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Helping Ohio’s farmers endure

Ag Crisis Response Team delivering critical information to support producers through another bad year.

The past two years have been difficult ones for Ohio’s farmers.

In 2019, a harsh winter and soggy spring meant delayed planting and the loss of forage for grazing livestock. And now, the coronavirus has taken a wrecking ball to food demand and supply chains, hurting farmers deeply.

To address the 2019 problems, Ohio State’s Extension program within the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences created a task force, the Agriculture Crisis Response Team, to help guide Ohio farmers through the difficult planting season.

That work increased the income farmers across the state made from each acre of land an average of $40 to $50, according to Sam Custer, Extension’s interim assistant director of agriculture and natural resources.

The task force, comprising up to 38 teams specializing in all areas of agriculture and natural resources, continues its work to help farmers endure the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There are so many unknowns right now, so our biggest goal is just to help these farmers survive, to get them through 2020 and hopefully to a more normal year in 2021,” says Custer ’81, ’84 MS. “Their stress levels were off the charts in 2019, but we’re redrawing those charts in 2020 with much more difficult times and a much bleaker outlook for agriculture.”

When schools and restaurants closed throughout the state, dairy farmers were left with massive surpluses of milk and cheese. With processing facilities slowing down, livestock farmers haven’t been able to take animals to market. Similar supply chain problems have hurt Ohio’s fruit, soybean, wheat, fish aquaculture and greenhouse crop sales.

A new task force formed in April to address food supply chain issues. The Lean On Your Land Grant Task Force meets weekly and has many subgroups working on specific issues.

“If a topic or question comes up, we quickly respond with a state expert on a webinar and keep it available online for anyone.” Sam Custer, Extension’s interim assistant director of agriculture and natural resources

To address those issues, much like they did in 2019, the crisis response team of educator specialists and field specialists is working directly with farmers and producing resources to help them through 2020. Those resources include fact sheets, educational webinars, weekly farm management videos and Zoom sessions to address a wide range of issues and questions.

“We’re truly trying to respond in all avenues,” Custer says. “If a topic or question comes up, we quickly respond with a state expert on a webinar and keep it available online for anyone.”

One of the key resources is Farm Office Live, a live discussion to address current agricultural law and farm management topics. Extension experts explain in real time how farmers can access federal COVID–19 assistance, navigate grain markets and address legal concerns. Past conversations are archived on the website.

The team also conducted a popular six-week “tournament of education,” called Ag Madness, featuring video webinars on 28 distinct topics, from hemp to cover crops to farm taxes. All are still available on the Ag Madness site, where 3,628 viewers caught webinars live. As of early June, the webinars had been replayed 3,226 times.

Meanwhile, Ohio State researchers are gleaning lessons from past agricultural research to help farmers this year and conducting new investigations that may play a pivotal role in the future.

“As we come out of this, I’m excited to see what kind of research we can put in place to help us deal with the next pandemic,” Custer says. “Hopefully this won’t happen for another 100 years, but we owe it to society to prepare for the next event so we can get through it a little easier.”

About the author

Ross Bishoff

Ross Bishoff is a writer in University Marketing.