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.

Photo obtained from:

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.

Photo obtained from:

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.

Photo obtained from: