Country Life



Hanging on a word: U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of refineries in renewable fuels case

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

The meaning of the word “extension” was at the heart of a dispute that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court over small refinery exemptions under the nation’s Renewable Fuel Program (RFP). The decision by the Supreme Court came as a bit of a surprise, as questions raised by the Justices during oral arguments on the case last Spring suggested that the Court would interpret “extension” differently than it did in its June 27 decision.

Congress established the RFP in 2005 to require domestic refineries to incorporate specified percentages of renewable fuels like ethanol into the fuels they produce. Recognizing that meeting RFP obligations could be more difficult and costly for small-scale refineries, Congress included an automatic two-year exemption from RFP obligations in the statute for small refineries producing less than 75,000 barrels per day. … Continue reading

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Labor concerns plaguing U.S. agriculture

Access to labor was a concern for Ohio’s food and agriculture sectors before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which brought more volatility to the food supply chain. Now, the challenges with labor have only gotten worse.

In April 2021, the federal government moved to bolster the available labor supply in the U.S. by increasing the number of available H-2B (non-agricultural) visas, in part to help with the challenges of labor agriculture and the nation’s food supply chain. In May, the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security published a joint temporary final rule making available an additional 22,000 H-2B temporary non-agricultural guest worker visas for fiscal year 2021 to employers who are likely to suffer irreparable harm without these additional workers. Of the supplemental visas, 6,000 are reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

DHS first announced the planned supplemental increase of 22,000 visas for the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker program on April 20, 2021.… Continue reading

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Ohio legislature passes solar and wind project siting and approval bill

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program 

It’s been a long and winding road to the Governor’s desk for Senate Bill 52, the controversial bill on siting and approval of large-scale wind and solar facilities in Ohio. The bill generated opposition and concern from the outset, requiring a major overhaul early on. A substitute bill passed the Senate on June 2 after six hearings and hundreds of witnesses testifying for and against the bill. It took the House five hearings to pass a further revised version of the bill, and the Senate agreed to those revisions the same day. Now the bill awaits Governor DeWine’s action. If the Governor signs the bill, it would become effective in 90 days.

S.B. 52 generates conflicting opinions on property rights and renewable energy. It would grant counties and townships a voice in the siting and approval of large-scale wind and solar projects, allowing a community to go so far as to reject facility applications and prohibit facilities in identified restricted areas of the county.… Continue reading

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State budget includes funding for ag priorities

By Matt Reese

In the early hours of July 1, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the $74 billion state budget for Fiscal Years 2022-2023. The balanced, 3,300-page budget did not require dipping into the State’s rainy-day funds in spite of the challenges of COVID-19. 

“This is a strong budget focused on our future. Budgets always reflect priorities. Policy is driven so often through budgets. What you invest in is what you value and this budget reflects what we value,” DeWine said. “To think we have done this while coming out of the worst health crisis in 100 years — we have come out with this strong budget. We made the tough choices early on. We cut spending we froze hiring and we did what we had to do.” 

There were a number of highlights for Ohio agriculture.

“From rural broadband and local meat processing capacity, to funding for H2Ohio, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio State, lawmakers and Governor DeWine heard from Ohio Farm Bureau and our members and responded to the issues laid out in our Ohio Agriculture and Rural Communities Action Plan with this new budget,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.… Continue reading

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Smaller summer harmful algal bloom predicted for western Lake Erie

NOAA and its research partners are forecasting that western Lake Erie will experience a smaller-than-average harmful algal bloom this summer. A relatively dry spring will lead to a repeat of last year’s mild bloom – this is the first time in more than a dozen years that mild blooms have occurred in consecutive summers. 

This year’s bloom is expected to measure 3, with a potential range of 2 to 4.5, out of 10 on the severity index — among the smaller blooms since 2011. Last year’s bloom was measured at a 3. The index is based on the bloom’s biomass — the amount of algae — during the peak 30 days of the bloom. An index above 5 indicates more severe blooms. Blooms over 7 are particularly severe, with extensive scum formation and coverage affecting the lake. The largest blooms occurred in 2011, with a severity index of 10, and 2015, exceeding the scale and measuring at a severity index of 10.5.  … Continue reading

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NWO Soil & Water Conservation Districts offer a Jr. Conservationist Program

The Northwest Ohio Soil & Water Conservation Districts are pleased to offer a free at-home “Do-It-Yourself” Jr. Conservationist summer program. The program’s hands-on activities and registration are online at www.lucasswcd.org/jrcc

The Jr. Conservationist in training will have fun learning about soil, water, plants, animals, community, and nature exploration by completing the required number of activities in each category and submitting photos of doing the activities or photos of the completed projects by Wed., Aug. 25. Photos will be sent to your county’s local SWCD contact, who will send you a welcome message once you register. 

Upon completion of the activities, participants will receive a certificate. A Jr. Conservationist t-shirt is available for $10 (unless sponsored for free by your local SWCD), it will be invoiced and available for pick up at your SWCD office or can be mailed to you for an additional $5.00 fee. The Wood Soil and Water Conservation District  is offering a t-shirt free of charge for those who complete the program in Wood County.  … Continue reading

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It’s time to talk noxious weeds law

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Poison hemlock and Canada thistle are making unwelcome appearances across Ohio, and that raises the need to talk about Ohio’s noxious weeds law. The law provides mechanisms for dealing with noxious weeds — those weeds that can cause harm to humans, animals, and ecosystems. Location matters when we talk about noxious weeds. That’s because Ohio law provides different procedures for dealing with noxious weeds depending upon where we find the weeds. The law addresses managing the weeds on Ohio’s noxious weeds list in these four locations:

  1. Along roadways and railroads
  2. Along partition fence rows
  3. On private land beyond the fence row
  4. On park lands.

Along roadways and railroads

The first window already closed for mandatory mowing of noxious weeds along county and township roads. Ohio law requires counties, townships, and municipalities to destroy all noxious weeds, brush, briers, burrs, and vines growing along roads and streets.… Continue reading

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Mental health training for rural Ohio and agribusiness

By Matt Reese

It is no secret: stress is a part of farm life. The unique challenges of a family farm can place huge burdens on farmers who often have little control of factors determining the success or failure of the operation that serves as their family heritage, livelihood and, often, their identity.

When times get tough, it is all too common that the unthinkable happens. There has been an alarming trend in America where rural populations have a significantly higher suicide rate than urban areas. Available information indicates the suicide rate among farmers is 3.5 times higher than the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association.

With these staggering statistics in mind, efforts are being made to change the conversation about mental health in rural Ohio. This, of course, includes the agribusiness community.

“The Ohio AgriBusiness Association recognizes that our member companies’ employees have deep, personal relationships with their customers that put them in a unique position when it comes to identifying and helping farmers struggling with mental health issues,” said Chris Henney, president and CEO for the Ohio AgriBusiness Association.… Continue reading

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Glyphosate court battles continue

By Leisa Boley Hellwarth

Let me start by saying I don’t have a dog in this hunt. A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington), however, is worthy of discussion. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the lower federal court in Hardeman v. Monsanto awarding $25 million in damages to a 70-year-old man who had used Roundup for three decades on his 56 acres in Sonoma County, California. The jury found that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in the plaintiff’s illness, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), and awarded $80 million in damages. The judge reduced the award to $25 million as he found the jury amount to be a violation of the Constitution. Because this case is the first one to reach a federal appeals court, the conclusions reached by the Ninth Circuit will likely affect other cases brought in that jurisdiction, where the plaintiffs are making similar arguments or bringing similar evidence.… Continue reading

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Growing Climate Solutions Act passes Senate

The U.S. Senate passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act.

The act has 55 co-sponsors, which makes it the first major piece of bipartisan legislation that would help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience through voluntary, market-driven programs. The Growing Climate Solutions Act passed by a vote of 92-8.

“We appreciate lawmakers putting aside their differences to work on bipartisan solutions to the challenges facing farmers and ranchers,” said Zippy Duvall, AFBF president. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act acknowledges the potential of climate-smart farming while ensuring farmers would be respected as partners who can build on our strong foundation of environmental stewardship.”

The Growing Climate Solutions Act is supported by more than 75 agriculture, food, forestry and environmental groups that are part of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA). The alliance advocates for responsible policies that build on voluntary, incentive-based programs, market-driven opportunities and science-based approaches.… Continue reading

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Farm Service Agency now accepting nominations for county committee members

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began accepting nominations for county committee members on June 15. Elections will occur in certain Local Administrative Areas (LAA) for these members who make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally. All nomination forms for the 2021 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 2, 2021.

“We need enthusiastic, diverse leaders to serve other agricultural producers locally on FSA County Committees,” said Mark VanHoose Acting State Executive Director for FSA in Ohio. “Now’s your time to step up and truly make an impact on how federal programs are administered at the local level to reach all producers fairly and equitably.”

VanHoose said agricultural producers who participate or cooperate in a USDA program, and reside in the LAA that is up for election this year, may be nominated for candidacy for the county committee. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation to FSA, even if they have not applied or received program benefits.Individuals may… Continue reading

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Practicing good body mechanics

By Dee Jepsen, Leah Schwinn, and Laura Akgerman

Spring and summer are busy times for farmers, gardeners, and landscapers. On a smaller scale, home-owners can experience the same fatigue that comes with long hours of yard work. Paying attention to how you do the work can help alleviate some of the aches and pains.

Good body mechanics are an essential part of decreasing your risk of injury and muscle fatigue and increasing your muscle stamina and productivity. The term body mechanics is a technical term to describe how the body moves through different positions throughout the day. Having proper body mechanics–or being mindful of moving your body in the optimal positions that it was designed for–helps to ensure decreased risk of injury and muscle fatigue. 

The spine is made up of stacked bones that form a natural S-shaped curve when viewed from the side. These curves are designed to absorb shock, maintain balance, allow flexibility of the body, and keep the joints and muscles around it strong. These… Continue reading

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Ohio dealing with cleanup from several storms last weekend

By Aaron WilsonTony NyeDennis Riethman, Ohio State University Extension

Though not in the heart of Tornado Alley, Ohio certainly deals with its fair share of severe weather. The season typically ramps up during May and June, but severe weather so far in 2021 has been rather benign.

This changed in a big way this past weekend, with numerous reports of damaging winds and large hail. According to the National Weather Service, two tornadoes (first of the year) hit western and southwestern Ohio on Friday, June 18. An EF2 tornado, with winds to 115 mph and up to 200 yards wide, struck just north of Ft. Recovery in Mercer County, causing extensive damage to barns, livestock, and fields. Another, weaker EF1 tornado moved from southwest Montgomery County into northeast Butler County.  

A large swath of straight-line winds brought down numerous trees and lodged corn and wheat, while hail as big as 2.50 inches in diameter (tennis ball) combined with wind to shred some young crops across southwest Ohio.… Continue reading

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Turkey harvest down 19%

The top 10 counties for wild turkey harvest during the 2021 spring hunting season include: Columbiana (454), Belmont (444), Meigs (437), Tuscarawas (417), Jefferson (408), Monroe (408), Ashtabula (401), Washington (398), Guernsey (378), and Muskingum (373). 

 “Wild turkey populations appear to have declined in much of the eastern U.S., including Ohio,” said Kendra Wecker, Division of Wildlife Chief. “The Division of Wildlife, in consultation with the Ohio Wildlife Council, other state wildlife agencies, and our non-government wildlife partners will be examining if further conservation measures are needed to stabilize and improve Ohio’s wild turkey population.” 

Adult male turkeys (gobblers) made up 82% of the total 2021 harvest with 11,976 turkeys taken. Hunters checked 2,397 juvenile male turkeys (jakes) represented 16% of the harvest, and 173 bearded female turkeys (hens) were checked. The Division of Wildlife sold and distributed 61,135 wild turkey permits during the spring hunting season. The 2021 spring turkey season limit was two bearded wild turkeys and hunters could harvest one bearded turkey per day using a shotgun or archery equipment.  … Continue reading

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Darke County native heading to the Olympics (again)

By Matt Reese

In another stunning come-from-behind victory, Ohio native and former Darke County Fair hog exhibitor Clayton Murphy won the 800 meter at the USA Olympic Team Trials in Oregon on June 21. With about 200 meters to go, Murphy kicked into another gear and blew by the highly touted field, setting the pace with the fastest time in the world so far in 2021 at 1:43.17.

Murphy won the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics. After the incredible success there, he struggled with injuries, including leading up to what would have been the 2020 Summer Olympics. The delay of the event to this year allowed for training and recovery time.  Most recently Murphy has been dealing with a hamstring injury, which has affected his training.

“It is a joy and an honor to go to the Olympic games and try to bring home another medal for us,” Murphy said in the press conference after his recent qualifying victory.… Continue reading

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Farming for Cleaner Water — Upper Scioto gets EPA funding

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the selection of “Farmer to Farmer” grants around the country totaling over $9.9 million to 11 organizations. This includes $853,866 to the American Farmland Trust for Farming for Cleaner Water in the Upper Scioto River Watershed. This includes areas north of Columbus and Marysville to Kenton, Marion and Bucyrus.

“Half of this money will go directly to farmers,” said Mark Wilson, Farming for Cleaner Water project manager. “To date we have secured $1.5 million and have our fingers crossed for a recently submitted $5.5 million USDA grant.”

The collaboration of a wide range of stakeholders and organizations across an entire watershed is vital to reducing nutrient pollution to our water. Farmers can play an important leadership role in these efforts when they get involved and engage with their State governments, farm organizations, conservation groups, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and community groups.

The Farmer to Farmer grant funding is available to develop innovative practices within farming communities, measure the results of those practices, and identify how the practices will be incorporated into farming operations.… Continue reading

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Ohio Department of Agriculture awarded $2 million grant through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has been awarded a $2 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) program grant from the United State Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to help administer Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio initiative across the Maumee River Watershed.

The grant project will run through October 2024 to support H2Ohio’s long-term work to improve water quality across the Maumee Watershed. After the initial signup period for H2Ohio agriculture best management practices, there was considerable interest from farmers in the 14 counties of the Maumee Watershed with over 1,800 farmers signing up and over 1 million acres of farmland enrolled. With such great interest in the H2Ohio program from farmers, ODA will use the funds to provide more assistance to Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the Maumee River Watershed to implement H2Ohio practices and to track program progress and completed practices. The USEPA Great Lakes National Program Office offered this grant opportunity to support ODA efforts toward meeting Ohio’s commitments to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.… Continue reading

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Tax proposal impacts tough on farms

Texas A&M University released a new study analyzing the potential impacts of two Democratic-led tax proposals introduced in the Senate. The first, the STEP Act, is led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and would repeal the “step up” from basis calculations while also instituting a capital gains tax at death.

The second, “For the 99.5 Percent Act” from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would significantly reduce the estate tax exemption. The study, produced at the requests of House and Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Members Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Rep. GT Thompson (R-Pa.), found that the step-up/capital gains proposal would cost the average farm over $726,000, while the estate tax proposal would cost the average farm in excess of $2.1 million — each of the proposals likely to impact over 97% of farm operations. Researchers with Texas A&M noted that the overwhelming majority of farms subject to these new tax liabilities would need to debt-fund their repayments.… Continue reading

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Agriculture cannot afford to be neutral on carbon

By Matt Reese

It is very clear the Biden Administration is putting emphasis on climate change and plans to move forward with, or without, the cooperation of U.S. agriculture.

“President Biden announced a major goal –— for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half over the next decade as compared to 2005 levels,” said Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program. “Several bills introduced in Congress recently could help agriculture fulfill that key role. The proposals offer incentives and assistance for farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to engage in carbon sequestration practices.”

The most noteworthy for agriculture is the Growing Climate Solutions Act. 

“The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee passed S. 1251. The bipartisan proposal led by sponsors Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) already has the backing of over half of the Senate as co-sponsors, including Ohio’s Sen.… Continue reading

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WOTUS re-do (again)

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it plans to revise the definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Specifically, the Department of Justice is filing a motion requesting remand of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), issued by the Trump administration to replace the Obama administration-finalized Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 

EPA said it plans to initiate a new rulemaking process, and anticipates developing a new rule that defines WOTUS “and is informed by a robust engagement process.” 

“The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is disappointed in the EPA’s announcement of its intention to revise the Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” said John Linder, NCGA president from Edison in Morrow County. “The current rule provided long-overdue certainty and clarity for farmers about their obligations under the Clean Water Act. Clean water is important to America’s corn farmers, and we are committed to protecting our environment and the communities where we live and work.… Continue reading

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