Oct. 12, 2019, is National Farmer’s Day, and Ohio’s food and agriculture industry (the largest industry in the state) contributes $124 billion annually to our state’s economy. Most of us are a few generations removed from the farm. In fact, many of us don’t raise any of our own food. Thanks to the 75,462 farmers whose products are as diverse as the farms that raise them, along with the popularity of farmers’ markets, Ohioans have access to a bounty of delicious and nutritious food and value-added products.
In your travels through Delaware County and central Ohio, it appears that corn and soybeans are our most popular crops. Ohio ranks sixth in soybean production and seventh in the nation for corn exports. But did you know that Ohio ranks third in the U.S. in pumpkin production and sixth in flower production? Or that we produced 490,000 pounds of wool? We rank fourth in my personal favorite, hard ice cream, yum.
Agriculture may seem old fashioned and ho-hum, but hold on to your hat. New on the scene is crickets. Yes, crickets have joined the list of nontraditional agriculture products grown in Ohio, keeping company with sod, honey, fish, shrimp, mushrooms and hops. Big Cricket Farms, Youngstown, is the first insect farm in the United States to receive FDA and state licensure for food-grade insects.
In addition to being a livelihood and a way of life, agriculture is a business. Farming isn’t just driving around in a big machine, and soil is not just dirt. With 400 different soils across the Buckeye state, farmers need to know their soils and their specific characteristics to maximize efficiency and production. To that end, farmers adopt the 4Rs. No, I don’t mean reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and recess. Today’s “golden rule” is the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship: the Right fertilizer at the Right rate at the Right time and in the Right place.
Properly managed fertilizers support agricultural systems that provide economic, social, and environmental benefits. Conversely, poorly managed nutrient applications waste time and money while increasing nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air.
4R nutrient stewardship requires the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. The goal is to balance the amount of fertilizer added with the nutrient requirements of the crop to minimize nutrient losses from fields. Farmers choose BMPs by location and are dependent on local soil and climate conditions, crop management, and other site-specific factors.
Other agronomic and conservation practices, such as no-till, cover crops, buffer strips, and crop rotation play a valuable role in supporting 4R nutrient stewardship. Fertilizer BMPs are most effective when applied in conjunction with other agronomic and conservation practices. Combining these practices not only fosters nutrient stewardship, but can increase yields and improve soil health and resiliency in the long term.
Farmers need to be proficient at math, science, technology, marketing, human resources, equipment repair, and more! When you sit down to dinner on Oct. 12, celebrate Ohio’s top industry, agriculture, by savoring every bite.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.