.

“Participants are able to tap the knowledge of some of the most innovative and skilled farmers operating in the Midwest, as well as develop lifelong friendships and networks with other beginning farmers,” says Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator at OEFFA. “They learn critical farm management skills and innovative marketing strategies to help build a business plan for their own farm.”

The year-long program begins in October 2017 with 10 business planning sessions throughout the fall and winter.  These are followed by the development of an individualized learning plan for the growing season to facilitate continuing education. Participants may also receive mentoring from successful sustainable agriculture farmers through internships, employment, or technical assistance arrangements.

Applicants can visit www.oeffa.org/q/farmbeginnings to read more about the program and request an application packet. The course fee is $1,200 and includes a membership in OEFFA and registration to the 2018 OEFFA conference. The application deadline is September 15.  Space is limited to 25 new farmers, so early applications are encouraged. Individuals who apply by August 15 receive an “early bird” discount of $200.

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OEFFA is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.