The drink of the season

With 270,000 dairy cows producing more than 630 million gallons of milk and 28 million hens laying more than seven billion eggs at farms throughout the state, Ohioans can rest assured there will be no shortage of eggnog this holiday season.

Love it or hate it, eggnog is at its greatest abundance at this time each year. The drink’s ambiguity is enough to give anyone pause for thought. Some make it with rum or whiskey or bourbon. And some enjoy egg-free or dairy-free varieties, made with coconut milk.

To broaden my knowledge, I’ve discovered these five things about the beloved holiday beverage:

  1. Eggnog is believed to have originated from posset, a hot milk-based beverage enjoyed by the wealthy in medieval Britain.
  2. There are a few theories as to how the drink got its name. The ‘nog’ in eggnog might come from the word noggin, a small wooden carved mug. So, an egg-based drink served in this cup became eggnog.
  3. The drink didn’t arrive in America until the 1700’s, when rum became the eggnog spike of choice because of its availability and low price.
  4. George Washington is said to have been a big fan of eggnog and his own recipe featuring copious amounts of brandy, rye, rum and sherry was often served at parties.
  5. There is in fact a National Eggnog Day, fittingly celebrated December 24 on Christmas Eve.

If you really aren’t an eggnog lover, peruse this list from Buzzfeed about the 17 holiday drinks that are even better than eggnog and toast the spirit of the season!

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Use Your Off Season

Guest author Dean Heffta, published Corn+Soybean Digest

There’s no slow season anymore! Farmers tell me that often. With crop and business demands, it can feel like the year is just one long string of activity without the spikes and dips we used to experience.

With that said, every business – whether its seasons are set by the weather or not – needs to create and utilize an “off season.” LeBron James demonstrated the power of using the off-season after the Miami Heat lost the NBA tournament in 2011. He invested his frustration that following summer into training to be the best low-post player he could be. To do that, he sought coaching from the great low-post player, Hakeem Olajuwan. The rest, as they say, is history. James went on to lead the Heat to back-to-back league championships in 2012 and 2013.

We’re not NBA stars, but we are each ‘pros’ in our own way. I recently met a farmer who shared that he is very deliberate in how he uses his time between the peak seasons of planting and harvest. He has four areas of focus: equipment (the team goes through everything when they are done using it for the season), book work (he gets on top of the accounting and business planning to keep from getting behind), people/learning (he goes to various conferences and meetings to get new ideas, always bringing a different employee along to give them new exposure to the business), and recharge (without planning, it can be easy to go a year without taking time off or recharging the battery).

While every farm’s off-season is going to look a little different, there will be a few common elements.
  • Review/learning – Sit down to learn from the things that didn’t turn out so well. Look for ways to make changes in the future in those areas.
  • Skill development – Learn a new technology or skill that will be helpful in the future or seek advisors that have those skills.
  • Planning – It can be hard to do long term planning when you’re in the middle of the fire. Use the off-season to step back from day to day operations. Consider where the farm is going and explore different ways to get there.
  • Writing new plays – An important role of the leader is scripting the plays for the players in the upcoming season. Take time to plan the details so everyone knows what’s next.
  1. Take a moment to “schedule” your off season time so one season doesn’t just run into the next.
  2. Consider which areas – if worked on – would make the biggest difference to the farm over time.
  3. Identify three specific areas to focus your effort on.
  4. Execute your off season plan.
Reprinted with permission of Corn+Soybean Digest
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Turkey Top Ten

Thanksgiving is only a week away and to honor this all-American holiday, my blog is devoted to talking turkey! Here are 10 turkey fun facts you can share with your friends and family when you gather around the dinner table next Thursday.

  1. Ohio is the 10th largest turkey-producing state with 5.5 million birds produced in 2012. Minnesota is ranked first, followed by North Carolina and Arkansas.
  2. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are served during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  3. Founding father Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have preferred the wild turkey to the bald eagle as the nation’s symbol. He considered the turkey to be more respectable.
  4. Turkeys, which are a type of pheasant, are the only breed of poultry native to the Western hemisphere.
  5. Despite their size, turkeys prefer to sleep in trees to avoid predators, such as coyotes, foxes and raccoons. 
  6. Only male turkeys gobble, which along with a strut, is used to attract female turkeys.
  7. While domesticated turkeys can’t fly, wild turkeys can fly short distances with speed up to 55 miles per hour. 
  8. Turkeys can rotate their heads for a 360-degree field of vision. Turkeys also have great hearing, despite having no external ears.
  9. Turkeys are prone to heart attacks.
  10. In 2012, U.S. consumption of turkey was 16 pounds per person.

Do you have any turkey fun facts or trivia that didn’t make the list? Please share them!

* Fun facts courtesy of and

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Planning for 2014 cash flow

Guest author Paul Burgener, published Farm Futures story

Short 2012 crop creates concern for new crop demand; lender relationships critical

Let’s face it: Most farmers have been on a roll when it comes to making money. 

“Making money in farming for the past six years has been like falling off a log,” quips Terry Kastens, a Kansas farmer and former Kansas State University ag economist. “Nobody has had a poor relationship with their lender for the past 10 years.” 

This year might test those relationships, as higher prices for land, machinery and inputs are combining with lower-expected crop prices. 

“Renewal time this fall will be more difficult, with cash flow budgets tighter than they have been in years,” says Lewis Coulter, vice president and agriculture lender at Platte Valley Bank in Bridgeport, Neb. “We are going to need to manage costs better as margins get tighter.”

The past several years have allowed farmers to strengthen balance sheets and prepare for a down year. Average farm debt is lower, putting farms in strong equity positions heading into what might be a leaner profit year. The current debt-to-asset ratio for U.S. farmers is 10.2%, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. The same ratio was 13.5% in 2003, and 19.4% in 1983 just as the farm credit crisis began. Even so, operating loans will need to cash flow.

Tighter cash flows
Lower prices for corn and wheat, along with uncertainty in the soybean market, will likely open cash flow projections with smaller gross revenue numbers than in the past few years. Farmers with a good handle on their costs are going to be better prepared to develop projections that will be acceptable to lenders.

Cost control starts with cash rental rates that have been bid up to match high commodity prices in the past few years. This could be the year to adjust those rates back a little if the farm has adjusted rental rates higher as commodity prices increased.

For those farms that were late to the game in raising rents, there might be a lag going back down, putting pressure on the cash flow projection.

“Those same guys that are overbidding for land today are the same ones that didn’t pay enough rent on the way up,” Kastens notes.

Take advantage of discounts
Suppliers recognize this will be a tighter cash flow year and will be knocking on doors with attractive deals, trying to get sales made to quality operators. Take advantage of early purchase discounts and favorable financing to get seed, fertilizer and crop protection inputs priced before spring.

Lenders should be willing to support the purchase and financing of inputs with favorable terms that will help the cash flow. Disclose those purchases and credit arrangements to the lender at renewal time, but take advantage of those low to zero interest plans when they are offered.

On farm research pays
Farms that were doing their own research during the profitable years have an advantage: knowing where their production system can be tweaked to save a few dollars per acre in tight cash flow years.

The time to experiment with a new technology or lower-cost product is when times are good and the farm can absorb a small loss. Now is the time to implement those cost-saving ideas that worked in your on-farm plots or other tests.

Lenders are more willing to support an experiment when there is adequate cash flow to cover a failure. Low interest rates and better-than-average prices for the past few years have encouraged banks to open hedging lines for customers that were not using these marketing tools.

Lender relationships critical
Long-term relationships with good agriculture lenders will help farmers get through the next couple years as cash flows tighten.

“The stable bank that is familiar with your system and has a long-term agricultural commitment to area farmers will be a good partner as margins tighten,” says Coulter.

Long term, using caution and a prudent financial strategy is the best way forward in potential lean times.

“We don’t know what will happen if there is another crash because very few of the lenders from the 1980s are still around,” concludes Kastens. ff

2013 Crop Harvest Update

November is just around the corner and that means Ohio’s grain farmers are close to finishing their 2013 crop harvests. So, what are farmers saying about this year’s corn and soybean harvests?

According to a Columbus CEO article, Kirk Roetgerman, grain-marketing services manager at Trupointe Cooperative’s South Charleston elevator and Steve Bricher, Urbana branch manager for Heritage Cooperative, both said that soybean yields are running stronger than expected.

“Farmers seem pleasantly surprised with yields averaging near 57 bushels an acre,” said Roetgerman, who estimated the South Charleston elevator has handled about 800,000 of the 1.5 million bushels it expects to receive.

“If we would have had another rain in August, yields would have been better,” added Bricher. “But given the dry spell, farmers seem very happy with above average results of 50 to 60 bushels an acre.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates a total U.S. soybean production of 3.15 billion bushels with a national yield average of 41.2 bushels per acre.

As for corn production, government analysts believe that U.S. producers will harvest a record 13.8 billion bushels this fall. The USDA estimates the national average corn yield at 155.3 bushels per acre, an increase of more than 25 percent from last year’s drought-reduced crop.

John Hoffman, a grain farmer in Pickaway County, states in Ohio’s Country Journal that his corn yield will fall between 160 and 180 bushels per acre. “People may forget that when we were planting corn, we had some heavy rains and emergence issues. There were some surprises in the cornfields as the soils vary and there was corn hurt by the moisture early in the season, but overall I am happy with the corn yields.”

According to an article in the Toledo Blade, the best crops in the U.S. are in areas that received adequate rain combined with cooler temperatures at the time corn pollinated, a welcome sight after last year's dismal harvest due to the drought withering corn and soybean fields and burning up pastures. Record harvests are likely in many states this year, including Ohio, Alabama, Georgia and Indiana.

To learn more about what Ohio farmers are saying about the 2013 crop harvest, visit Ohio’s Country Journal’s Between the Rows.

If you are a farmer, how does your 2013 corn and/or soybean harvest compare to 2012?

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Fewer "Great" Pumpkins for Halloween

Though Ohio is one of the nation’s top pumpkin-producing states, heavy summer rains and flooding have impacted this fall’s pumpkin crop, meaning fewer and smaller pumpkins for Halloween.

“Size wise, we’re going to be off a little bit,” said Dan Gust of Gust Brothers Pumpkin Farm in a Toledo Blade article. “Last year the pumpkins were huge, they were beautiful. We still have a lot of big pumpkins, but they’re not as plentiful.”

With a smaller crop, pumpkin pickers will find slightly higher prices this season, too. According to the Columbus Dispatch, one pumpkin patch in Plain City is raising prices by 4 cents per pound — the grower’s first price increase in three years. Another pumpkin grower in Swanton, is also increasing prices by two cents per pound.

This is a much different picture from Ohio’s bumper crop in 2012, which was worth about $23.3 million, compared to $16.6 million in 2011 and 2010. Last year, Ohio grew 14 percent of the nation’s pumpkins.

Though this year’s crop is smaller, there are still plenty of beautiful Ohio pumpkins to choose for your holiday decorating. Here are a few tips from to help you pick the perfect pumpkin:

  • Choose a pumpkin that feels firm and heavy for its size and has consistent coloring
  • Turn the pumpkin over and place pressure on the bottom with your thumbs. If it flexes or gives, your pumpkin is not fresh
  • Look for soft spots, mold, wrinkles or open cuts that would indicate damage or early spoilage
  • Choose a pumpkin with a solidly attached stem, a green stem indicates a freshly harvested pumpkin
  • Place your pumpkin on a flat surface to see if it will sit flat after being carved

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Feeding the 9 billion

 Guest author Willie Vogt, published Farm Futures story

Image 1: By Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP

Rising population challenges farmers to ‘step up,’ yet work may be harder than thought.

Any farmer who has attended a commodity group or farm group meeting in the past two or three years has heard the clarion call to feed the rising population.

The stats are stark. World population is going to increase to more than 9 billion by 2050, with the impact that global farmers will have to double food output. In fact, some statisticians figure that the amount of food to be produced in this short time period could actually equal what has been produced in the past 10,000 years.

The challenge ahead could be bigger. “I serve on the advisory committee for the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, and an economist there pointed out that the rise to 9 billion includes 2 billion more in the middle class,” says Bill Horan, Rockwell City, Iowa, and chairman of the Truth About Trade and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The global population’s growing middle class is significant because historically, Horan points out, “The first thing they want is protein — and more and better protein.” Farmers will not be feeding that larger population just with more grain.

Will Sawyer, vice president of grains, oilseeds and animal protein at Rabobank, notes that this is a key concern as experts look at population rise. “It’s a question of whether the U.S. can satisfy growing food demand in the form of meat or grain,” he notes.

Either way, global food production must rise, and Sawyer notes that countries that have historically fought use of biotech crops will be forced to “step up” to a more Western system of food production. “Food systems will have to transition away from traditional backyard production.”

Image 2: By Tim Wimbourne, Reuters
Horan has a big worry about this challenge because he notes that he’s talked to a number of economists who question global agriculture’s ability to meet that middle-class need. The grain used for livestock production would outstrip capacity, according to Horan. “That makes the 2 billion rise in global population [beyond the 7 billion today] look completely different,” he notes.

He adds that seed companies pushing to double production are aiming in the right direction, but “it’s meat that’ll be the problem.” He warns that the global population could end up with some countries that can afford meat and some that can’t, which could be a moral dilemma ahead.

The other side of the coin is that global food producers are stepping up, and whether it’ll be enough will remain to be seen. But Rabobank’s Sawyer notes that he’s seeing evidence that Brazil is working out its logistics issues, which will lower its cost of production.

China is moving into Africa with major development projects to leverage agriculture production to meet growing demand for grain and protein as well.

Yet Sawyer sees that global development as good, even as the competitive position of the United States changes. “The U.S. will remain a significant player in the global market.”

Horan, long an advocate for using more technology in agriculture, says, “Maybe technology is the answer.” However, he notes that better trade agreements will matter, too. “We need to be aware of the problem, so we can develop a strategy, and then we need to develop a strategic vision of how to solve the problem,” he says. “We don’t have that much time. We could be stressing the system within the next 10 years.” Farm Futures

Note: It is also important to consider that the U.S. is a leading example of technology applied in agriculture to grow higher yielding crops on less land. And, it is this technology that may help satisfy the global population’s ever increasing food demands.

Photos obtained from:
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Farm Science Review Breaks New Ground

Ohio’s premier agricultural event, Farm Science Review (FSR), will take place September 17-19 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.

FSR attracts more than 130,000 farmers, growers and producers from the U.S. and Canada who come to learn about the latest in agricultural research, products and services and to experience educational exhibits, presentations and demonstrations relating to natural-resource management and the crop and livestock industries. 

Marking its 51st year, this year’s theme “Break New Ground” will showcase the latest technology, equipment and innovations in the agriculture industry today.

Experts from The Ohio State University will discuss topics ranging from farming techniques to improving water and soil quality and combating invasive species.

According to the FSR website, this year’s three-day event will also feature:
  • Daily harvesting, strip-tilling, global positioning, manure and tillage demonstrations
  • Information about farm health and safety, farm management programs, financial and economical information, the environment and human and community development
  • Antique farm equipment
Three individuals will also be inducted to the FSR Hall of Fame, including Don Breece, past assistant director of the Agriculture and Natural Resources program at The Ohio State University Extension, the late Dan Kush, an advocate and friend of the Gwynne Conservation Area and Marti Smith, co-owner of American Small Farm. These three individuals have been selected for induction in recognition of their contributions to the success of the Farm Science Review.

For a full schedule of events, click here.

Are you planning to attend Farm Science Review? If so, what are you looking forward to the most?

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Handing Down the Family Farm

Planning how to pass along a farm from one generation to the next can be a difficult and emotional issue for many farming families. But as tough as it might be, succession planning is critical to the survival and future of every family farm.

According to the Department of Agriculture, family farms account for 98 percent of all the farms in the U.S. and for about 85 percent of the agricultural output. It’s estimated that 70 percent of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the next two decades. Yet, many farmers have an insufficient or no plan concerning succession. Without a succession plan, these family farms risk going out of business.

“Less than half of farms actually have a plan and, for the most part, this plan is some sort of estate plan or will,” said Bryce Knorr, senior editor for Farm Futures magazine in a High Plains Journal article. “But it’s not really something for making sure that the farm continues as an entity. You have to take the next step to really develop a plan for transitioning the business.”

Lee Watson, a corn, soybean and wheat farmer in Bellevue, Ohio, plans for his son, Dusten, to take over the family farm in the future and is working with an estate attorney and an accountant on a plan to do so.

“I’m in the process of transferring shares of the farm to him,” said Watson in USA Today. “It’s important to do for inheritance tax purposes. It can be a large amount of debt for a person to start out with on their own. I’ve always worked for this. I’d like to see that land and the operation stay within the family.”

Are you developing a succession plan for your family farm? Here are recommendations from about how to navigate common succession pitfalls.

  • Take action: The biggest mistake farmers make is not taking the first step. Begin the planning process by holding a family meeting with a clear agenda and goals that are defined before the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to create a preliminary plan.
  • Consider your options: There is no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to handing down a farm and farmers need to weigh all their options. Determining the best business model for the operation is a crucial first step. For example, an LLC or limited partnership allows the elder generation to maintain management in the farming operation while gradually transferring ownership and responsibilities. 
  • Don’t worry about offending family members: Succession planning is an incredibly emotional issue and it’s not uncommon for families to avoid confrontation to keep the peace. This could lead to unqualified or disengaged children running the farm. Honest and open communication is vital to determining the best succession plan and the roles family members will play.
  • Don’t let your plan gather dust: Reality check your plan to make sure it works off the paper by playing out hypothetical scenarios. Also, review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date and relevant. Share it with a succession-planning professional or lawyer for a second opinion.

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Food Dialogues® comes to Ohio

Following a series of successful events in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is bringing Food Dialogues® to Columbus, Ohio.

Tomorrow, August 15, Ohioans can tune in to the free online event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to hear from a panel of experts as they address the social, economic, environmental and emotional aspects of biotechnology and sustainability as it relates to food and farming.

COSI is hosting the event which will be moderated by Joel Riley, morning host for Columbus radio station 610 WTVN. A limited number of in-person guests will contribute to the debate and those listening online are encouraged to ask questions and offer comments. 

This event comes at an appropriate time for Ohioans as we’ve followed a number of heated GMO (genetically modified organisms) debates occurring in states across the country.

The Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation are co-sponsors of the event and hope it will give Ohioan’s the chance to have their food questions answered.

For more information about the event visit – The Food Dialogues®: Ohio

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Ohio State Fair Now Underway

It’s that time of year again for Ferris wheels, funnel cakes and ag fun at the Ohio State Fair, taking place now through August 4.

The Ohio State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S. and has celebrated Ohio’s products, its people and their accomplishments for more than 150 years. You can read about a few of the fair’s milestones in a previous blog here

Like most events, the fair has changed with the times, but the one constant is that the fair is an agricultural showplace for Ohio's leading agricultural products and livestock.

Some of this year’s agricultural highlights include:

  • What’s a fair without livestock shows? View the full schedule of here.
  • Ag is Cool interactive education stations – Hands-on stations offer fairgoers the opportunity to milk a cow, learn about food safety, compare their weight to animals and spin wool.
  • Soybean Day, August 3 – Stop by the Cardinal Gate to learn more about how soybean farmers make it a priority to maintain the health of the land, animals and water to provide for future generations

 And what would the Ohio State Fair be without a few fun, quirky things to check out as well?
  • Try the latest and greatest deep-fried food – giant deep-fried gummy bears!
  • Sea lions make their debut this year, performing tricks with their handlers at daily shows.
  • Pig races – Watch three different breeds of speedy pigs race!
  • Daily fireworks at 9:45 p.m.

For more information about the 2013 Ohio State Fair and daily attractions, visit

Are you planning to attend the Ohio State Fair this year? If so, what are you looking forward to the most?

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National Blueberry Month

Strawberries have the month of May and blackberries a September day, but July is all about celebrating tiny, but mighty, blueberries.

More than 13,000 years old and indigenous to North America, blueberries were once a dietary staple for many Native Americans, who also used the little blue fruit as a meat preservative and in medicines.

According to the Blueberry Council, the blueberry became domesticated in the early 1900s through the efforts of a farmer’s daughter, Elizabeth White, and Dr. Frederick Coville. In 1916, they produced the first commercial crop of blueberries in Whitesbog, New Jersey.

Today, blueberries are commercially grown in 38 states. While Ohio is among the 38, it is overshadowed by the top-producing states of Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington. However, scientists at The Ohio State University are currently researching how to increase blueberry production within the state to help growers capitalize on the increasing popularity of the fruit.

“We want to help Ohio growers increase their acres of blueberries to try to get more on par to what growers in neighboring states, such as Indiana and Michigan, are doing,” said Gary Gao, an Ohio State University Extension specialist and professor in a Farm and Dairy article.

Data from the Blueberry Council shows that North American consumption of blueberries grew from 283 million pounds in 1995 to 853 million pounds in 2011. Much of that growth has been attributed to the health benefits associated to the little berry.

According to the Blueberry Council, blueberries are:

  • Low in fat and calories — A one-cup serving has 80 calories and is nearly fat free
  • High in dietary fiber — A handful of blueberries can help you meet your daily fiber requirement
  • Full of phytonutrients — Blueberries contain polyphenols, a substance that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Packed with vitamin C — One serving delivers nearly 25 percent of the recommended daily intake
  • An excellent source of manganese — This mineral helps bone growth and turns carbs, protein and fat into energy

If you want to celebrate National Blueberry Month, there are blueberry farms throughout the state where you can pick your own. Visit to find a farm near you.

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Advancing agriculture

May’s edition of Farm Industry News featured it’s first A to Z index of technologies affecting agriculture since 2008. Much has changed since then in ag technology and I wanted to share a few advances that impress me most.

Autonomous tractors
Outfitted with sensors, cameras, radar, GPS and guidance equipment to navigate fields safely, these tractors run between the combine and unloading site without an operator. 

The picture below is of a cab-less Spirit tractor from Autonomous Tractor Corp.

Photo: Mike Krivit

Nutrient sensors
Precise nutrient application to farm fields has never been more important. Now, nitrogen fertilizer is being applied with a level of accuracy not seen before.

Sophisticated sensors are used to detect nutrient levels in crops by emitting light onto the crop canopy, measuring the amount of light reflected. This information is then used to determine the crop’s nitrogen needs.

Agriculture’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles commonly referred to as drones, hit the news cycle earlier this year for the potential to become a low-cost precision ag scouting tool.

Beyond ag trade publications, even the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and MSN touted the benefits of drones programmed to follow designated flight paths, monitoring crops and spraying pesticides.

Commercial use of drones is currently prohibited in the U.S. unless they are participants in a university study, according to the WSJ.

Which advancements in agriculture have impressed you most lately?

Photos obtained from: Farm Industry News (hyperlink to:
Portland State University (hyperlink to:

Celebrate National Dairy Month

June is National Dairy Month – a whole month dedicated to celebrating the dairy industry.

According to the International Diary Foods Association, National Dairy Month started out as National Milk Month in 1937 as a way to promote drinking milk. It was initially created to stabilize the dairy demand when production was at a surplus, but has now transitioned into an annual tradition that celebrates the contributions that the dairy industry has made to the world.

In Ohio, we know a little something about dairy.

Ohio has nearly 3,100 dairy farms located throughout the state and is home to 268,000 dairy cows. In 2011, Ohio’s dairy cows produced more than 605 million gallons of milk, meaning that the average farm produced enough milk to provide dairy products to more than 2,500 people each year.

The American Dairy Association also credits Ohio’s dairy industry as an essential part of our state’s success, acknowledging that: 

  • Ohio ranks first in the nation in Swiss cheese production, fifth in the number of manufacturing plants, 10th in overall cheese production and 11th in overall milk production. 
  • The estimated economic impact of Ohio’s dairy industry is $4.2 billion with a total of 14,350 jobs created for Ohioans.
With nearly 51,000 dairy farms nationwide, 97 percent are family owned. These dairy farmers work incredibly hard to provide safe, wholesome and nutrient-rich milk to the public, while caring for their animals and land. It’s more than fitting that they deserve our thanks. 

Before June ends, be sure to celebrate National Dairy Month and thank a dairy farmer if you know one. It’s also a great time for you to enjoy an extra scoop of ice cream guilt-free! 

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Preserving Ag History

New technology and agricultural innovations have transformed farming in America over the last century. To help document the modern age of ag, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has launched the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive.

The purpose of the archive is to collect, preserve and share personal stories and photos from people throughout the country about their agricultural experiences. The stories, which are submitted online, will be used by the Smithsonian for future exhibits and on its social-media channels.

Story topics submitted so far have included sharecropping in Mississippi, Hawaiian cowboys and the development of a fresh-food tracking system. Here’s a story recently submitted to the archive from a woman in Thomson, Georgia:

A New Watermelon

Around 1905, a farmer in Florida developed a new variety of watermelon. This melon had a much thicker rind than most market melons, thereby making it better for shipping across the nation in a time before refrigeration. The melon also grew to astounding sizes — often 40 pounds or better! The farmer, being a devoted Populist, named it the "Tom Watson Watermelon" in honor of his favorite Populist politician — Thomas Edward Watson of Georgia.

He sent some seeds to Watson's Thomson, Georgia home. Tom Watson passed the seeds along to his brother, William "Top" Watson, who founded a watermelon seed production company. The seeds were all grown in Thomson, but were shipped all over the nation. The Top Watson farm staff constructed a machine to extract the seeds from the pulp — it was built out of parts from a Model T, a tractor and cotton gins! The seed company closed in the mid-20th century, but the melon seeds are still available through heirloom suppliers. Many a champion watermelon at festivals around the nation is still a Tom Watson variety. And some of the equipment, seeds bags, dryers and other artifacts are preserved at Tom Watson's home, Hickory Hill, in Thomson, Georgia.

If you’re interested in submitting a story, the Archive’s website suggest that you think like a historian and recommends looking through old family photo albums and talking with relatives about their ag-related experiences. The website also suggests a few themes and questions to explore, including:

  • Technology — How has technology changed farming practices and life on the farm?
  • Environment — How have environmental concerns changed over the decades? 
  • Finance — As farms have grown bigger, what impact has that had on how land is bought and sold? How about the impacts of crop insurance or farm auctions?
  • Labor — High-tech machinery and automation have streamlined labor needs. How has this changed the life of farmers and impacted farming communities? 

Do you have an interesting agricultural tale to tell? Please share it with me.

Photo obtained from:

Surprising Products Made from Agriculture

It’s that time of year when Ohio’s farmers are in the fields getting the ground prepared for planting season - some have even been lucky enough to start planting. The crops that will soon be planted – corn and soybeans - will not only be used for livestock feed, fuel (corn ethanol and soy biodiesel) and consumer food items, but they will also be used to make everyday consumer products as well. 

I’ve compiled a list below of some uses and products made from corn and soybeans that may surprise you.


  • Spark plugs:  Corn starch is used in the production of the special porcelain used to make spark plugs. 
  • Toothpaste: Sorbitol, which is produced from the corn sugar dextrose, is used in toothpaste as a low-calorie, water-soluble, bulking agent.
  • Cosmetics: When finely ground, corncobs are relatively dust free and very absorbent making them useful carriers for cosmetics.
  • Rubber tires: In the production of tires, corn starch is sprinkled on the molds before pouring the rubber to prevent the rubber from sticking to the molds.
  • Crayons: One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons. 
  • Elevators: The elevators in the Statue of Liberty use a soybean-based hydraulic fluid. 
  • Ink: Soy ink is being used in the printing of textbooks and newspapers. 
  • Cleaning products: Soy is used in everything from certain laundry detergent to carpet and upholstery shampoo.

The next time you purchase cleaning products or new rubber tires, you may want to thank a local farmer. To learn more about products made from corn and soybeans, visit or

Were you surprised by any of the items on this list? Is there any product that I missed that you believe is unique?

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Earth Week 2013

Last weekend you may have been one of the thousands of central Ohioans who took part in what has become our country’s largest volunteer service effort, Earth Day. Trees were planted, invasive plants pulled, neighborhoods cleaned up and gardens prepared at more than 100 volunteer activities throughout central Ohio.

Monday, April 22, marked the 43rd Earth Day. More than 1 billion people in 192 countries were estimated to have participated in activities this year. Since the first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970, the movement has played a vital role in environmental change. 

In the early days, Earth Day demonstrations garnered public support for the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and contributed to the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts.

Today, the Earth Day Network works with more than 22,000 partners around the world to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. Core programs for 2013 include promoting environmental education in schools and creating dialogues about transferring a fossil fuel-based economy to one based on sustainable development principles.

Many infographics have circulated this week in celebration of the movement, below is one I found particularly interesting.

Infographic sourced via Edudemic

Click here for 50 interesting facts about the earth

Ohio Crops Fuel Micro-Distilleries

In 2011, Ohio’s governor signed House Bill 243, which opened the door for more businesses to produce liquor throughout the state. Though permits are limited, the passage of HB 243 was timed perfectly with a growing national trend — micro- distilleries.

Micro-distilleries, or craft distilleries, make small batches of spirits, such as vodka, whiskey or gin, which are typically crafted from artisanal, locally grown ingredients. Micro-distilleries usually produce less than 100,000 gallons of spirits a year, though most produce far less than that. In comparison, corporate distilleries produce 100,000 gallons a day.

According to the website, there are currently seven craft distilleries operating in the state and most proudly promote their use of Ohio-grown crops.

Middle West Spirits, a 3,200-square-foot micro-distillery in Columbus, uses Ohio crops in its line of vodkas and whiskeys, which are sold under the brand name OYO — the Native American word for the Ohio River Valley.

“Railcars full of corn and wheat roll out of this state every day,” said Ryan Lang, co-founder of Middle West Spirits, in a hiVelocity article. “Our spirits are made using 100 percent Ohio grains like corn, rye and soft red winter wheat.”

Ohio-grown apples are at the core of the brandy produced at Tom’s Foolery, a family-owned distillery in Chagrin Falls. The distillery’s brandy begins as apple cider, which following fermentation, distillation and being aged in charred oak barrels for two years, develops into Applejack — a classic, American spirit that all but disappeared with the commercial production of liquor following the repeal of prohibition.

Dancing Tree is another micro-distillery committed to using locally grown products. The distillery produces gin, a coffee liqueur and a vodka, which according to the company’s website, is made primarily from corn grown within 20 miles of its facility in Meigs County.

So, are micro-distilleries a potential boon for Ohio growers and farmers? Greg Lehman, co-owner of Watershed Distillery in Columbus thinks so.

“With more distilleries using Ohio grains, it will lead to an increase in consumption of our state’s agricultural resources,” said Lehman in The Metropreneur. “This is a win for Ohio farmers and consumers.”

Have you sampled spirits from an Ohio micro-distillery? What do you think about the trend? Please share your thoughts and opinions.

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A Very Good Year: USDA forecasts record farm income, with strong key ratios

Guest author Bryce Knorr, published Farm Futures story

While farmers worry about falling crop prices and rising land costs, the government’s forecasting a rosy outlook for 2013.

USDA’s latest estimates project record net farm income for 2013 of $128.2 billion. Even when adjusted for inflation, which is up more than 400% in the last four decades, this year’s income could be second only to the results from 1973.

USDA’s projections show 2012 income faltered a bit due to the historic drought, falling $5.1 billion, or 4%, from 2011, the previous record for income in “nominal” dollars that were not adjusted for inflation. But in 2011, both livestock and crop farmers prospected. The government’s latest forecast shows gains would be uneven in 2013.

Sales from crop production would rise 11%, as growers benefit from prices that are still 
historically high. Livestock producers, by contrast, would foot the bill for higher feed costs. Their sales are forecast to rise just 3%.

The government’s forecast doesn’t project differences in key financial ratios between crop and livestock producers. But it’s likely the balance sheets of growers would fare better than those involved in animal production. USDA forecasts an 8% increase in farm assets over the year, likely due to rising farmland values. Real estate would increase 8%, while the value of livestock declines 1%. Farm machinery would take a big jump, rising 9%. Non-real estate debt would rise faster than real estate debt, which would drop. Overall farm equity is expected to grow 8%.

Financial ratios would continue to reflect that strengthening balance sheet, assuming land values hold up. The overall farm debt-to-asset ratio would fall to just 10.2%, the lowest since USDA began tracking the measure of solvency in 1960. Interest as a percentage of both income and expenses would also fall to record lows. Even return on equity, which began to falter under the weight of rising land values from 2006 to 2010, would edge higher to 5.2%.

While the forecast doesn’t account for any change in farm program spending, in the current environment that might not matter, for now. Direct government payments as a percentage of net farm income are expected to fall to 8%, their lowest level since the 1970s.

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Proposed water quality rules for Ohio farmers

Comment period closes tomorrow for proposed water quality rules affecting Ohio farmers.

The draft legislation, reported last week by Ohio’s Country Journal and Farm and Dairy aims to improve the health of our state’s waterways by increasing regulation on the use of nutrients in agriculture.

While the proposed legislation lacks detail, as reported by Ohio’s Country Journal, it does outline the elements that could impact Ohio farmers most.

Fertilizer Applicator Certification Program: Farmers applying nutrients to more than 10 acres of land would need to be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). The ODA would also be granted the authority to develop and implement this program.

Watershed Classification System: This would permit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to classify watersheds of concern as either critical natural resource areas or watersheds in distress. Sources and causes of ag pollution would then be analyzed which would result in the development of management plans to address the findings. 

The key difference for farmers with land in areas classified as watersheds in distress would be the obligation to follow approved operation and nutrient management plans as devised by the ODNR. Whereas farmers in critical natural resource areas will be encouraged to participate voluntarily in these measures.

Ag pollution re-defined: The meaning of ag pollutants would expand beyond the current definition of ‘sediment, manure or materials attached to sediment’ to include nutrients containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. In effect, giving authority to ODNR to devise and enforce nutrient management plans for all kinds of fertilizer.

As many are aware, the rules are a result of Governor John Kasich’s task force formed in 2011 to address Ohio’s water quality issues. It will be interesting to follow how the draft legislation unfolds, following this unusually brief comment period.

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What is Community Supported Agriculture all about?

As more consumers seek locally grown and produced foods, Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions or CSAs have begun to grow in popularity.

Through a CSA subscription, individuals become “shareholders” in a local farm or group of farms. For their upfront investment, subscribers are provided regularly scheduled baskets, boxes or bags filled with the farm’s bounty during the growing season. Items could include fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs. Some CSAs offer home delivery, but most designate a regular weekly pick-up spot, such as a local farmer’s market.

However, being a shareholder also means sharing the farmer’s risk that some crops could do poorly due to pests or bad weather, and members pay the same whether it’s a bumper or bust year for crops. In some cases, being a shareholder could also include working around the farm for a few hours, but that’s not typical with most CSAs.

Before jumping on the CSA bandwagon, the Local Harvest website recommends considering the following questions:
Do you like to cook and do you have time to prepare homemade meals?
Do you think its fun to try new vegetables and fruits?
How will you handle excess produce?
Are you willing to accept the risks associated with being a shareholder?

If you decide to sign up for a CSA, it’s important to do your research. Many farms around Ohio offer CSAs and several are featured on a list from Our Ohio.

Before selecting a CSA, here are some questions you should ask the farmer or representative before subscribing:
What type of produce do you grow?
Do you purchase produce from other farmers or growers?
What else might be included in my CSA delivery?
Where and when do I pick up? Do you deliver?
What happens if I’m on vacation?
Does the CSA offer storing and cooking instructions?
What is the farmer’s background and training?
Do you have references or testimonials to share?

Do you or are you planning to subscribe to a CSA this year? If yes, please share your experience with me.

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Commodity Classic Brings Farmers Together

For farmers who want to be in-the-know about agriculture trends, issues and the future of farming, Commodity Classic, America’s largest farmer-led, farmer focused convention and trade show, is the event to attend.

The Commodity Classic website describes the three-day experience as a can't-miss event for America's soybean, corn, wheat and sorghum farmers. It provides farmers with an opportunity to see the latest farming innovations first-hand, hear game-changing ideas from the people who created them and meet growers and ag leaders from across the nation.

An annual event, Commodity Classic is presented by the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and National Sorghum Producers.

This year’s convention and trade show recently took place in Kissimmee, Florida, and proved to be very successful with record attendance totaling more than 6,000, including a record number of more than 3,000 corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers.

Farmers in attendance were offered a wide range of learning and networking opportunities in the areas of production, policy, marketing, management and stewardship.

There was even an opportunity for Ohio farmers to share their thoughts about how they plan to manage their risk in 2013. Watch this Ohio’s Country Journal interview to see what farmers near you are saying.

And, for the fourth time, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to attendees, this time encouraging farmers to continue pushing Congress for a five-year Farm Bill.

If you missed this year’s Commodity Classic, don’t worry. It will be taking place again next year from February 27 to March 1 in San Antonio, Texas.

Did you attend Commodity Classic this year or have you gone in the past? If so, what have you learned from the event? Would you recommend it to another farmer?

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March 19 is National Ag Day!

“Generations Nourishing Generations” is the theme for this year’s National Ag Day — Tuesday, March 19. Sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), National Ag Day was created in 1973 to enhance public awareness about agriculture and the importance it plays in Americans’ daily lives.

Through National Ag Day, the ACA, which is an organization composed of leaders in the agriculture, food and fiber communities, hopes to increase Americans’ understanding of how food, fiber and renewable resource products are produced, the essential role agriculture plays in a strong economy and career opportunities available in agriculture-related industries.

This year, which marks the 40th anniversary of National Ag Day, the ACA is hosting a variety of events in Washington D.C. — including expert panel discussions and a “Celebration of Ag” dinner — to highlight the significance of U.S. agriculture on a national and international level.

“This is undoubtedly the most important Ag Day program in our history,” said Jenny Pickett, ACA president in a news release. “Our goal is to ensure the eyes of the nation are on the contributions American agriculture makes not just here in the United States, but also around the world. That’s the message we’re taking to the Hill, and the message that will be carried through communities across America.”

If you can’t make it to the nation’s capital, here are ideas from the ACA about how your farm, company or school can celebrate National Ag Day. Materials and additional ideas are available at

  • Ag Day Breakfast — Host an Ag Day breakfast for local government and business leaders. Identify a keynote speaker to talk about agriculture and plan your menu around locally grown and raised agriculture products.
  • Pizza Party — Organize a pizza party on a farm, in a classroom or at a mall. Explain how ingredients from kids’ favorite food come from farms and ranches and how each is processed and delivered to the grocery store or restaurant.
  • Adopt-A-Legislator — Invite one or more state legislators to visit local farms and ranches or set up a visit to their state office. Leave them with Ag Day materials and local agriculture products.
  • Adopt-a-Classroom — Host a classroom field trip to a local farm, ranch or a university’s agricultural research farm. Or, bring the farm to the classroom. This provides a great opportunity for children to learn about career opportunities in agriculture.
  • Library Display — Approach your local public or school libraries about organizing an exhibit during Ag Day. You might offer to arrange for a speaker or a lecture series about agriculture. Books about rural communities, animals, farms, etc., could be part of a special Ag Day section that encourages children to learn more about agriculture and how it affects their lives.

Are you planning an event or activity to celebrate National Ag Day? If yes, please share your plans or photos.

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Farmers have a census of their own

While it may be common knowledge that our nation conducts a census of the population every ten years, did you know that a special survey of the agricultural community is conducted every five years?

The Census of Agriculture began as part of the 1820 census and by 1840, it was decided that separate data collection would be conducted specific to farming. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service is wrapping up its collection of census forms for the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

The deadline for farmers to return their forms was originally February 4, however the USDA is still accepting submissions, according to a recent press release.

The census is more than an opportunity for farmers to stand up and be counted. The data gathered is important to a host of decisions made about agriculture. In the USDA’s release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explains the importance of the census.

“Information from the Census of Agriculture helps USDA monitor trends and better understand the needs in agriculture. Providing industry stakeholders, community leaders, lawmakers and individual farm operators with the most comprehensive and accurate U.S. agricultural reports, we all help ensure the tools are available to make informed, sound decisions to protect the future of American agriculture.”

With issues such as the farm bill and crop insurance at stake, policymakers could use data from the census to make better-informed decisions.

The census covers a broad range of areas within farming, from production practices to land use. By law, farmers receiving a census form must complete it, including producers with more than $1,000 in product sales last year. According to a recent article, the 26-page form takes an average of 50 minutes to complete.

If you are a farmer and have questions about the Census of Agriculture, resources are available at or by calling 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828).

Have you or farmers in your community participated in this year’s census? Do you see the value of collecting this information?

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The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture

Last year’s nationwide drought was the worst since 1956. According to the National Weather Service, last March was the warmest March on record  — nearly 9 degrees warmer than the average — and July was the hottest month on record with back-to-back days in the 90s. In 2011, it was much different — there was a record rainfall in Ohio, severe drought in the lower Midwest and an unusually mild winter.

Climate change is not new to Ohio farmers. But, what do these ever-evolving climate changes mean for farmers and the future of agriculture?

Climatologist consultant, Evelyn Browning-Garriss, says that with a proper understanding of the climate, farmers can plan ahead for the weather changes that are coming.

“The Gulf Stream and other tropical currents are flowing faster, which heat the North Atlantic,” says Browning-Garriss. “This warm phase should continue for 15 or 20 more years and can create hotter summers, more active hurricane seasons and colder winters in the Midwest, Great Lakes and eastern states. Rapid flows of the Gulf Stream can create a warmer Atlantic, which can then create heat waves and ‘flash droughts’ in the Midwest and Great Plains.”

While the weather may continue to be more challenging for U.S. agriculture in the coming years, Browning-Garriss says that Ohio is a comparative winner in general, with more moderate extremes than much of the country. Nonetheless, Ohio farmers should be prepared to maximize water resources and minimize heat stress for the next two decades.

So, how can Ohio farmers adjust their farming practices to an ever-changing climate?

A recent Ohio’s Country Journal article states that the use of no-till in combination with cover crops can play an increasingly important role in a warmer climate with more extreme heat waves and droughts.

“No-till and cover crops can reduce soil temperatures to soften temperature extremes,” says Jim Hoorman with The Ohio State University Extension in Putnam County. “In hot soil, bacteria can actually die. A hot dry summer can quickly reduce yields, but no-till and cover crop use can reduce soil temperatures and retain more water in soils.”

Farmers can also consider these additional climate change options:
  • More double-cropping opportunities with longer growing seasons
  • Planting more hybrid varieties to mitigate the risk of yield loss (for example, during a drought)
  • Relying more heavily on sound agronomics to buffer against challenging conditions
It will be interesting to see what the future holds in terms of our ever-changing climate and how we’ll need to adapt our farming practices accordingly.

What are your thoughts about our changing climate the past few years? Have you or are you planning to adapt your farming practices to adjust for climate changes?

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Energy Efficiency on the Farm

Employing energy-efficient measures on the farm is a win-win situation — farmers get to save a few bucks (maybe even thousands), while also conserving valuable energy resources.

However, when it comes to making their farms more energy efficient, many farmers don’t know where to begin. According to Ohio’s Country Journal, an energy audit is a great place to start.

Often conducted by agricultural energy consultants or local electricity providers, energy audits typically consist of an hour-long phone interview to review the types of equipment on the farm followed by an on-site visit and detailed audit and assessment of the farm’s energy usage.

“In many cases, farmers are not aware of how much they can be saving,” said Dana Koppes, an engineer with New Energy Systems. “Lighting and ventilation are two of the big areas for energy savings on many farms. Dairy pumps, heating and cooling systems on livestock farms and greenhouse operations can see real savings just by changing a few things.”

Farmers interested in becoming more energy efficient can apply to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) to receive funding for an energy audit and financial and technical assistance to implement energy-conservation measures through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are accepted continually throughout the year for the program, but are evaluated and ranked according to the environmental benefits that could be derived from approved conservation measures.

Don’t have time or money for an energy audit? Here are some tips and steps farmers can implement now to save energy and money around the farm, courtesy of Corn and Soybean Digest:

  • Review your farm’s energy usage: Tax reports and a year’s worth of utility bills will help you identify how much energy you’re using and the associated costs. Typically, grain operations, diesel, electricity and propane top the list of farm-energy expenditures.   
  • Upgrade lighting systems: Swapping out incandescent lights for more energy-efficient fluorescent lamps can result in big savings and many utilities offer rebates or incentives to help cover costs.
  • Maintain tractors and trucks: Replacing air and fuel filters on tractors and pickups can deliver a 3 to 4 percent bump in fuel efficiency. Maintaining proper tire inflation will also make vehicles more efficient.
  • Insulate pipes: Insulating a water heater and pipes can reduce heat loss by 25 to 45 percent and reduce water-heating costs by 4 to 9 percent.

Have you taken measures to reduce your energy usage at home or on the farm? Have any tips or suggestions to share?

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Outlook for value of Buckeye State farmland is bright

The financial value of Ohio’s farmland appreciated in 2012 and should continue to rise this year, according to a recent report by Barry Ward, a production business management expert at The Ohio State University Extension.

According to the report, which cites data from the Ohio Ag Statistics Service, the value of Ohio’s bare cropland increased 13.6 percent last year, from $4,400 per acre to $5,000 per acre.

“With many dollars and buyers chasing farmland, it isn’t a surprise to see land values increase again substantially in 2012,” according to the report. “Crop profitability along with low interest rates have been the primary drivers in this unprecedented run-up in cropland values. The relative scarcity of farmland has also been a driver in cropland values.”

Ward believes that the outlook for 2013 is for continued growth with the “potential for strong profits.” Farmers are expected to buy up land this year based on their strong balance sheets. Ward also states that investors are closely examining farmland as an alternative investment opportunity.

Other experts believe that regional farmland values – while not in the kind of bubble that eventually burst in the housing market and with Internet stocks – may see a downward correction, according to an article.

In spite of strong fundamentals such as high commodity prices and low interest rates, factors such as changes in America’s ethanol-based Renewable Fuel Standard and the outcome of farm bill legislation could help shift the multiyear trend of increasing farmland values in the midwest, experts say.

Do you see farmland values continuing to increase? Would you consider buying Ohio farmland this year?

Photo by Peter Bohan, Reuters