Category Archives: Ohio

Protecting Farmland by the Acre—and the Inch—in the Midwest: An Interview with Mike Baise, Midwest Director, American Farmland Trust

What first brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and what has kept you engaged in your first year with the organization?

I grew up on a grain and livestock farm in central Illinois and worked in agriculture in Illinois and Indiana most of my professional career. Shortly after graduate school, I began working at the Illinois Department of Agriculture where they had programs involving farmland protection and soil conservation. I became aware of AFT through the Department in the early 1980’s and respected their work and found it appealing. I also viewed agricultural policy as being driven more and more by environmental concerns and I thought of AFT as being a bridge between the agricultural and environmental communities. I still think that is an important function of the organization and I am interested in being a part of that effort.

I think most folks who have heard of American Farmland Trust immediately think about preserving acres of farmland. If you’ve ever flown over or driven through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, you know there are a lot of acres of farmland also with prime soils. I’ve thought about AFT’s work and approaches to promote the AFT brand in the Midwest and the best visual idea I’ve come up with is preserving both precious acres of farmland and precious inches of topsoil.

What would you say was one of your favorite or fondest memories from the past year?

Early in the year, I think it was probably the first weekend in February, John Hardin, who is on AFT’s board of directors and a Purdue Trustee, asked me if I wanted to attend the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry with him. It’s a big event in Indiana agriculture and anybody that’s anybody in Indiana agriculture attends it. I happily went along and was delighted to find out that the luncheon speaker was a guy named Howard Buffet. Howard is the son of financier Warren Buffet and also is an Illinois farmer and has a charitable foundation.  His message that day struck me as being perfect for the Purdue alumni audience. It was all about food security, not just U.S. food security, but global food security and the importance of soils and soil health and tillage systems and cover crops. It was a fascinating speech and I was really jazzed by his remarks.

Also later that same month, I had an opportunity to attend a meeting at Purdue Research Farm about cover crops, the growing crops you put on the land after the corn and soybeans are harvested. They’re not commodity crops; they’re considered something that prevents soil erosion and adds to organic matter and other wonderful things that help with the health and the conditioning of the soil.

I would say those two events probably did more than anything else to shape my thinking about what I might be able to do with AFT in Indiana and Illinois.

In Illinois, AFT is working with partners to host Lady Landowners Learning Circles. Could you talk a bit about that project?

For many years I worked for the Indiana Farm Bureau, an organization that represents the interests of agriculture, farmers and farm families. One thing I observed was that as farm couples age, typically women live longer than men. After they become widows, women are frequently in charge of a very valuable asset, meaning the farmland, and they may or may not have been engaged in dealing with government programs or some of the institutions that impact the farmland itself. I thought there’s an opportunity here, a niche for American Farmland Trust to play in helping educate and empower women who own or control the land. Through conversations with my new AFT colleague, Anne Sorensen, I found that we both had that same thinking in common. So we are making the case those women landowners have a lot of influence on who rents the land and whether or not conservation will be applied to the land.

My father and mother were a team in their farming career. Their goal in life was to buy a farm, own their own land and raise and educate their two sons. And they were successful in that both of their sons have college educations and they bought and paid for a modest farm in west central Illinois.  My dad passed away in 1993. My mother, as a widowed land owner, was fortunate in that she had a son as her tenant. But a lot of other women in that same circumstance don’t have a son or a daughter or that trusted tenant. There’s this challenge of women having enough information and knowledge to be able to deal with their tenants in an empowered way. When your partner passes on, there’s the immediate shock of the loss and then there’s the secondary shock of, “Well, what am I going to do? How am I going to manage? How am I going to take care of this asset that we spent our entire lives building?” They need information and confidence to make informed decisions and there could be a role for a national organization like AFT.

What do you think are the most important steps for AFT in the Midwest in the coming year?

First, I would say the cultivation of women landowners. Accelerating of adoption of cover crops would be important. Also, I had a recent and interesting phone call with the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District. They had been contacted by the Urbana- Champaign Sanitary District, the water treatment utility. They are really interested in exploring work with farmers to reduce phosphorus and nitrates in surface waters so that they might avoid having to build a large and expensive addition to their water treatment plant. Their thinking parallels our Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading pilot in the states of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

If other Illinois municipalities were to decide to support on-farm conservation to address surface water nutrient loading that could be a significant new source of conservation funding. If a city like Chicago were to support conservation practices being applied over land in the Illinois River Valley that would be a very big deal. If we can be successful in the Ohio River Basin and have a couple good examples to go to big municipalities like Chicago, maybe we can sell them on a way of cleaning up the water in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.


About the Author: Mike Baise joined American Farmland Trust in January 2012 as the Midwest Director. Baise’s primary responsibilities include managing projects that help farmers improve water quality, engaging stakeholders to develop policy, and finding practical solutions that result in viable farms and an improved environment.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Setting the Course for Improved Water Quality: Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana Sign Groundbreaking Agreement to Protect Water and Support Farmers

Nestled on the north bank of the Ohio River, Cincinnati is a stone’s throw from the bluegrass of Kentucky and Indiana’s horizon of corn and soybean. This month, the city served as the perfect backdrop for representatives from all three states to sign a historic agreement that will set the tone for the future of water quality across the region.

Ohio River

The groundbreaking agreement launches interstate water quality pilot trades in the Ohio River Basin, a program aimed to reduce the release of excess nutrients running off of farm fields into the network of waterways leading into the Ohio River, the largest tributary of the Mississippi River. The project, led by Electric Power Research Institute with assistance from American Farmland Trust, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission, Hunton & Williams LLP, Kieser & Associates, LLC, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, marks the first time three states have come together to develop or implement an interstate trading program where all states operate under the same rules and a water quality credit generated in one state can be applied in another.

What is Water Quality Trading?

The goal of water quality trading is to improve the health of water sources, in this case the Ohio River and its tributaries, by reducing the excess nutrients leaving cities, factories and farms. It is an innovative market-based approach to reduce the release of excess nutrients from non-point sources – such as farm fields – into waterways. Water quality trading is:

  • Completely voluntary;
  • A source of revenue for farmers who can make further reductions in nutrients through planned conservation practices; and
  • A cost-effective alternative for regulated utilities, wastewater treatment plants and industries to meet environmental regulations by buying nutrient reduction credits from farmers.
A field tour of conservation practices on Schroer Farm in Patriot, Ind., showed possible credit-generation practices in action.

A field tour of conservation practices on Schroer Farm in Patriot, Ind., showed possible credit-generation practices in action.

By offering a financial incentive for farmers in the Ohio River Basin to implement conservation practices while at the same time improving water quality and saving money, water quality trading is a win-win for all involved. (Though geared toward similar AFT work in the Chesapeake Bay, our video “Nutrient Trading in Maryland” helps to highlight the pilot program now being established in the Ohio River Basin.)

A Voice for Farmers. A Vision for the Future

American Farmland Trust’s role in the project is to ensure that the water quality trading program is developed in a way that allows for full participation of farmers. Not only will these practices improve the health of the entire river basin, but they will help keep farmers on the land and actively farming by adding a new source of income to their operations – the sale of nutrient reduction credit to utility companies, wastewater treatment plants and other regulated point sources.

The plan will serve as the basis for the three states to implement pilot trades beginning in 2012 through 2015. Although some states have adopted trading policies or rules to govern trading within their jurisdictions, this is the first time that several states have come together to develop or implement an interstate trading program where all states operate under the same rules and a water quality

Representatives from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio sign the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Plan

Representatives from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio sign the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Plan credit generated in one state can be applied in another.

After three years of hard work, we’re just getting started. We plan to have the first pilot trades in place before the end of 2012 with the remainder implemented in 2013-2014. The water quality pilot trades will take place in up to 16 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and are expected to engage at least three power plants and up to 30 farms implementing conservation practices on up to 20,000 acres. Reduction of nutrients running from farm fields into waterways is expected to total approximately 45,000 pounds of nitrogen and 15,000 pounds of phosphorus annually.

At full-scale, the project could include up to eight states in the Ohio River Basin and would potentially create credit markets for 46 power plants, thousands of wastewater facilities and other industries, and approximately 230,000 farmers. There is much work left ahead in order to get there, but with the signatures transcribed on a balmy August day in Cincinnati, we have taken a critical giant leap in the right direction.


About the Author: Ann Sorensen, Ph.D. is Director of Research at American Farmland Trust. She currently sits on the EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Midwest: A Year of Progress

Another year has passed, and with it a year of exciting new projects and partnerships to protect the priceless farmland resources of the Midwest. Farmers throughout the region are finding ways to be better stewards of the land, while farmers and citizens alike are fighting for policies and programs that keep farmland in farming even with state budget issues and shifting farm ownership demographics looming.

Just as farmers glance back at the rows they’ve just planted or harvested as they continue moving forward, I wanted to take this chance to share with you some of the successes we’ve had over the past year:

Farm and farm fields in the MidwestFinding New Ways to Help Farmers and the Environment Thrive

In the Upper Salt Fork watershed in central Illinois, our work with farmers to reduce fertilizer and soil runoff into the Mississippi River basin has so far resulted in new conservation practices on nearly 4,000 acres of the 27,000-acre watershed. In Lake Erie, where a record toxic algal bloom spread, adding to the “dead zone” threatening the area’s $10 billion annual tourism industry, we’re working with farmers to reduce phosphorus runoff, which contributes to the problem. And in the Ohio River Basin, we’re starting to recruit farmers to participate in pilot trades that could lead to the nation’s largest water quality trading program.

Keeping Farms in Farming While Safely Controlling Pests

Working with the Environmental Protection Agency, we have five projects underway to help fruit and vegetable farmers in the Midwest control insects, weeds, plant diseases and other pests while protecting the environment and remaining profitable. In Michigan, we’re helping cherry growers manage pesky flies, while in Minnesota we’ve helped strawberry, pumpkin and potato growers control weeds without chemicals.

Bringing Farm Owners and Operators Together

Currently, nearly 90 percent of farm owners are not farm operators, with absentee landlords owning 44 percent of the nation’s farmland. Along with key partners in Iowa, we launched a project to learn about the impacts of absentee landowners, the adoption of conservation practices on leased land and how to help owners and operators discuss conservation challenges.

Saving Farmland Protection in Wisconsin

Just two years ago, we led the drive to pass Wisconsin’s Working Lands Initiative and create a new Farmland Preservation Program, much needed in a pivotal farm state losing its fertile farmland to development. But when Governor Scott Walker put promised funds for the program on hold and called for eliminating it entirely, American Farmland Trust mobilized farmers, activists and citizens. The state legislature listened, keeping the program intact and restoring funds for already approved projects.

Women: America’s Emerging Agricultural Leaders

Due to the age of many farmers, within 20 years about 70 percent of farmland will change hands, and women may own up to 75 percent of it. While possessing a strong conservation ethic, many women are unsure of how to take action to protect and conserve their land. We’ve started the planning process to hold women-only meetings to educate women who own farmland in the Midwest, helping to address such barriers.

A Look Ahead

For more than 25 years, we have been working to protect farmland through preservation and conservation efforts throughout the Midwest. In the breadbasket of the nation, we know we can’t afford to take these priceless resources for granted. That’s why we will continue our work throughout the Midwest in the coming year and beyond.


About the Author: Ann Sorensen, Ph.D. is Director of Research at American Farmland Trust. She currently sits on the EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Reconnecting Farmers and Consumers Makes Dollars and Sense

Americans are hungry for local food. With rising consumer interest in “buying local,” local and regional food systems are emerging to help farmers meet the demand. As the New England Governors Conference identified:

Growing demand for local food … fuels exciting new market opportunities in agriculture. Direct-to-consumer sales – through farmers markets, roadside stands, farm restaurants, and pick-your own operations – have skyrocketed.

The growing interest in locally grown is impacting other aspects of our food production. According to the governors’ report, the direct-to-consumer connection is also sparking interest in land conservation and farmland protection.

Reconnecting the food system also makes economic sense. A recent report, Ohio’s Food Systems – Farms at the Heart of It All, by Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center finds that the clusters of community-based food businesses forming across Ohio create both jobs and collaborative groups of new business owners. At the same time, it questions why  local and regional food—a major industry in the state—have been eroding despite rising personal income and increased food consumption. In fact, the steadiest growth in Ohio’s farm economy—at about five percent annually—involves direct food sales from farmers to consumers. According to Meter, “If this were a single product, it would count as the 13th-ranked farm commodity.”

Food is an important industry in the Buckeye state. Ohioans purchase $29 billion of food per year, and the food industry accounts for 13 percent of the state’s economic activity. According to Meter, state policies that focus on distant markets rather than local consumers are detrimental to the economy—resulting in a $30 billion economic outflow each year, more than four times the $7 billion of total farm production in the state.

Recapturing these dollars would create significant economic opportunities, especially in Ohio where personal income increased 70 percent and food consumption increased 32 percent over the past 40 years. In recent years, direct sales from farmers to consumers rose significantly: 45 percent in Ohio (just shy of the 49 percent national average). The value of those sales rose 70 percent in the state. While the total sales figures remain small, farmer-to-consumer sales are one of the fastest growing sectors of the food economy, offering valuable opportunities to keep farmland in farming, especially in areas where farmers have close access to consumers. Indeed, a report on Northeast Ohio proposes that a 25 percent shift to local products could result in the creation of more than 27,000 jobs!

In Ohio, as in other parts of the country, local and regional food systems face many obstacles when scaling up to meet consumer demand, especially from institutional and other large market outlets. Public and private investment in infrastructure like food hubs (as pointed to by the USDA), processing facilities and distribution channels is needed to foster this growth and incentivize farmers to expand production to meet demand. The time is ripe for collaboration and strategic partnerships that develop the proper infrastructure to better connect farmers and consumers. It’s something that just makes sense.



About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter