Agriculture

Soybean farmers look beyond current strife to innovative future

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News These are trying times for soybean farmers. A trade dispute between the United States and China has cut out their largest trading partner. Government help has mitigated the loss, but the damage is real. Local farmer Nathan Eckel, though, was not obsessing on present concerns when he addressed the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club Thursday. An active member of the Ohio Soybean Council, he was eager to talk about the future.  The council, paid for by fees assessed to the farmers, is engaged in making sure farmers like Eckel can keep their operations in business.  Eckel is a fifth generation farmer — Eckel Junction Road was named for the family’s original plot. He also raises other commodity crops and has a 800-head livestock operation, on the 2,000 acres he farms. The future, he told club members, includes funding research into new ways to use soybean. The plant now is used in biodiesel, human food, and animal feed. Eckel, who as a trustee of the council chairs its research committee, said the council is active in funding corporate and academic research.  That research includes replacing petroleum-based oils with sustainable and biodegradable soy oil products. A soy-based floor coating has just come to market, he said. Another project is the development of soy fish meal for fish farms in India.  The research committee sends out calls for proposals, and then writes grants for the most promising projects. “We expect a return on the investment we make,”  Eckel said. The council plugs in money at the very early stages and keeps providing equity until the product goes to market. Then, he said, “we start getting our royalties.” One use of those royalties is funding scholarships through the Ohio Soybean Association, a policy body separately funded by members.  Last year the association awarded $45,000 in scholarships.  Those scholars may not end up growing soybeans, but may instead do research or work in some other agriculture-related occupation. The council is also active in programs to teach young people about agriculture. Through Grow Next Gen, Eckel has conducted virtual farm tours with 625 students in 25 classrooms around the state.  “It’s more than putting a seed in the ground, harvesting and taking it to the elevator.” He uses precision data and GPS as well, all the technology the kids are familiar with.  The council also reaches out to find new markets for the products. Those could include developing countries that are just starting to raise livestock. The importance of seeking new markets has been brought home by the current trade dispute between the United States and China. After the U.S. hiked tariffs on Chinese goods, the Chinese have retaliated by reducing the quantity of American soybeans they import. China represented 60 percent of the state’s soybean imports. This year that’s down to 10 percent. About a…

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Migrant workers thanked for laboring in local fields

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Local migrant workers came in from the pickle fields Sunday so local residents could assure them their toiling in the fields is appreciated. Nearly 90 migrant workers and their children were treated to food, given clothing, and exchanged stories with members of First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green. The annual event, at a Wood County farm, is a time for sharing a meal and stories. “People were really appreciative of everything,” said Beatriz Maya, who translated for those workers speaking Spanish. “Many pointed out that they don’t feel welcome where they work,” Maya said. “It’s extremely important for them to see that in spite of the national rhetoric, the local communities are very appreciative of farm workers. It’s so important for the families to feel appreciated.” Members of the church brought many boxes of clothing for the men, women and children, plus shoes, towels and sheets. “They were waiting when we got there,” church member Debbie Zappitelli said. “They were so excited to pick up the items.” Members of the Brown Bag Food Project also attended, bringing food for each family. And Wood County District Public Library provided books for the children and adults. Church members brought games, soccer balls, cornhole sets, and a giant parachute. “It was like they had an evening to play,” Zappitelli said. The number of migrants attending this year was estimated at 90. “The families all came together,” she said. “The need was twice the need of prior years.” Long tables were set up for migrant families and church members to join in a meal of donated pizza and doughnuts. “They were so gracious, so grateful,” Zappitelli said. “We wanted to thank them for the harvest and all the hard work they do.” The migrant workers came from the U.S, Mexico and Guatemala. Many will leave Wood County soon to head to Michigan where they will pick apples, then back south to harvest tomatoes, grapefruit and oranges. After the meal, some of the migrant workers told their stories. Maya interpreted for those who did not speak English. “Everyone who spoke said no one had done anything like this for them,” Zappitelli said. She was particularly touched by an older gentleman who dressed up for the event, and talked about his life. “It was good to do, because they don’t feel welcome. They don’t feel comfortable here,” she said. “In the current climate this is even more important. I can’t imagine living and working hard toil in a country that doesn’t want you.” Janet DeLong, who organizes the Presbyterian Church’s Deacons Shop, said about 30 boxes of clothing were taken to the migrant camp for workers to select from. This is the third year for DeLong to attend. “I’ve always had a soft spot for migrants,” she said. “It’s just dear to my…


Wood County Fair making history with $2.2M building

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The history of the Wood County Fair has been recorded since its debut in 1851. In years to come, the history of the 2018 fair will undoubtedly note the disappearance of the old livestock barns and show arena – replaced with a shiny new $2.2 million building. “It feels good that we’re to the point of completion,” said Steve Speck, president of the Wood County Fair Foundation. “There have been countless hours put in by the foundation to work on the details.” Speck presented a program on the new fair exhibition building Thursday to the Bowling Green Kiwanis. But first, retired 4-H agent Dick Martin set the scene with a bit of fair history. The first Wood County Fair was held in a grove of trees north of Wooster Street, between Church and Grove streets. After 1851, the Wood County Fair jumped around from Bowling Green, to Perrysburg, to Portage, to Tontogany, and back again many times. In fact, for a series of years it was held in two towns because of warring fair factions. The county fair was, for many, the event of the year. It attracted families in their best clothing for food, music and competitions. Some records show that the Wood County Fair had the second highest attendance of any county fairs in the state. In 1882, the area currently used as Bowling Green City Park was purchased for the fair. Among the first buildings constructed were Needle Hall, Veterans Building, the Depot, and Girl Scout Building – which was formerly called the Women’s Christian Temperance Building, Martin said. The county fair often represented the times. In 1854, a cholera outbreak drastically cut attendance, in 1896 a group of “hoochie-coochie” dance girls stirred up trouble, and in 1962 ostrich races were held. In 1883, fairgoers could purchase side tickets to watch the hanging of Carl Bach, who murdered his wife with a corn knife. In the late 1920, the H.J. Heinz Co. put on pressure to change the fair date so it didn’t conflict with tomato harvest, because the company couldn’t find enough employees to show up at work to bottle the ketchup during the fair. “The fair was pretty big stuff,” Martin said. During its heyday, the county fair was said to have set a record attendance of 21,000 in one day. But when the economy tanked in the 1920s, the fair suffered. A tax levy was put on the ballot to support the fair – but it was voted down 5 to 1. Then the night before the 1927 fair was to open, a horse barn on the fairgrounds burned down. “For 23 years, we had no fair,” Martin said. A few harvest festivals were held in the area, but no more county fair – until 1951 when a group revived the…


Scientists continue to address harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Even in an age of satellites, vintage tools have their place in protecting the environment. The research in harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie by scientists from state and government agencies and institutions of higher education is constantly evolving. A new European satellite promises to provide a steady stream of advanced analytics and should allow for the development of 3D models of harmful algae blooms. As scientists monitor the water in Lake Erie and the tributaries that feed it, they also employ a tool that dates back to the middle of the 19th century. As part as a water testing demonstration at the Stone Lab on Middle Bass Island, researchers used the Secchi disc, a basic device that’s lowered into the water to determine how clear it is. The demonstration was part of the seventh Harmful Algae Blooms forecast conference held at the lab. Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that this year’s bloom splits the difference between the smaller bloom in 2017 and the more extensive problem in 2016. The severity was rated at 6, on the open ended scale. The worst blooms, seen in 2011 and 2015, were 10 or greater. Last year was an 8. The forecast for algae blooms is based on six different predictive models, all using different methodologies. Scientists can’t say, though, what the chance is that this bloom will turn toxic like the one in 2014 that left 500,000 customers served by the Toledo system without safe water. Stumpf said that scientists are working on developing techniques to forecast the likelihood of toxicity. The blooms, he said, appear to be developing sooner as the lake warms up earlier. They tend to subside in August, but then last year re-emerged on a smaller scale in September. The earlier onset does not mean the bloom will be more severe, he said. Thomas Bridgeman, from the University of Toledo, noted, there’s also been more healthy algae growth in the lake, and  that could compete with the harmful variety. James Kelly Frey, sanitary engineer for Ottawa County, said it was important for those managing water plants to look further into the future as they consider the needs for new technology to address the problem. “We need to able to predict how soon this may subside,” he said. Chris Winslow, the director of Stone Lab, said that given the size of the watershed feeding the lake that’s hard to predict. Methods have been developed and implemented in the agricultural community to keep nutrients, especially phosphorus, from running into the lake and feeding the harmful algae growth. But those techniques vary from farm to farm, he said. “If algae runs out of phosphorus it stops growing,” Stumpf said. Laura Johnson, from Heidelberg University, reported on the findings from a water testing site…



Park district agrees to turn farmland into wetlands

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Wood County Park District will be allowing tiled farmland to revert back to wetlands – with the help of a $301,000 grant. The park district board voted last week to work with the Black Swamp Conservancy, which received the grant, to turn 10 acres of the Carter Historic Farm property into a wetlands area. The decision came despite protests by Tom Carpenter, who farms the land which Sally Loomis donated to the park district. “There was a significant amount of labor in clearing that land,” Carpenter said. But with the grant funding needing to be accepted by July 1, the park board voted to go ahead with the first phase of the wetlands project. “I know that’s not the outcome you wanted,” park board president Denny Parish said to Carpenter after the vote. “But I respect you coming.” Carpenter attended many of the park board meetings where the wetlands project was discussed. “I’m just trying to preserve the farmland that’s already there,” he said. Carpenter pointed out that the acreage being turned into wetlands will have a “very, very minimal” impact on Lake Erie, since an estimated 6 million acres drain into the lake. But the idea of turning down grant funding just didn’t sit well with the park board. “I’m sympathetic to what your position is,” Parish said to Carpenter. “But that money is going to be spent,” Parish said. “It’s either going to be spent in Wood County or it’s going to be spent somewhere else.” With the $301,000, the Black Swamp Conservancy plans to make the 10-acre field into a large “bowl” with small pools to hold water longer. Trees and shrubs will be planted, explained Melanie Coulter and Rob Crain, executive director of the conservancy. Berms along the edges of the wetlands will allow for trails that can be used for educational purposes. Crain said work will likely begin on the acreage as soon as the crops are taken off later this year. The wetlands plan will slow down water into the ditch, which leads to the Touissaint Creek, and then to the Maumee River basin. Instead of field water running straight into the ditch from tiles, it will be filtered, Coulter explained. The original plan called for two 10-acre portions to be converted into wetlands in two phases. Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger said another option could be to turn the second 10 acres into a wet prairie, which would be much less expensive. But two board members, Tom Myers and Bill Cameron, expressed a desire for the park district to fund the rest of the project, estimated at $148,000 to turn the other 10 acres into wetlands. “I hate to see projects start and then stop,” Cameron said. And Myers noted the recent passage of the park district…


Park farmland may be allowed to revert to wetlands

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Twenty acres of farmland north of Bowling Green may be allowed to return to its former state as part of the Great Black Swamp. Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger is excited about the park acreage becoming a piece of history and a habitat for wetland wildlife. But the man who has farmed the acreage for four decades isn’t sold on the change. Tom Carpenter doesn’t need the 20 acres for his livelihood. But as a farmer, it just grates on him that well-drained land will be forced back to its wetland roots. And during an open house on the wetlands plan last week, Carpenter didn’t mince words. “Our goal is to keep it farmland,” he said. The 20 acres sit in the back property of the Carter Historic Farm. Other acreage on the farmstead will continue to be farmed. The wetlands project, as proposed by the Black Swamp Conservancy and designed by Hull and Associates, would render 20 acres of farmland unfarmable in the future. The wetlands would have several benefits, according to Melanie Coulter, of the Black Swamp Conservancy. It would filter runoff before it goes into the nearby Toussaint Creek. It would provide habitat for wetlands habitat. And it would give the public a place to view swamp-like conditions that once covered this region. The drain tiles currently in the 20 acres would be blocked to allow the land to flood, explained Jordan Rofkar, of Hull and Associates. Dirt would be moved to create low areas for water and mounds for native trees and shrubs. “The intent is to create a mixture of habitats,” Rofkar said. The small open ponds should attract turtles and frogs, along with birds like herons, ducks and woodcocks, Coulter said. The wetlands should also benefit the water quality for one of the streams that flows into the Maumee River “area of concern,” designated by the U.S. and Ohio EPA, she said. “Wetlands are known to do a lot of water filtration,” she said. For Munger, showing park visitors the historic farm’s previous state and “recreating the Great Black Swamp” is a great opportunity. The park district’s trail through the nearby wooded area may be expanded into the wetlands – possibly as a boardwalk, he said. He is hoping the bulk of the estimated $300,000 cost to transform the area into wetlands will come from grant funding. The proposal will be presented to the park district board of commissioners next for their decision to proceed or not. Carpenter hopes the park board will reconsider. He believes that Sally Loomis Carter, who gave her family’s farm to the park district, would not have wanted the farmland to return to swamp. After all, her family worked hard to drain the acreage so it could be fertile farmland “This is not something…