'Tis the Season for Plentiful Pumpkins Across Ohio

Fall season has arrived in Ohio and along with it a favorite crop for food and fun: pumpkins. From pumpkin pie to Jack-o’-lanterns, Ohioans are beginning their fall family traditions.

Luckily, Ohio will have an abundant selection of pumpkins this season. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s pumpkin fields have been plentiful thanks to just enough rain and sun in August and September. 

“This may be one of our best years we’ve ever had,” Jim Jasinski, a pumpkin expert and agricultural official with Ohio State University’s extension service, said. “We really didn’t have the high temperatures that we had last year. It was perfect conditions.”

Ohio is the third largest pumpkin producer behind Illinois and California. In 2013, Ohio’s pumpkin crop was low, yielding only eight tons per acre, compared to a usual 10 to 20 tons. The smaller pumpkin harvest also led to higher prices last season.  But, this season yields are up 10 to 15 percent.

According to the Toledo Blade, most of the state’s crop is used for Jack-o’-lanterns or other decorative purposes and that market is worth about $15.4 million in Ohio.

Jasinski shared with The Columbus Dispatch a few recommendations for finding the right pumpkin this season.
  • Select a pumpkin with a few inches of good, green stem.
  • Find a pumpkin with few nicks and gashes. Those marks will harbor bacteria and cause the pumpkin to melt down on your front porch.
  • Look for a traditional-looking pumpkin, one that is deep orange with a smooth rind and few projecting ribs.
This season in Ohio, the perfect carving pumpkin should be easy to find!

What are some of your fall family traditions? How about your favorite Jack-o’-lantern design? Share with us in the comments below.

Photos courtesy of the Toledo Blade, DIYNetwork and Sandusky Register.

Ohio State Extension Grain C.A.R.T. Assists with Grain Bin Safety

As we enter harvest season, grain bins throughout the state are beginning to fill up. Now, is the ideal time to revisit grain-bin safety and highlight an innovative training and education program from the Ohio State Extension.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, grain bin entrapment is when a worker enters a bin and is either suffocated by grain or the bin develops hazardous atmospheres.

Entrapment can happen under several scenarios, which includes standing on moving grain causing it to act like quick sand, grain collapsing and engulfing a worker or trying to move grain while in the bin.

In 2010, grain bin entrapments hit an all-time high with 51 workers being engulfed and 26 dying. Younger males are the largest group of victims.

According to an NPR investigation, about 180 people have died since 1984 from grain-related entrapments on federally regulated sites.  However, most deaths occur on small family farms that are not regulated by the government.

Ohio State students from the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering decided to address this hazard by designing a trailer, The Grain C.A.R.T., to assist with grain bin entrapment training.

The Grain C.A.R.T. (Comprehensive Agricultural Rescue Trailer) is a 40-foot flatbed trailer equipped with a fully functional grain bin, grain leg and gravity flow grain wagon.

The C.A.R.T. is part of a training program designed to assist the Ohio Fire Academy with real world scenarios for grain bin entrapments and help OSU Extension with education and outreach.

“To have a mobile training unit is much better than what we’ve had in the past,” said Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension state agricultural and safety health specialist, in a Marietta Times article. “We can just pull it in, conduct training for a weekend or even a day, then move it out and be done. It’s quite a project and we are so excited about it.”

The training program has set up at county fairs across the state where people can witness live demonstrations of people being rescued from grain bins. Communities interested in using the Grain C.A.R.T. for training purposes can work directly with the Ohio Fire Academy to receive access.

To learn more about the Grain C.A.R.T. training program, click here.

What do you think of this new training program? How will programs like this enhance farming safety? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Photos courtesy of OSU Extension and the Marietta Times.

Record Forecast for 2014 Corn and Soybean Harvest

Despite concerns about crop yields earlier this summer for Ohio corn and soybean farmers, the USDA’s August Crop Production Report forecast for 2014 predicted nothing but good things for the industry. In fact, production numbers for corn crops are expected to be the largest ever, while soybean crops are expected to be the third largest ever. 

According to the USDA, an estimated 14.03 billion bushels of corn are predicted during harvest this year, up from 3.925 in 2013. Soybean crops are expected to produce 3.816 billion bushels during harvest, up from 3.3 billion last year. Due to such a large influx in production, U.S. soybean stockpiles are expected to more than triple in the 2014-15 year, with soybean prices expected to lower by nearly 3 percent.

Six other states are expected to experience high crop yields for corn and soybeans this year due to higher-than-normal levels of rain seen throughout the Farm Belt. These high-producers of corn and soybeans have experienced almost perfect conditions this year, many citing the best soil moisture in a decade. Other farmers are attributing the predicted higher crop yields to technology, such as genetically modified seeds, large equipment and GPS programs that have helped them to determine optimum planting conditions.

Ohio farmers are not as happy about the report as some may expect, with profits expected to reach an all-time low since the recession. At the lowest they have been in four years, corn prices are down by 13 percent this year, with soybeans also lower than usual, meaning that farmers are not bringing in profits. Pair this with the decrease in livestock herds, resulting in a decreased demand in feed, and you will understand why farmers are so worried. The demand is not where it should be for the volume of corn and soybeans that is being produced, with the possibility that farmers may not even break even for the first time since 2006.

With harvest season approaching quickly, I am interested to see how actual yield numbers will match up with those predicted by the USDA. It will also be interesting to see how these numbers impact the U.S. economy for both farmers and consumers. Do you think numbers will be as high as expected?

CSA: The Farm to Kitchen Table Trend That is Taking Off Everywhere

Have you ever heard of Community Supported Agriculture (also known as CSA)? If you haven’t, it is definitely worth some Googling. This new trend in farming has hit, and it is positioned to change the bottom line for farms all over the country.

Here’s how it works. Producers offer a certain number of “shares” to the public each season, meaning locals have the opportunity to buy in on a portion of their crop based on a set price. Once crops are harvested, these “share-holders” will typically receive a box containing a small part of the harvest every week until the season ends (the length of season depends on the farm and types of crops being grown.)

Though it has recently become popular, the concept of CSA is not new, having blossomed approximately thirty years ago. With a growing public focus on supporting local and organic foods, farmers came up with the idea to include the locals in the yearly crop process, not only to educate the community about the benefits of eating local, but also to guarantee revenue for farmers to supplement harvesting season, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. But what are the benefits?

Benefits for the community:

o   Guaranteed freshness
o   Farm visits
o   Personal relationship with food producer
o   Diverse food experience
o   Educational opportunities

Benefits for farmers:

o   Early season payment to fund crops/ease cash flow
o   Easy marketing of farm products
o   Pre-season publicity
o   Established relationships in the community

There are multiple types of CSAs that you can choose from to fit your needs.  Prefer a more flexible program where you can pick and choose your produce? Want fruits or flowers instead of vegetables? Do you prefer fresh meat over produce? Chances are you will be able to find a CSA that fits your needs. One farm in South Carolina even partnered with a supermarket to create a CSA program where shoppers could conveniently purchase a box of fresh produce for just $26 during their daily grocery trip. The possibilities seem endless and are only continuing to grow as the concept becomes more popular. 

The CSA industry has an estimated total of 4,000 farm participants all over the country, making the program easily accessible to most people. While there are many pros for CSA, there can also be some cons, so I suggest you do some research before investing in the process.

Interested in joining a CSA program in Ohio? There are plenty to choose from and plenty of people out there willing to help you navigate the process. Visiting the farm, testing the produce and talking to the farmer are all things that are encouraged and welcomed by most CSA participants. Why not take an afternoon and see how you can support local agriculture?

Drones: Not Just in Star Wars Anymore

Amazon was recently put under the microscope for their new plan to use unmanned
drones for a delivery program called Prime Air. An alien concept to many, this announcement was met with a variety of reactions, mostly because people do not know that the use of drones is actually very common.

Drones can be used for many things, but what is most surprising is the rising use of these
devices in the agriculture industry. Take a look at the chart below:

By 2015, agriculture is expected to be the largest domestic market for drone purchases, generating around $2 billion in revenue. In fact, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts the commercial market for drones will eventually reach 80 percent for agricultural uses. Why is this?  

There are many facts that suggest that drones are the next big thing in farming, many which have caught the attention of farmers all over the country.

The main selling point in support of using drones in agricultural production is the
extensive amount of data that drones can collect in a small amount of time. Drones can provide three different views for farmers who would otherwise be unable to collect data from these angles.

o   Aerial angles that can inspect crop patterns and discover irrigation issues, soil variation, pest and fungal infestations. This view can also be used to track cattle and other livestock herds to search for missing animals or analyze behavior to identify illness or aggression within a herd.
o   Multispectral infrared or visual views, which can indicate differences between healthy and distressed plants; data that would be unobtainable without this kind of technology.
o   Continual checks hourly, daily or weekly based on farmers’ needs. These are important because they can monitor changes and reveal trouble spots throughout the day at a much more efficient rate than any human.

Not only do drones save valuable time for farmers, they are also an investment that can
help farmers save money in the long run. Drones can be purchased at a cost as low as $1,000 per drone, compared to the $1,000/hour that crop imaging with a manned aircraft could cost. By purchasing a low-cost drone, farmers could see a return on investment in as little as a year, which could be huge for the agriculture and food
production industry.

Need another selling point? As the drone production market expands, so do American jobs. With more than 50 companies and organizations working to develop new drone models, the industry could create more than 100,000 jobs and nearly half a billion in tax revenue by 2025.

As the demand for agricultural resources increases, it will become increasingly important to make farming more efficient to produce higher crop yields in a lower amount of time. It will be interesting to see the percentage of farmers who jump on the drone bandwagon to stay on top of this demand. Do you believe national usage rates will reach the predicted level?

Want to know what farmers are saying? Check out this NPR exclusive interview with a farmer who has already integrated drones into his production process.

Photos courtesy of precisiondrone.com and farmingdrones.com

New Farming Trend: Crickets for Consumption?

A new farming trend has hit Ohio recently with a crop that may be a revolutionary answer to future farming sustainability: crickets.

Big Cricket Farms, which recently opened in Youngstown, Ohio, is the first farm to open in the U.S. that will breed insects for the sole purpose of human consumption. Cricket breeding is expected to increase in the coming years because of increasing demand for cricket flour by bakeries and companies making the switch from grain flour to the cricket-based product.

While Big Cricket Farms is breeding their crickets for a company that produces cricket flour chips (also known as “Chirps”), many companies use the cricket flour to make everyday baked goods and energy bars for those who are looking for a healthy protein alternative.

Crickets are cleaned, dried and milled into fine flour that can be used in any kind of baking as a substitute for regular flour.

All of these companies share the similar message that cricket farming is the way of the future, and they may be on to something.

Megan Miller, founder of Bitty, a San Francisco-based bakery startup that uses cricket flour in its baked goods and energy bars, approached this concept in a recent TEDx talk called “Are insects the future of food?” Miller presented many surprising facts about the benefits of introducing crickets into our diet, but also approached the stigma that many of us may share around “eating bugs.”

If you look at the facts, though, it is hard to ignore the idea that cricket consumption could change the agricultural industry in America forever. There are two surprising benefits that cannot be ignored when considering introducing the insect into your everyday life.

Nutritional Benefits

The health benefits are inarguably higher than most other protein sources that we currently consume, which can be seen in the diagram below, with high levels of iron, protein and vitamin B12.

In fact, the protein levels in crickets are higher than they are in most of our current food sources. Crickets are also very low in the fat and cholesterols that we already try to avoid in our diets.

Environmental Benefits

So how will cricket farming and consumption impact us environmentally? The statistics are staggering. With a population that continues to grow, agriculture will have to keep up, causing more stress on resources.  Luckily, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep and two times less than pigs to produce the same amount of protein. They also produce much less methane than other food sources, emitting an average of 80% less gas than cattle.

More than 2 billion people worldwide already include insects in their diets, which makes me wonder why haven’t we jumped on the bandwagon yet. All we need to do is get past the psychological roadblock of “eating bugs.” Do you think you could?

Image courtesy of grapevinebros.com

Wet Weather Means Late Start for Planting Season

The month of May, an exciting transition of seasons for many, can be a stressful time for our local corn and soybean farmers. According to the USDA, soybean and corn crops are most actively planted between April 24 and May 30, meaning that now is the time that farmers should be planting the majority of these crops in the area known as the “Corn Belt.”

However, due to the frequent wet weather, cold/wet soil conditions are causing farmers to postpone their planting further into May, which could negatively affect crop yields all over the state. Later crops are often associated with lower yields, putting more pressure on farmers to get their crops in sooner rather than later.

A study by The Ohio State University reflects these concerns, pointing out the importance of planting date in correlation with crop yields, which is reflected in the chart below. 

Other reports about the current progress of these crops in Ohio are also a cause for concern among farmers in the area. The Columbus Dispatch reported that only 8 percent of corn had been planted as of Sunday, May 3, down from 17 percent from the five-year national average of 25 percent.  Soybean crops were down 9 percent, with only 3 percent of soybeans planted, down from the average of 12 percent. 

Luckily, farmers did not express much concern over the delay, pointing out that many of these set planting dates were based on times when the technology was not there to speed up the process. Still, according to the Agweb weekly crop report, on May 12 only 40 percent of Ohio’s corn crop and 13 percent of Ohio’s soybean crop had been planted, lower than the planting average of surrounding states. 



It will be interesting to see crop progression in the coming months, with all eyes on crop yields after the delays in planting. What are your predictions? Will technology make up for lost time?

Images courtesy of usgs.gov, corn.osu.edu and agweb.com.