Ohio Agriculture, Rural Communities, and the Environment

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Smart agriculture

A new report, Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land, A Call to Action for Ohio’s Food System and Agricultural Economy  identifies and offers solutions for challenges facing Ohio’s farmers, rural communities, and the state as a whole.

Some of the challenges identified include

  • Food insecurity—15.1 percent of Ohio’s population, including 1 in 5 children are food insecure. Ohio has the 15th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. This affects people in both urban and rural environments.
  • Keep it regional—Although Ohio farms produce more than 200 products, including many varieties of fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and specialty items, many of these products must be shipped a distance to be processed and then shipped back—adding costs and reducing the nutritional content of some foods. Keeping more processing activities near the growers could help keep food dollars in rural communities, feed hungry people, create job growth, and strengthen rural economies.
  • Keep it local—Direct-to-consumer sales of food have risen dramatically from $46 million to $80 million in 2012–2017, according to Ohio Agriculture: The Changing Contours of Farming. Local food used locally helps to connect consumers with producers and provides incentives to produce a greater variety of food and related farm products.
  • Weather—Farmers face challenges in remaining profitable in the face of anticipated extreme weather, including heavier rains and droughts, and market volatility. Diversifying production can help farmers maintain profitability and encourage development of innovative products and practices. Crop diversity is proven to increase soil quality, make water use more efficient, and increase carbon sequestration in the soil.
  • Soil degradation—Crop production and rural quality of life is threatened by soil degradation due to excessive runoff, flooding, leaching, and soil erosion that then degrades water quality, sometimes resulting in fish kills and algae blooms. Damage may be done to rural roads, bridges, and other infrastructure by heavy rains leading to flooding. Developing resilient farming practices that improve soil health; manage water; and reduce the need for expensive pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can help farms remain viable and good neighbors.

Issues of food, rural communities, and the environment are interrelated and acting to solve one problem will impact others as well. Any solutions must be holistic and may require breaking down longstanding barriers and working in coalition. 

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