Ohio Agriculture, Rural Communities and the Environment: Helping Farming Communities Thrive

The 2019 report, Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land, A Call to Action for Ohio’s Food System and Agricultural Economy was driven by Ohio farmers with input from experts in agribusiness, health, nutrition policy, ecology, and conservation. The result is an integrated plan that incorporates the nutritional needs of Ohioans, clean water and air, healthy soil, changes in climate, and—importantly—the economic health of farming and other rural communities.

The background to the report’s recommendations includes the observations that “the 40-year period when Ohio farms grew larger and less diverse coincided with the decline of rural communities” and the “extra value created by farmers was realized by others in the food system.” To help rural communities thrive, small and mid-size farms, with the associated processing and value-added services, should be supported to provide jobs and the services that rural communities, and all Ohioans, want and need.

The report has several recommendations for farmers:

  • Diversified crops and other farm products hedge against both weather and market volatility. Supplying to or producing value added and specialty products like grains, honey, craft beers, and many others can add to income. Marketing support from the state can help ensure that producers can find the suppliers they need locally and farmers know they have a market.
  • Energy, especially renewable energy, is another opportunity to diversify sources of income in a rural setting.
  • Recreation, aquaculture, and selling directly to consumers at farmers markets, pick-your-own, or through community supported agriculture are other options.
  • Diversity also includes developing a new generation of farmers who can benefit from the knowledge of the current generation. Mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities, vocational agriculture programs in high school and community colleges can help transfer knowledge and increase appreciation for farmers and the rural way of life.
  • Practices such as cover cropping, limiting plowing, and adding rotations can help keep soil in place during heavy rains, cool the earth during drought, and improve the soil, ultimately reducing the need for expensive inputs and labor while protecting waterways and sequestering carbon.

 

In addition, several larger policy recommendations will help Ohio farmers and rural communities:

  • Promote quality management of woodlots and production of furniture and other forest products.
  • Institute policies to make it possible for new farmers to purchase land. Enable farmers, farm workers, and processors of agricultural products to earn a living wage.
  • Improve infrastructure, such as mobile meat processing for small-scale operations, cooperative cold storage, grain mills, aquaculture, facilities to process wood and fiber products, and broadband availability.
  • Enable local institutions such as schools, government agencies, hospitals, and businesses to buy locally by removing barriers to those purchases.
  • Harmonize programs across government so that they are more effective.
  • Assess changing demand and interest in farm products, including among immigrant communities. Encourage farmers to grow what Ohioans want to eat or use.

Overall, the many recommendations center around redeveloping waning supply chains and infrastructure to make it possible for farmers to develop more resilient and sustainable sources of income and to make healthy food and agricultural products more readily available to all Ohioans.

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