Tom Mechamer takes guests through his greenhouse.

Tour showcases diverse agricultural opportunities

Buckeye Farm News

Ohio Farm Bureau was one of the sponsors of last month’s “Agriculture on the Cutting Edge” tour in Wayne County, which had 55 participants, including a county commissioner, bank officials, local farmers and an Ohio Department of Agriculture representative. The group visited Gerber Poultry, Buckeye Veal Services, quasar energy group, the Natural Fiber Composites Corp. and Cedar Lane Farms, which features a greenhouse complex and a specialized aquaculture production unit.

“I always enjoy these tours,” said Ann Obrecht, a county commissioner. “Wayne County is such an agriculturally diverse county and these tours highlight that. They really show how economic development and agriculture can go together.”

The Wayne County Farm Bureau was sponsor of the luncheon and an early evening reception where Ohio Farm Bureau’s Velvet Ice Cream flavor, Honey Caramel, was served.

The tour showcased both the successes and challenges to the agriculture industry in the county. Tom Mechamer, president of Cedar Lanes, walked the group through part of his massive greenhouse and talked about how automation has doubled his production with the same number of employees.

Mechamer has leased part of his farm to Touchstone Research Laboratory of West Virginia, which is building a multimillion dollar test project focused on carbon sequestration via algae production. Being built are indoor and outdoor ponds that will grow green algae, which produces more oil than soybeans on less land, said Drew Spradling, director of development for Touchstone. He said the half acre of ponds is expected to yield about 2,000 gallons of oil per year. Raising algae for oil is a “capital intensive project” that could take years to be profitable, he said.

The group also stopped at an Amish farm that raises chickens for Gerber Poultry and visited the company’s store. The company processes more than 70,000 chickens a day and is the county’s fifth largest employer. Gerber uses 1,600 tons of feed per week, which works out to two pounds of feed for every one pound of chicken, said John Metzger, the company’s chief financial officer.

At Buckeye Veal, participants walked through the company’s barns, which feature a group housing model approved by the Ohio Livestock Standards Board. After 2017, calves must be housed in spaces where they can turn around. At Buckeye, two calves are in each stall and are not tethered.

The last two stops were at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster where tour participants learned how the National Fiber Composites Corp. is using natural plant fibers to be used as a reinforcing material in numerous plastic industry applications. The group then went across the street to look at quasar’s anaerobic digester, which converts biomass into energy. The plant supplies half the electricity needs of OARDC’s campus. The company has started producing compressed natural gas to use in its vehicles. While the United States is starting to build more anaerobic digesters, it is far behind European countries. For example, Germany has 6,000 digesters.

The farm tour was the third for Colin Gordon of Farm Credit Services in Wooster. He said the tours give him a better idea of how the agriculture industry operates in the county.

“They do a really great job of showing the diversity of agriculture. It just shows how farmers are smart, capable and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Photo by Amy Beth Graves

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