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Helping Ohio’s farmers endure breaks in the supply chain

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

In 2019, they faced delayed planting and the loss of forages caused by a harsh winter and soggy spring. This year the coronavirus has taken a wrecking ball to food demands 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’s farmers through the difficult planting season.  

That work had an impact of $40 to $50 per acre to farmers across the state, according to Sam Custer, interim assistant director of agriculture and natural resources. The task force — representing 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 a more normal year in 2021,” said Custer, who earned a bachelor's degree in 1981 and a master's in 1984 at Ohio State. “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 have not been able to take animals to market. And similar supply chain problems have hurt Ohio’s fruit, soybean, wheat, fish aquaculture and greenhouse crop sales. To help with these concerns, the Lean On Your Land Grant Task Force meets weekly on food supply chain issues.

Much like last year, the crisis response team of educator specialists and field specialists works closely with farmers to produce resources — fact sheets and educational webinars to weekly farm management videos and Zoom sessions — to get them through 2020. 

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

Another key resource is Farm Office Live, which offers a live presentation to address Farm Management topics as they relate to the current environment. Here, farmers can learn about securing COVID-19 federal assistance, understanding the grain markets and interpreting law related to agriculture. 

The crisis response team also did a five-week “tournament of education” called Ag Madness, which proved incredibly popular with 6,330 website hits, 3,628 live webinar watches, 3,226 replays and 16,410 total hits and watches. The team encourages Ohio State researchers trying to learn from past agricultural research to help farmers this year while playing 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 said. “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.” 

Published: June 9, 2020

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