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All ideas needed to address food production challenges

Published Oct. 12, 2011 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Pat Hord says its not the size of his farm, but a passion for feeding people that motivates his family.

Buckeye Farm News

If nothing else, the nation’s ongoing discussion about food production has revealed the complexity of issues relating to economic, environmental and social sustainability.

At the same time, a new era of social communications is allowing people to challenge assumptions, an emerging food movement continues to percolate through farm and consumer circles and a divisive political landscape has stifled dialogue.

Earlier this year, Ohio Farm Bureau launched the Bringing it to the Table concept, which sought to bring diverse interests together in a constructive discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing food production in Ohio.  To keep the conversation going, OFBF recently visited two Ohio farmers and asked them to share their thoughts on the factors that influence their farming decisions.

Who Will Be Farming? 

Ben and Lisa Sippel grow produce and make cheese from sheep and cow’s milk in Morrow County.

Their business was designed with a belief that farming, while it is hard work, should be attractive to a new generation. They question if farm kids feel they have a future in agriculture when they see their parents having to work off the farm to be financially secure.  By having a diverse operation, they hope they’re setting an example for their son, Charlie.

“If Charlie would like to farm in the future, we would like for him to have a lot of options,” Lisa said.

Ben believes creating an environment where farmers can farm fulltime will provide more opportunities to innovate and solve problems, such as improving soil health and reducing chemical use.

Concerns about the aging farm population and barriers to entering agriculture weigh on the couple, who argue that further consolidation of food production is not the solution for a “vocation of unimaginable variables.” Precision agriculture technology can only do so much, Ben said.

“Really the root of the problem is who’s going to be farming,” he said.

The couple also advocates for a dialogue that would take a critical look at the best practices from all sectors of food production.

“We have to realize that everybody has some good idea and perhaps if we do try to meet in the middle somewhere, that would make a lot of things better,” Lisa said.

Maintaining Choice

Pat Hord, whose family operates a hog , cattle and grain farm and feed mill in Crawford County, believes there is room for improvement in the conversation about food production.

“We have to do a better job of understanding the differences in the product and how it’s raised, full disclosure on how that happens, but if we’re not careful, we will confuse our consumer to the effect that they don’t feel good about the choices that they’re making, because maybe they can’t afford some versions of some specialty products,” he said.At the same time, Hord said his farm is focused on giving customers what they want.  He noted that the family recently decided to open up its barns to a third party auditor.

“We’ve looked at it and said ‘We’re proud of what we do, how we do it.’ What downside is there? Something we need to get better at? Let’s do it,” he said.

The really tough thing, Hord said, is figuring out what exactly customers are willing to pay for.

“Will they say they will and maybe not?” he asked.

He pointed to mandates that were implemented in the United Kingdom that raised the cost of food production, but were  not supported by consumers, putting local farmers at an economic disadvantage.

“We have to embrace the ideas, talk about them, talk about what do we want to do long term for our consumers and agriculture in general, and understand that we need to embrace our diversity and our choice,” he said. “Sometimes people just get so caught up in being passionate about what they’re doing that they don’t realize that maybe they’re taking away some choice from people by really trying to push one or the other.”

ONLINE EXTRA:

Read more about these farmers and the opportunities they see for food production in the November/December issue of Our Ohio magazine.

Photos by Galen Harris.



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