Matt Reese interviewed presidents Patrick Knouff (OSA) from Shelby County and Ben Klick (Ohio Corn & Wheat) from Stark County at the Grain Farmers Symposium. Photo by Jessi Woodworth, Ohio Corn & Wheat.

Ohio grain farmer leadership looking forward to 2023

By Matt Reese

In December, the Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium offered the chance for farmers from around the state to learn about the latest agricultural issues impacting their operations. It also gave attendees a chance to hear from the leadership of the Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) and the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association. 

Presidents Ben Klick (Ohio Corn & Wheat) from Stark County and Patrick Knouff (OSA) from Shelby County took a look back at 2022 and shared insights about where their organizations are headed in 2023. Of course, when farmers get together, they talk about the weather and harvest.

“Planting in 2022 was a nightmare, to be honest. It was extremely wet early, we got some crops in, got wet again, then we dried out for our area. There have been some discussions about some of the issues we’ve seen with vomitoxin in our area,” Knouff said. “I will say I was happy with my yields, but when I look back at where I was at early in the season, I probably should be really happy. The hybrids and the varieties of soybeans that we are raising today probably 10 years ago couldn’t have handled the stress that they went through this year, so we do appreciate all of the genetic advancements that have occurred in these seed lines.”

The dry weather is becoming a concern in western Ohio.

“The rain we got right around Thanksgiving, that was the first substantial rain event since the end of July, so we had a really long stretch and we are extremely dry. We are definitely hoping for replenishing moisture over the course of the winter so we’re not waiting until next spring for a replenishing rain right when we want to be in the field,” Knouff said. “We average, I think, around 36 inches of rain over the course of a year and we are not too far away from that currently, which is crazy for as dry as we’ve been. It shows that we got a lot of rain in the spring.” 

In northeastern Ohio, Klick saw dry weather set in even earlier in the season.

“On the U.S. Drought Monitor, we’ve been in a moderate drought since the middle of June,” Klick said. “We had a couple wet spells but we got done planting timely and things went in nice. Then it went dry. The last time we were even anywhere close to that dry was 2012. I was in high school and I remember cutting a lot of 20- to 30-bushel soybeans and a lot of 140-bushel corn. The corn seemed to take the heat stress and the dryness a lot better this year. Soybeans were average so I’m not going to complain. We were watching curled, dry, brown corn all summer and we were getting a little scared, but things turned out OK.  

“We’re dry, but I’m close enough to Lake Erie that I usually get enough lake effect, whether it’s snow or rain, so I’m not worried about it yet. I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to regain some moisture. The way our northeast Ohio winters have been, it seems like we’ll be into mud season before too long.” 

Beyond watching the weather, Klick said ethanol has been, and will continue to be, an area of focus for Ohio Corn & Wheat.

“Like always, one of our top priorities is going to be ethanol policy. We have a the 118th Congress coming in here in the beginning of 2023, so the Next Generation Fuels Act is going to be our top priority as we go forward,” he said. “Hopefully we get that bill reintroduced into this new Congress and get our boots on the ground in D.C. and get some new legislators educated on what we’re doing and what we want to get done. That’ll get the ball rolling for 2023.”

The Next Generation Fuels Act is designed to help transition gasoline and vehicles to low-carbon, higher octane fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet future needs of more advanced vehicles by taking advantage of the benefits of higher ethanol blends.

“It is going to give us better access to higher ethanol fuel blends across the board,” Klick said. “For example, Sheetz gas stations are pretty prominent northeast Ohio. We had a Governor DeWine ruling on year-round E15 in the state of Ohio, which allowed a company like Sheetz to keep that Unleaded 88 or E15 on the board year-round. They just did a big promotion here for Thanksgiving with $1.99 a gallon Unleaded 88. That was a hit. The Cleveland news stations posted it. All the big cities and news stations posted and got a lot of talk and publicity about it. Now a lot of consumers are talking about the benefits of it. Not only is it more cost effective, but obviously higher ethanol blends are better for corn farmers, better for the environment and we get some more gallons of ethanol in the average consumer’s gas tank.”

For Knouff and OSA, a highlight in 2022 was the reinstatement of the ability to legally use Enlist after a sudden EPA ban of use of the herbicide in 134 counties around the country, including several southern Ohio counties. 

“Without that work, as quickly as this moved, we would not have been able to have Enlist in-season for those farmers. At 35% of the soybean usage today, that would have been huge for weed control in any of those affected counties,” Knouff said. “Those farmers had to start thinking, ‘How am I going to control weeds?’ At the time of the ban, most people already had their products bought and already had their plan in place for the season. It really was stressful to think about what to do to take care of weed pressure. Thanks to all of the industry working to get it corrected, we were able to continue on with the plans and investments we’d already made. When you think about not being able to use a product that you bought, and now you’re going to have to go buy more products, it would have been a financial disaster for a lot of soybean farmers.”

In a similar situation, atrazine is a perpetual target of increased regulation. 

“The atrazine scares me as well because, if we lose it, I don’t know what we incorporate into our programs to help with the weed control that it brings to the to the table,” Knouff said. “I think we’ve proven scientifically that it is safe and effective to be used as we’ve been using it. As we go along, we are going to see more of those pressures from outside our industry trying to control what we do. Both of our organizations work very closely on trying to keep that freedom to operate a piece of the puzzle for farmers.”

The atrazine issue has obviously been important for Ohio Corn & Wheat as well.

“We seem to always have something we have to fight for the right to do, so just keeping ourselves diligent keeping on top of things and making sure that we’re ready to fight for our growers when it comes to these things is important,” Klick said. 

These types of from-the-farm stories Ohio’s farmer leaders bring to Columbus carry weight with lawmakers, Knouff said. “We try to impress upon on congressional members from our state what we’re seeing and what’s going on in Ohio. One in eight jobs in Ohio are tied to agriculture in some fashion and it is important to keep them engaged, especially with the H2Ohio programs looking to expand — we’re going to need them on board with that and some of the other programs we’ve worked on,” Knouff said. “There is the new and beginning farmers tax credit, as well as the Ag-LINK program, that help some beginning farmers get started by giving them some funding options as we see these interest rates rise. Ohio State University is trying to keep funding for their research too.

We get down and dirty about what’s going on in the state. I love to go down to the Statehouse and I think everybody down there really appreciates us coming in and talking to them about our situations. There are just not that many farmers involved at the Statehouse anymore, maybe four or five of our Ohio General Assembly may be farmers or involved in agriculture. We really have to do a good job of educating the rest so they understand how important agriculture is.” 

The same holds true in Washington, D.C., Klick said.

“Whether we’re in D.C. or in the Statehouse we are educating the staffers and the actual members of Congress. It is important to get that educational piece out there. Last year in a congressional office, we walked in and the young staffer says, ‘I just love sweet corn. I’m so happy you guys are here.’ That is when we knew we had some work to do. As we walk into these meetings, we are just telling our back story so they know what we’re here for. They love to hear our stories. They love the family aspect of our farms and the generational aspect of what we do. We let them know we’re caring for the land, the water, the soil, the whole nine yards. They love to hear that and hear our message,” Klick said. “I always joke with my friends back home about how we’re not the farmers from the old historic picture with the straw hat and the pitchfork. We’re farmers in suits and ties. We have technology, we have off-farm jobs, we’re involved on school boards — we’re not just out in the barn shoveling manure all day. We are modern day agriculturalists and producers. Taking that message to D.C. and Columbus is a big part of it too.”

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