By Lisa Hamler-Fuggitt and Joe Hartzler
Ohio and its agricultural lands are now a focal point of a movement that aims to make the state's farm operations more sustainable and robust, while enabling them to deliver multiple food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystems services from the land.
A diverse coalition of state agricultural, environmental and food security leaders — under the banner of Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land — is committed to this initiative, which will come up with 21st-century solutions to 21st-century challenges.
So why is this challenge being undertaken now? Ohio and other parts of the Upper Midwest are faced with a growing demand for affordable and nutritious food, feed, fiber and energy, as well as clean water in healthy watersheds, thriving wildlife habitats and other, critical environmental amenities. However, this demand must be met with dwindling land resources and increasingly unpredictable weather. The state's agricultural producers need to transition to integrated landscape management of a resilient, climate-smart and multifunctional agriculture sector for our farms, communities and cities to continue to grow and prosper.
Climate-related disruptions to agricultural production in the state are projected to increase further over the next 25 years, leading to declines in crop and livestock production due to pollination problems, weeds, diseases, insect pests, extreme weather and other naturally induced stresses.
That uncertainty can only exacerbate Ohio's crisis of food security — the lack of reliable access to a sufficient amount of food for an active, healthy life — that now affects 1 in 6 families in the state. A more disturbing fact is that nearly 1 in 4 Ohio children face days without adequate, nutritious food.
These are challenges that must be addressed and met. With assistance from Solutions from the Land, a national collaboration led by an acclaimed group of active farm, forestry and conservation leaders, and by teaming up with The Ohio State University's Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), the Ohio Smart Agriculture initiative will link with and build upon the work of a number of multi-stakeholder partnerships that have been developing in the state. Together with our partners we are building a strategy and implementing an action plan that will make Ohio agriculture more sustainable and resilient to the challenges before us.
Our approach to land management will be based on a holistic and integrated plan of action. The landscape-wide strategy will help us identify, build and nurture the process that produces, markets and equitably distributes sustainably grown food, feed for livestock, fiber for textiles and paper products, energy feedstocks for low-carbon fuels that power our cars and trucks, and ecosystem services that both protect and enhance our environment.
We will go beyond the planning stage that is designed to "increase farm production," widening our focus to "get food on the table." Food and agriculture is the Ohio's largest industry and represents $93 billion of the state's economic output. More than 74,000 farms operate on 14 million acres. Ohio agriculture cites these huge resources in embracing the vision of helping to "feed the world." But through our Ohio Smart Agriculture initiative, we also recognize that this starts with feeding our neighbors in Ohio.
Hamler-Fuggitt is a co-chair of Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land, and has served as executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks since 2001. Hartzler is also a co-chair, is co-owner of the Hartzler Family Dairy in Wooster, and is a cofounder of the Agroecosystems Management Program at the Ohio State University.