Creating sustainable agriculture in urban food deserts

Across the street from an abandoned industrial site in an older, economically challenged neighborhood, formerly vacant lots have been fitted with raised garden beds and season-extending hoop houses to allow neighborhood residents to grow fresh produce year-round. The food will be donated to schools and residents in a food desert, which is an area that lacks grocery stores within walking distance.

In partnership with the city of Dayton, Ohio State University Extension supports the Vacant to Vibrant project, which offers city dwellers the ability to grow their own foods and the opportunity to become food entrepreneurs. The project allows participants access to fresh local foods, job training, economic security and neighborhood revitalization.

Urban agriculture benefits Ohio by transforming neighborhoods through the production and distribution of food to cultivate a sense of community through food-related education and sustainable economic development.

Urban agriculture benefits Ohio by transforming neighborhoods through the production and distribution of food to cultivate a sense of community through food-related education and sustainable economic development.

OSU Extension supports urban agriculture in all Ohio counties, in an effort to increase access to local foods by helping create community gardens that promote urban agriculture — such as the Edgemont Solar Garden in Dayton — as well as opportunities for vocational agricultural training. Other efforts include classes on growing and marketing produce and basic agricultural principles.


  • According to Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, urban agriculture, which allows cities to put vacant lots into use, creates opportunity for the future and can be a sustainable way to bring money into a community.
  • In one year in Cuyahoga County, OSU Extension provided 33 urban agriculture workshops attended by 452 community members.
  • OSU Extension also supports
    239 Cleveland-area community gardens that yield nearly $3.1 million in produce annually.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Urbanized Area and Urban Cluster designations, 81 percent of Ohio’s population is urban.
  • More than 1,200 OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in nine of Ohio’s most populated counties provide more than 61,000 service hours annually to address local gardening needs.

Ohio State’s Agricultural Fertilizer Program Helps Farmers Keep Phosphorus on Fields, Improve Water Quality

water quality farm2COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is ramping up its efforts to improve Ohio’s water quality through a new fertilizer applicator certification training program that’s designed to help growers increase crop yields using less fertilizer more efficiently, thus reducing the potential for phosphorus runoff into the state’s watersheds.

Introduced last fall as part of Ohio’s new agricultural fertilization law, the program has already trained 3,211 Ohio growers who farm more than a million acres of farmland statewide, said Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist and one of the leaders of Ohio State’s Agronomic Crops Team. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Offering the certification training program is part of the college’s goal to improve the state’s water quality by informing growers how to lessen the use of phosphorus and keep more of it on the field, while increasing crop yields and boosting farm profits, LaBarge said.

“The training covers water quality and crop production best management practices, including encouraging growers to adhere to the principles of applying the right fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right place,” he said. “By advocating the continued improvement in nutrient use and efficiencies, the training can help growers boost farm profits by using just enough nutrients to maximize yield, which reduces the potential for water quality impact offsite.

“The training benefits farmers and Ohioans by reducing the water quality issues that we have in the state.”

Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important source of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.

The training, which is offered by OSU Extension agronomists in partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), fulfills the education requirements of the state’s new agricultural nutrients law, which requires farmers who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres of farmland to become certified with ODA.

According to the new law, the deadline for growers and chemical nutrient applicators to complete the certification process is Sept. 30, 2017. The certification is valid for three years, at which point the applicator will require recertification.

The training offers guidance on:

  • Nutrient Management Certification Program.
  • The Link between Phosphorus, Harmful Algal Blooms and Agriculture.
  • Soil Testing for Confidence and Adaptive Management.
  • Best Management Practices for Phosphorus.
  • Yield and Water Quality Impacts.
  • Best Management Practices for Nitrogen, Yield and Water Quality Impacts.

An overwhelming majority of participants who have completed the OSU Extension program, 89 percent, say the training improved their knowledge about nutrient management, LaBarge said.

Additionally, 77 percent of farmers in attendance agreed that “Farm field phosphorus loss is a significant problem to Ohio water resources,” he said.

A majority of those participating in the first training classes, which were held in Fulton, Hancock and Paulding counties last month, farm in the Maumee River watershed area that drains into Lake Erie.

In fact, most farmers in that area are willing to take at least one additional action to reduce nutrient loss on their farm if they feel like the action will both benefit their farms as well as water quality, according to new research from Robyn Wilson, a CFAES associate professor of risk analysis and decision science.

“Most farmers are willing to adopt a new conservation practice if they believe that nutrient loss from their fields will have a negative financial impact on their crop production and if they believe that if they put best management practices in place on their farms, the techniques will work,” Wilson said.

More training dates for farmers and nutrient applicators to obtain the educational requirement for the Agricultural Fertilizer Applicator Certification will be offered by OSU Extension, with sessions likely to be offered in December and in the early months of 2015, LaBarge said.

As sessions are scheduled, details will be posted online at

Participants will be required to preregister for these meetings.

For more information, contact LaBarge at 740-223-4040 or

New Research Finds Some U.S. Soybean Yield Losses Caused by Weather Variations

soybeans2COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers have determined that precipitation and temperature variations over the past 20 years have suppressed the U.S. average soybean yield gain — how much it improves every year — by around 30 percent, contributing to an industry loss of $11 billion nationwide.

In Ohio alone, that soybean yield suppression is estimated to have cost some $2.9 billion during the past 20 years, according to a new study co-authored by a field crops expert in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Global annual temperatures have increased by 0.4 C (0.72 F) since 1980, with several regions exhibiting even greater increases, said Laura Lindsey, a soybean and small grains specialist with Ohio State University Extension and a co-author of the study. OSU Extension is the college’s outreach arm.

And for every 1 C (1.8 F) rise in temperature during the growing season, soybean yields fell by about 2.4 percent, the study found.

In Ohio, that translates into about a third of a bushel per acre per year yield loss, Lindsey said.

“During the past 20 years, temperature and precipitation have been changing, and that change is associated with yield reductions and economic loss that is region-specific,” she said. “States including Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and North Dakota have experienced negative impacts on yield due to weather variables.

“Missouri suffered the most negative impact with an estimated loss of $5 billion during the past 20 years, while Ohio had the next highest loss, at $2.9 billion.”

The study, which appears in the February 2015 journal Nature Plants, was co-authored by James E. Specht, researcher with the University of Nebraska; and Spyridon Mourtzinis, Francisco J. Arriaga and Shawn P. Conley, all researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study is based on data gleaned from 12 states, including data from Ohio State researchers’ Ohio Soybean Performance Trials, which document temperatures, changes in cultural practices, soybean varieties and technology in soybean production from 1970 to the present, Lindsey said.

The U.S. is one of the world’s largest soybean exporters, with some 80 percent of its soybeans being grown in the upper Midwest. Since most of that production is not irrigated, soybean production in the region is highly affected by weather conditions during the growing season, according to the study.

While more state-specific research is needed to help mitigate some of the weather variability, according to the study, some crop management strategies could help limit the potential negative impacts of weather variations on crop yields.

“Strategies include the development of new cultivars and hybrids, the use of altered maturity groups, changes in planting dates, the use of cover crops, and greater management of crop residues from the previous year,” Lindsey said. “If we don’t develop strategies to mitigate weather variability, it could have a long-term impact on soybean farmers, the soybean industry, trade policy, consumer food prices, food security and the economy.”

The study’s other contributors and co-authors include William J. Wiebold, University of Missouri; Jeremy Ross, University of Arkansas; Emerson D. Nafziger, University of Illinois; Herman J. Kandel, North Dakota State University; Nathan Mueller, South Dakota State University; and Philip L. Devillez, with Purdue University.

Simulator helps prevent grain-handling injuries, increases grain bin safety, trains first responders

larry flowers state fire marshall 2014_OSUE_GC0140_flowers

Larry Flowers, Ohio State Fire Marshall

Ohio’s first grain rescue simulator trailer — designed by faculty and students from The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — is now used to educate first responders, grain industry employees and farm families about the hazards of flowing grain. This simulator maximizes the public-private partnerships between the university, the Ohio Fire Academy and the Ohio agribusinesses that contributed resources toward the project.

The Grain C.A.R.T. (Comprehensive Agricultural Rescue Trailer) is a dynamic teaching aid, said Dee Jepsen, state safety leader for Ohio State University Extension. It enhances safety

education in farm communities and trains first responders who are called to an agricultural scene where grain is stored. It’s used with the Ohio Fire Academy’s agricultural rescue direct-delivery training modules and with OSU Extension’s grain bin rescue outreach education program.

Rescue personnel requested training in these unconventional rescue situations, where they have limited experience and knowledge of the agricultural conditions that exist.


  • The need for grain-handling safety programs is significant, considering that every year approximately 26 Ohio farm workers lose their lives to production agriculture. Flowing grain and grain storage is one of the contributing factors. In the past 10 years, 14 Ohio farmers have died due to engulfments in grain bins, entanglements in augers, falls from grain bin-related structures and electrocution.
  • Mounted on a 40-foot flatbed trailer, the Grain C.A.R.T. includes a grain bin, a gravity wagon, a grain leg system with augers and other training essentials.
  • The Grain C.A.R.T. was used for training in 26 counties on 54 days in fiscal year 2014, according to the Ohio Fire Academy.
  • This OSU Extension outreach program presented live demonstrations of grain engulfment and equipment entanglements to the farming community, to grain co-op employees and to first responders — reaching approximately 12,000 participants.

“The value of this partnership is, not only are we providing information to the agricultural community, but also to first responders in those communities. Seventy percent of Ohio is protected by volunteer fire departments, so being able to take this hands-on training to them is valuable,” said Larry Flowers, Ohio state fire marshal.

For more information:

Extension reaches millions of Ohio cropland acres through Certified Crop Advisers training

OSU Extension educates CCAs, maximizing the university's impact on millions of acres of farmland statewide. (pictured: Tina Lust and Harrold Watters)

OSU Extension educates CCAs, maximizing the university’s impact on millions of acres of farmland statewide. (pictured: Tina Lust and Harold Watters)

As part of her job to advise producers statewide on farming issues, Tina Lust regularly reads the Crop Observation and Recommendation Network (CORN) newsletter, written weekly by Ohio State University Extension specialists.

The publication offers information on Ohio agronomic crops, and it is just one of the ways OSU Extension works year-round to continually educate Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs) through agronomic workshops, presentations, schools and conferences — providing them the most up-to-date information needed to help producers increase yields, increase financial bottom lines, reduce environmental impact and boost the state’s overall economy.

CORN newsletter is part of Extension’s efforts to reach Ohio farmers one crop adviser at a time. Working to educate CCAs helps to extend and maximize The Ohio State University’s impact on Ohio crops to millions of acres of farmland statewide, said Harold Watters, an OSU Extension agronomy field specialist and coordinator of the university’s Agronomic Crops Team.


  • OSU Extension provides training year-round, offering the continuing education credits needed by Ohio’s 540 Certified Crop Advisers to retain their certification.
  • CCAs each consult on an average of 40,000 to 50,000 acres of Ohio farmland.
  • The economic impact that CCAs have on farmers can be easily $100 per acre, according to industry efforts.
  • CCAs need to earn 40 hours biannually in the following training categories, all of which OSU Extension offers either for free or at a nominal charge: nutrient management, pest management, soil and water management, and crop management.
  • CCA training is offered by 40 members of OSU Extension’s Agronomic Crops Team, Extension’s county educators and, specifically, 65 agriculture educators throughout Ohio’s 88 counties.
  • CORN newsletter has some 3,800 subscribers, including farmers, producers, CCAs and agriculture professionals in Ohio and surrounding states.

“Extension professionals offer unbiased, research-based information that CCAs can provide to farmers,” said Tina Lust, past chair, Ohio CCA Board, which works closely with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association. “Agriculture is our No. 1 industry, and farmers need that information to keep on top of new research, technology and innovations in order to farm economically and efficiently, and to stay in business.”

For more information:

Local foods programs promote healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems in urban cities

Urban agriculture offers city-dwellers the ability to grow their own produce and increase the community’s access to safe, local foods. (pictured: Carol Contrada, Lucas County commissioner)

Urban agriculture offers city-dwellers the ability to grow their own produce and increase the community’s
access to safe, local foods. (pictured: Carol Contrada, Lucas County commissioner)

More Ohio urban neighborhoods are seeing an increase in season-extending gardens. The gardens offer city-dwellers the ability to grow their own foods and to become food entrepreneurs right where they live.

Seasonal high tunnels are similar to but less expensive than greenhouses, require no artificial energy and help keep local produce reaching consumers even when weather turns nasty. These domed structures are now in inner-city neighborhoods in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, where they help urban farmers and gardeners grow food almost year-round. Ohio State University Extension provides technical support and marketing education to help the residents utilize the tunnels to increase profits.

Such programming occurs in all Ohio counties, with efforts to increase access to local foods by helping to create community gardens to promote urban agriculture and opportunities for vocational agricultural training. Efforts also strive to increase students’ access to healthy foods in schools, and to create local food councils similar to the Northwest Ohio Food Council.


  • According to Ken Meter’s “Finding Food in Northwest Ohio,” if each resident of Northwest Ohio bought $5 worth of food weekly from a local farm, $345 million of new farm income would be generated.
  • OSU Extension supports 239 community gardens in Cuyahoga County that yield nearly $3.1 million in fruits and vegetables each growing season. Annually, Extension donates more than 10,000 pounds of produce to nonprofit agencies and shelters.
  • Market gardens are for-profit agricultural enterprises — including urban farms — that provide jobs and fresh, local food. Through the Market Gardener Training Program in Cuyahoga County, OSU Extension has trained 215 residents, 51 of whom have created microbusinesses such as farm stands and restaurants.
  • Kinsman Farms is OSU Extension’s 6-acre incubator farm in Cleveland. It supports 13 beginning urban farmers and saw aggregated sales of $98,870 in 2013.

“Eliminating food deserts and including fresh fruits and vegetables at convenience stores are some strategies being developed by the Northwest Ohio Food Council in partnership with Ohio State University Extension and other organizations designed to increase access to local, healthier foods in urban areas,” said Carol Contrada, Lucas County commissioner.

For more information: