State ag chief up for challenges

PHOTO BY JIMMY FLINT Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels speaks Thursday evening during a League of Women Voters of the Tiffin Area event at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.

The head of the Ohio Department of Agriculture told Seneca County residents Thursday that the future of agriculture will be challenging, but he said he believes farmers and producers will adapt and succeed as they always have.

Director David Daniels spoke to residents and took their questions during a League of Women Voters of the Tiffin Area event at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.

Daniels, who was appointed by Gov. John Kasich in February 2012, said agriculture is one of the biggest industries in the state.

“Agriculture is huge in Ohio,” he said.

Daniels said there are about 75,000 farms in the state, with the average farm size of 187 acres. He said one of every eight jobs in the state is related to agriculture and agriculture makes up about $108 billion of the state economy.

Daniels said the state is set up to be a good producer and processor and he said while corn and soybeans are major crops produced, more than 200 specialty crops also are grown in Ohio.

He said dairy farming is another important subsection of Ohio agriculture and Ohio is ranked first nationally for production and processing of Swiss cheese.

Daniels said things are going well in the state, but his office continues to look for ways to improve.

This is done partially through additional education for farmers. He said people are learning more environmentally-friendly production techniques that could save money.

He said the Ag Department acts as a regulatory agency and works to promote and provide food safety and consumer protection.

Daniels said one focus of his office is to get into communities to talk about responsible food production in the 21st century.

“We have challenges ahead of us,” he said.

Daniels said estimates show there could be 9 billion people on the planet by the year 2050.

“Researchers tell us that in the next 35 years, we will have to produce more food than what has been produced in human history,” he said. “It’s a tremendous obligation, but I think we’re up for it.”

Shirley Smith, of the League of Women Voters, said she was concerned with an increased need for food production but a decrease in farmland. She asked if there were efforts to recoup those lands.

Daniels said in some small ways, the agriculture department does work to keep those lands, including by overseeing easements that ensure the land always is used for farming.

Beth Diesch, team leader for Seneca County Soil and Water Conservation District, said Seneca County has the most of these easements in the state.

Daniels also said upgraded technology is leading to higher yields.

“Look at where we use to be — 100 bushels of corn (per acre) was great,” he said. “Now, if you don’t have 250, you’re wasting your time.”

Daniels said Soil and Water Conservation districts and farmers have several challenges to face, such as combatting phosphorous runoff into water.

He said agriculture has changed a lot in the past 50 years and, 50 years from now, it likely will have changed much more.

“Agriculture has evolved since somebody put the first seed in the ground,” he said. “It’s always evolving. In 50 years, we’ll be doing something different, but we’re going to be a part of the solution.”