Initial Summary of Specialty Crop Listening Session

The following article was written by Jim Jasinski, Professor, Department of Extension; Jamie Strange, Chair, Department of Entomology and Ken Scaife, CFAES Director of Operations.

Since early 2020, The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) administrators, faculty and educators have been engaged in discussions addressing the interaction and relationship between the University and the diverse needs of specialty crop stakeholders. Specialty crops as defined by the USDA include fruits, vegetables, nuts, nursery crops, flowers and other horticultural crops.

To assess the relationship between OSU and specialty crop stakeholders, four activities have been initiated and completed to date.

1. Phone interviews with traditional large scale specialty crop farm operators to understand their individual concerns.
2. Phone interviews with official specialty crop groups and organizations that represent the interest of individual stakeholders to understand their overarching concerns.
3. Conducted a Statewide listening session via Zoom; Part 1 allowed Department representatives to share current specialists’ expertise via short three minute video segments. (can be viewed here on YouTube –
4. Conducted a Statewide listening session via Zoom; Part 2 solicited specialty crop stakeholder needs in facilitated feedback sessions.

The next step in the process involves sharing a short summary of the listening session data gathered where the preliminary needs and gaps of the broad stakeholder community given by growers, consultants and official crop associations in attendance during the statewide Zoom listening session.

Specialty Crops Represented by Report
There were multiple calls for engagement to various specialty crop stakeholders prior to the Zoom listening session, during the session and after the session concluded. A list of the most economically important crops mentioned during all of those requests is represented below. This is only a snapshot of the crops represented at the time and should not be generalized to commodity needs across the entire state. In general, fruit and vegetable crops, flowers and herbs are represented, along with Maple products and mushrooms. Crops listed that are not considered specialty crops include sunflower, field corn and soy based products.

graph of crops

Listening Session Discoveries
1. Below are the summary of comments received when asked to name the top major research and education needs over the next few years.

-Address specific pests / issues; Spotted lanternfly, Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles, carrot weevil, peach borer, other invasives, Paw Paw production and pest management, IPM, beneficial insects / biocontrol
-Address no-till/organic production, herbicides, crop inputs, variety trials, emerging crops, potatoes, climate control – how it effects crops, economics, GAPs & food safety, logistics, post harvest handling, weeds, cut flowers, new raspberry hybrids (breeding/eval?), better information access / types, farm expansion, local supply chains, produce aggregation, value added, season extension, labor, automation of planting, canning efficiency, soil health
-Address research on specific diseases such as Phytophthora, Buckeye rot, bacterial diseases in multiple crops, disease impacts on industry/processing, copper replacements, organic support
-Consumer education (local production and consumption cycle), specialty crop value in rural communities
-Marketing, beginner farming, legal, hops liaison, food hub, branding, better educational materials
-Automation of planting/harvesting, technology for crop production, energy efficient processes
-Shared facilities, incubator kitchens/parks
-Help with measuring carbon, soil health, sustainability reporting tools, maple quality

2. Below are the summary of comments received when asked to name the top areas that CFAES and Extension should continue to address in the next few years.  

-Research chemical and cultural control of plant diseases and insects; Integrated Pest Management; diagnostic services; monitor and report pest pressure, presence and severity
-Weed control – develop new herbicides, crop rotation/cover crops, chemical registration
-Variety trials – evaluate new and emerging varieties for yield, quality, disease resistance – fresh market and processing vegetable crops were primarily mentioned
-Support for obtaining new labels / registrations for chemicals
-Support for existing OSU crop breeding programs
-Interest in new market opportunities, industry marketing trends
-Education on food safety, GAP training, FSMA
-In-person programs or Extension visits are valued
-Multiple forms of communicating Extension information (social media, newsletters, email/hard copy, workshops and in-person programs); distilling relevant production and management information; draw expertise from other land-grant universities; communicate information on regular basis
-Critical mass of OSU personnel needed to support specialty crops
-Minor mentions – urban farming; organic agriculture; Paw Paw, maple syrup; soil health; cut flowers; high tunnels; beginning farmers; ag statistics; farm business/management; labor

3. Below are the summary of comments received when asked to name the top major research and education gaps that CFAES and Extension should address in the next few years.

-The primary area for improvement involved connecting OSU faculty, staff, and students with producers. Many people identified a lack of communication as a problem and others recommended more on-farm visits as a solution
-Production issues were the second most mentioned areas for improvement. These included pest control, disease management, production methods, and breeding and varietal trials of new cultivars as most important issues
-Multiple participants identified the need for more research on organic production including, pest and disease management, cropping systems, and connecting growers to markets
-The need to increase OSU staffing within departments and extension offices was identified, as was the need to connect growers and researchers to funding
-Marketing, especially helping new producers connect to markets, was noted as an area that needs more attention
-Several participants noted issues related to tree products including fruit, syrup, and carbon sequestration
-Various other areas of growing need for research and extension included farming in solar arrays, urban agriculture, and serving disadvantaged communities

Next Steps
The accumulated information from the phone interviews and listening session are being shared with CFAES administrators, Department Chairs, Specialists and Extension Educators in order to assess the needs, strengths and gaps in current interactions with specialty crop stakeholders. Action based on this input will be forthcoming to help address and improve current relations.

In the next few months, expect opportunities to have in-person meetings to discuss the findings with large blocks of specialty crop stakeholders, such as but not limited to, processing vegetable crops, fruit crops and other vegetable, nursery or floral crops.