Agriculture

Fertile farmland and a healthy Lake Erie can coexist

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News To make Northwest Ohio land fertile farmland, fields needed to be drained. Ditches were dug to quickly carry away the water. And wetlands were filled. But that efficiency and efforts to put every inch of farmland into production are allowing phosphorus to run off the fields, into ditches and out to Lake Erie – with little standing in its way. “We know that wetlands are the kidneys of our planet,” said Stephanie Singer, education outreach specialist for the Nature Conservancy, who spoke at the ag incubator in Wood County on Thursday. Though typical in this region, the field drainage efforts are not commonplace. “This thing about draining our farm fields is a pretty unique thing,” Singer said. “It’s pretty unique to our agriculture here.” And it has become a huge factor in water quality in the region. “The freshwater on our planet is very scarce,” she said. “We live next to one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.”                         But like the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969, it took Lake Erie turning green like pea soup in 2014 for the region to take notice of the water’s failing health. That’s one of the goals of the Nature Conservancy, Singer said. “We’re focused on the health of Lake Erie,” she said. The Western Lake Erie Basin is home to more than 2 million residents and 5 million acres of farmland. To prevent the harmful algal blooms that took over the lake in 2014, the goal is to reduce phosphorus leaving farm fields and entering the waterways by 40 percent, Singer said. Scientists have found that 82 percent of the phosphorus entering the lake comes from agricultural sources. The other 18 percent comes from combined sewer overflows, septic systems, and non-farm fertilizers. So the Nature Conservancy is working with farmers to make sure they are following the four “R”s – putting nutrients on the right place, at the right rate, at the right time, and from the right source. The goal is to keep the phosphorus on the fields – rather than have it leave the land for the lake. That’s where the timing comes in. “When we have a lot of water coming into our rivers, we also have a lot of algal blooms,” Singer said. The greatest loading of phosphorus into the lake occurs during the 10 largest rainfalls of the year,…

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Federal shutdown may squeeze more than furloughed workers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News As the federal government shutdown drags into day 17 on Tuesday, the number of people caught up in the gridlock grows. If the stalemate continues, it could affect local residents relying on food assistance, those needing help paying for utilities and transportation, and farmers who were promised some relief from tariffs. Initially, the shutdown over funding for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico affected an estimated 800,000 federal employees. On this Friday, those workers will go through their first payday with no checks being given. But as it continues, the stalemate will impact far more than those 800,000 workers. Originally, the shutdown would have also halted tax returns to Americans. But the unpopularity of that prospect led to an announcement Monday afternoon that tax refunds will go out despite the government shutdown. Prior to that announcement, local tax preparers were in a land of limbo. “We haven’t heard when the actual filing season might open,” said Leah Jenne, of Stott CPA in Bowling Green. Jenne and others in the tax business had been told that when returns are accepted, taxpayers will have to pay the amounts they owe – but they will have to wait on their refunds. “You can file your returns, but you’re not going to get a refund,” Jenne said of the original tax season plan during the shutdown. Jenne said she had one important question – “Are you going to attach some interest to this?” Then she added, “I know the answer.” The Internal Revenue Service is among the federal agencies affected by the government shutdown, and is reportedly operating with only 12.5 percent of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees. Stott CPA will be ready when taxpayers are – regardless of the IRS. “At this point, it’s business as usual as far as we’re concerned,” Jenne said. But while a lifesaver has been tossed out for those citizens due tax returns, that same provision hasn’t been extended to those in need of food assistance. Over at the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services, there are 5,843 people who depend on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). So far, those citizens don’t have to worry, according to Dave Wigent, director of the county agency. “The state saw the situation coming, so they drew down money from the feds pretty aggressively,” Wigent said. But if the…


BG teacher helps cultivate careers for her ag students

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Stephanie Conway spent a good deal of her childhood in the Bowling Green FFA classroom taught by her dad, Mike Shertzer. Now Conway has been recognized for being like a second mom to her 120 students in the classroom once occupied by her dad. Conway, BGHS FFA teacher for seven years, was recently recognized during a surprise ceremony for being one of 10 finalists in Ohio for the Golden Owl Award. The award points out the contributions of teachers in Ohio and Iowa in preparing the next generation of young people for successful careers in agriculture. In her classroom, Conway helps students realize there is still a future in farming. The Golden Owl Award was created because of recent trends show a declining number of students who are studying agriculture. In Iowa alone, the presence of agriculture teachers has decreased by 20 percent during the last five years. To shed light on this trend, Nationwide, the top farm insurer in the U.S., established the award to recognize the work of agriculture teachers and the importance of ag education. Conway was selected for making a difference in her students’ lives. She has helped many graduates find careers in the agricultural industry. She often stays after school to take students to contests, make sure they are confident in their work, and allow students to participate in community events. “We’re blessed to have her teach our students,” Bowling Green High School Principal Jeff Dever said. Conway’s efforts have paid off in her students’ success. The BG FFA chapter has earned 12 FFA awards for Wood County, nine awards out of a 24-chapter district and nine state awards in a 341-chapter region. The BG chapter is also a National Three Star Award recipient with four American FFA degrees. The FFA students, who gathered for the surprise recognition, said Conway is dedicated to forming lasting relationships with students and their families, and helping them find jobs in agricultural careers. “She’s always going above and beyond,” including keeping track of graduates in college, said student Jackie Steel. “She’s always pushing us to do better than we are,” student Cassidy Hendricks said. Conway said her father set a good example for her in the classroom. “Just watching him while I was growing up, and what he did,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in the ag room.” Conway…


Schooners shed light on ancient winter solstice celebration

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News At Schooner Farms, they do things their own way. “Nothing we do out here is considered normal. It’s even weird to some people,” Don Schooner said. “But we like being a little different. We like bringing some of these old methodologies back. It’s not that hard especially if you marry them with these new technologies. It’s easier than it’s ever been.” That’s the approach Schooner and Becky White-Schooner are taking in their new holiday celebration. Next week for four nights, the Schooners are welcoming folks to come out to Schooner Farms to celebrate the winter solstice  just as northern people have been doing for eons. The Winter Solstice Luminaria Walk will be held nightly from Thursday, Dec. 20 through Sunday, Dec. 23 at Schooner Farms in Weston of Ohio 235 at the intersection with U.S. 6. There will be two events each night, one at 5:30 and another at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 a vehicle carrying up to six people. The space limitation is the parking lot. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Click here. (https://schoonerfarms.ticketleap.com) The event will be canceled only in the event of a Level 1 snow emergency. The celebration will give visitors a chance to wander around the farms’ Serpent Mound and Lavender Labyrinth along paths lit by luminaries, 1,100 of them, each illuminated by a battery-powered light. There’ll be a bonfire, and Schooner is planning on setting out some Swedish torches, logs that have been split down the middle and set on fire. People can stand around them for warmth and to converse. “That’s what community is all about.” Along with the bonfire these will provide light in the long winter night as well as warmth. An eclectic mix of seasonal music, not your usual pop tunes, Schooner said, will be played over speakers. Infinite Zen Coffee & Noshery will be on hand with their food truck serving warm drinks and food. The farm’s gift shop will also be open. “We pay a lot of attention to the seasons and changing of the seasons,” Schooner said. “We thought it would be something people would enjoy, something out of town, out in the country in a little different setting.” People have been marking the solstice, when the nights stop getting longer, and the days begin, however imperceptibly, to grow longer. “People just need to get back outside,” Schooner said….


Citizens honored for making a difference in Wood County

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County honored its best on Sunday – a farmer who shows his love for the land by putting agronomics ahead of economics, a teacher who pushes his students to achieve goals they never believed possible, and a volunteer who helps connect people with ancestors they never knew existed. The Wood County Commissioners continued the annual tradition of handing out the Spirit of Wood County Awards on Sunday afternoon in the courthouse atrium. The following people were recognized: Mark Drewes for Agricultural Leadership. Robert Pollex for Liberty Through Law/Human Freedom. Charles Cox for Education for Civic Responsibility. Richard Adams for Religion and Liberty. Tom Oberhouse for Industrial/Economic Development. Millie Broka for the Lyle R. Fletcher Good Citizenship Award. Michael Sibbersen for the Lyle R. Fletcher Good Citizenship Award. Ann Harris Householder for the Lyle R. Fletcher Good Citizenship Award. David Chilson for a Special Spirit of Wood County Award. Drewes, a grain farmer from the Custar area, is a recognized steward of the land who always has a tractor seat to share with people who want to learn about farming the land. “My dad preaches the term agronomics over economics,” said Drewes daughter, Darcy Krassow. Drewes is part of a multi-generational family farm partnership that has farmed in the Black Swamp area since the 1880s. Drewes’ farm model and mission encompass important conservation principles. And he shares his knowledge with others, having been a member of many national and state agricultural associations that work to find solutions to problems. He has been a strong advocate for farm issues and for the people who dedicate themselves to making their living off the land. Drewes has an open door policy at his farm – welcoming anyone to ask questions and discuss farming. He has hosted many crop tours, FFA tours, and bus tours of his farmland. When agriculture needed research on reducing the impact on the environment, Drewes offered up his farm as a research laboratory. He is unafraid of results and willing to lead by example in implementing new practices and technology to better his farm and the environment, according to the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association. Pollex, of Perrysburg, served as a Wood County probate/juvenile judge from 1984 to 1998, then as a common pleas judge until retiring in 2016. “He had an impact on generations of juveniles in Wood County,”…


‘Ag-Venture’ farm tours harvest knowledge for visitors

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Farming is more than a profession for Fred Vetter. “The dirt you’re standing on – my grandpa bought in 1912,” Vetter said as he looked over his Mercer Road farm north of Bowling Green on Saturday afternoon. Vetter’s farm was one of seven stops on the Wood County “Ag-Venture” self-driving farm tours on Saturday. Like others on the tour route, Vetter wanted local residents to see farms as more than just some fields along country roads. “Everybody drives down the road and they see us,” he said. But most Wood County residents know little of what it takes to farm the land. “We need to educate people,” Vetter said. “That we’re trying to be good stewards.” The “ag-venture” tours took visitors to traditional farms, like the Vetters, Moser Farms on Hull Prairie Road, and Black Swamp Ag on Portage Road. It also led visitors to more unconventional farms like Schooner Farms on Otsego Pike, and to agri-businesses like Pioneer Seed, Luckey Farmers and Hirzel Canning. This was the first time for a county-wide tour to be organized, said Julie Lause, of the Wood Soil & Water Conservation District, which was one of the sponsors. “Agriculture in Wood County is the top business and people don’t realize how extensive agriculture can be,” she said. “They don’t realize what it takes to create the products we eat.” For soybean, wheat and corn farming it takes equipment that can costs more than many homes. Vetter’s 2003 combine cost about $140,000. Nowadays, with all the tech gadgets, a combine can cost as much as $500,000. It’s standard for equipment to have self-steering GPS, and tires taller than many of those visiting the farms. Fields have to have drainage – especially on this land that was once swamp. And drones help identify problem areas of disease or pests before they spread too far. “It takes a lot of money to farm,” said Vetter, whose sons Shane and Garett, have joined him in agriculture. Even when the best seed is purchased, planted on time, and fertilized – the outcome is still in the hands of Mother Nature. Long periods of rainy or dry weather, at the wrong times, can greatly impact the harvest. Aphids can devour otherwise healthy plants. “You can work as hard as you can,” Shane Vetter said. “Mother Nature is in charge, no matter what.”…


Wood County may wade into storm water program

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Draining the Great Black Swamp came at great expense. Keeping it drained has also proven to be quite costly. Wood County Engineer John Musteric believes the bills for handling storm water can be divided more fairly in the county. So he has asked the county commissioners to approve a $50,000 study to examine the feasibility of setting up a storm water district in Wood County. “We’ve been after the commissioners to investigate this,” Musteric said. “I believe it’s a more fair way.” The feasibility study would show how much the county is spending to keep storm water at bay through ditch maintenance, removing debris in rivers, storm sewer repairs, catch basin repairs and manholes. “I think it’s going to be an eye-opener,” Musteric said. Depending on the findings, the study could result in the creation of a storm water district in the unincorporated areas of the county that would charge fees to landowners to support. “It has been proven in court that county commissioners can do this,” Musteric said. Many other areas in Ohio already have storm water districts in place, with monthly fees ranging from $3.47 in Toledo, and $4.06 in Lucas County to $3.50 in Elmore, and $8 in Oak Harbor. The assessments to landowners are based on the amount of “impervious property” on the parcel. In other words, how much space is covered with rooftops or pavement that doesn’t allow water to soak into the ground. Local farmers, Musteric said, will only be charged the minimum rate, since even if they have large areas of impervious property, it is balanced out with even larger areas of open ground. “I think the farmers will embrace it,” the county engineer said. The county auditor’s office would handle the assessments, Musteric said. The fees would likely be billed on property taxes as special assessments. By setting up a district funded by landowner fees, the county will be able to set money aside for storm water expenses. Currently, ditch improvements that aren’t under a maintenance plan along county roads are paid for with county road and bridge funding. So by creating a system of funding for storm water issues, the engineer’s office can use more of its road and bridge funding for the work it was intended for, Musteric said. The storm water district would not have to cover the entire county. It…