New plan aims to reduce hunger, help Ohio farmers and better protect the environment


By Beth Burger - The Columbus Dispatch



COLUMBUS, Ohio — A report put together by Ohio farmers, researchers, conservationists and nutritional experts explores how to meet food demands and address growing challenges brought about by climate change.

The project, dubbed Ohio Smart Agriculture, issued a 38-page plan with 50 recommendations.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be widely received because we tried to be so inclusive when we developed it … from field to fork,” said Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer in Plain City who co-chaired the plan.

The project was facilitated by a national nonprofit group, Solutions from the Land, and Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation and took nearly three years to put together, said Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land.

“If you want to move Ohio to a place where the quality of life is improved, where hunger is no longer a major challenge for the state, where health is improving, rural economies are thriving … it takes coordinated, integrated action on multiple fronts,” he said.

But Carol Goland, executive director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said she was disappointed that the plan fails to mention organic farming.

Shea said the plan doesn’t exclude organics, but he said that it’s not feasible for all farmers to do organic farming, and that many consumers can’t afford organic food.

Goland said the country is paying for “our lack of attention to the environmental implications of some of our practices.”

“To be clear, we’re not saying everyone needs to be organic, but to not even identify this as an option that may have something to contribute to fostering resilience in agriculture is just kind of mind-bogglingly shortsighted.”

The plan looks at reducing hunger, creating jobs and fostering better environmental practices while improving the bottom line for farmers.

That also means helping farmers tackle the effects of climate change as heavy rain and droughts become more common, making it challenging to grow crops.

“The science is unequivocal,” Shea said. “Let’s change the conversation from politics about climate change to deal with the reality of extreme weather and variations we have to be prepared to deal with.”

Ohio is expected to shift to summer weather that more resembles what Arkansas experiences.

“Ohio today is not going to be what Ohio tomorrow is,” Shea said. ” … It’s going to be warmer; it’s going to be wetter. By 2095, Ohio is down near Arkansas (and) Louisiana in terms of the type of weather scientists are anticipating.”

Yoder, who has used cover crops and practiced no-till farming for a couple of decades, is a huge proponent of soil health, which leads to better yields and reduced carbon emissions.

“If you talk to a farmer about risk management and the economics of doing more with less, they’ll listen to you. If you come out and tell them: ‘You need to change because of climate change, and you need to reduce your carbon footprint,’ he’s probably going to push back,” Yoder said.

The plan calls for a water-quality strategy and increasing the research and data on the application of manure on fields.

“We can do this. This is doable,” Yoder said. “Farmers can be a very big part of decarbonization.”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, co-chaired the plan. “We have also created a roadmap to achieve the vision for delivering a wider range of goods and services from the land,” she said in a statement.

The hope is that organizations and government agencies step up to put the plan into action, Yoder said.

“There’s no silver bullet, but there’s lots of silver buckshot,” he said. “This is a movement to help Ohioans feed Ohioans. It’s not going to be a total answer, but it’s going to be a huge part of our success.”

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By Beth Burger

The Columbus Dispatch

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