The All-American Cranberry

The 2011 cranberry crop is expected to be one of the most plentiful on record, which means that whether you like them sauced, in a mold or straight from a can, there will be plenty of cranberries to enjoy at your Thanksgiving feast.

According to the Cranberry Marketing Committee, cranberries are one of three fruits native to North America — the others being blueberries and Concord grapes. Before they were staples on “Turkey-Day” tables, cranberries were popular with Native Americans, who ate the tart berries fresh, ground or mashed with cornmeal and baked into bread. They also mixed cranberries into pemmican, a winter-survival ration consisting of wild game and melted fat.

Not commonly grown in Ohio, cranberries favor the sandy soil of Wisconsin, which is the top cranberry-producing state in the U.S., followed by Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey and Washington.

Cranberries grow on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay between May and October. The beds, which are called bogs or marshes, are commonly harvested by flooding the bog or marsh under a foot or two of water. Specialized machines are then used to loosen the buoyant berries, which float to the surface to be gathered and sent for processing. The flooded bogs are then left to freeze to protect the vines during the winter. In the spring, the bogs are drained to allow the plants to be pollinated by bees.

In recent years, cranberries have become more than a holiday side dish. According to The Cranberry Institute, cranberries are a super food loaded with antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Here are a few facts about cranberries to share around the holiday table:
  • There are more than 100 varieties of cranberries
  • 20 percent of cranberry consumption in the U.S. happens during Thanksgiving week
  • U.S. cranberries are a major export to Europe, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Australia
  • American whalers and mariners carried cranberries onboard ships to prevent scurvy
  • The pilgrims, who were introduced to the cranberry by Native Americans, began making cranberry juice in 1683

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New Year Brings New Costs

Though farmers have a lot to be thankful for when celebrating next Thursday, they’ll be bracing for more business expenditures with the onset of the new year.

2012 promises to deliver what many have dubbed as “surging” agricultural input costs.

Agricultural inputs include:
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Labor
  • Pesticides/Chemicals
  • Fertilizers
  • Fuel
  • Interest expense/Debt
"Preliminary budgets show variable costs for rotation corn increasing by 16 percent, soybeans by 15 percent and wheat by 12 percent as compared with our January 2011 budgets," said Alan Miller, Purdue agricultural economist.

According to Miller and Ohio State Extension agricultural economist Barry Ward, seed prices will increase 5 percent to 10 percent, while pesticide prices will vary by product. There will also be ammonia price variability.

Because natural gas is a main component of anhydrous ammonia, when its production-cost fluctuates, so too, does the cost of producing anhydrous ammonia.

Illinois agricultural economist Gary Schnitkey explained the direct correlation between corn production and farm inputs, "As the price of [commodity market] corn goes up, production of corn and wheat also go up. There is more demand for nitrogen fertilizers, and fertilizer companies also have to take profits. If you’re watching the price of anhydrous and want to predict increases, look at what’s happening with corn prices. Keeping a close eye on that relationship could help corn growers hedge their prices.

The two main culprits of farmers’ tightened purse strings are farmland rental costs and fertilizer prices, according to the experts.

What can farmers do?
  • Request flexible lease agreements
  • Price 2012 fertilizer now, not during the spring
  • Lock in profit margins
  • Work toward being low-cost producers on a cost-per-bushel-produced basis
An AgWeb survey invites farmers to share their previous and projected input costs for further researcher analysis. Ohio State's Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics has a series of free farm management enterprise budgets that can be downloaded.

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Agriculture Industry Can Be Thankful

For many, November is the month to celebrate those things for which you are most thankful for throughout the past year. Now, farmers have a bit more to be thankful for because President Obama signed three long-awaited free trade agreements (FTA) among the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama October 21.

“For America’s farmers, the trade agreements are an opportunity to strengthen U.S. agriculture,” says Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary. “Farm exports help support more than 1 million American jobs. At this time next year, U.S. agricultural exports will be on track to reach new highs, leading to a trade surplus of more than $42 billion, eight times greater than five years ago.”

When implemented, it is estimated that the South Korea FTA will increase $1.9 billion in U.S. agriculture exports and eliminate two-thirds of its tariffs against U.S. agriculture products; the Colombia FTA will raise $370 million in agriculture exports and eliminate 80 percent of its tariffs; the Panama FTA will raise $46 million in agriculture exports and eliminate 50 percent of it tariffs.

How will these trade agreements specifically benefit crop farmers? An Ohio’s Country Journal article reports the following:

  • Corn: U.S. corn producers gain immediate access to the Colombian market for 2.1 million metric tons of corn at 0 percent duty-free
  • Wheat: Primary market for U.S. wheat in South America
  • Soybeans: Elimination of variable tariffs on soybean imports, which has imposed tariffs as much as 150 percent; Phases out the 24 percent tariff for refined soybean oil throughout the next five years
South Korea
  • Corn: Third main U.S. corn market and a potentially important market for distillers grains; Imports of U.S. corn for feed enter duty-free
  • Soybeans: Soybeans for use in cooking oil and livestock feed enter duty-free; The current tariff on soybeans imported for food uses like tofu and soymilk will be eliminated
  • Corn: Decreases America’s duty charge to level the playing field
  • Soybeans: 0 percent tariff treatment for soybeans, soybean meal and crude soybean oil will be locked immediately upon implementation; The 20 percent tariff on refined soybean oil will be phased out in 15 years

This legislation provides Ohio grain, in turn, Ohio farmers, with significant market export opportunities. Crop farmers will be able to more effectively compete on the international trade market and that is definitely something that we can be thankful for.

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Plight of the Honeybee

Ohioans have a love/hate relationship with bees. We love the delicious honey that they produce, but we’re also quick to grab a can of pesticide when they come buzzing around our backyard barbecues. However, to Ohio’s farmers, bees are an essential component to successfully growing many of the state’s crops that require or benefit from bee pollination; including apples, grapes and pumpkins.

Unfortunately, bees aren’t what they used to be. According to the article "Where are all the bees?" posted at ourohio’s website, nearly half of North America’s honeybee colonies have vanished in the past 25 years, a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when all the adult bees in a hive suddenly die.

There are several theories as to why CCD happens — stress on the hive resulting from beekeepers transporting bees long distances for pollination purposes, inbreeding and external parasites — but there is no conclusive evidence.

“Today’s bees are not as vibrant and resilient as they once were,” said James Tew, an associate professor of apiculture at The Ohio State University and the coordinator of the university’s Wooster Bee laboratory, in a recent Edible Columbus article. “Bees could have a hive behind your barn and the hive lived for years, and you never had to do anything with them. Today, bees need us. They have become more like tomato plants, having to be replaced every year.”

In addition to CCD, there’s speculation that Ohio’s erratic weather could be playing a role in the state’s declining bee population and with meteorologists predicting a particularly cold winter ahead, the outlook for bees could be bleak.

During the winter, bees cluster together around their queen to stay warm within their hive. They also consume up to 30 pounds of honey during the winter months to help produce body heat, which is why Tew says a productive nectar and pollen season in the fall is crucial to bee longevity.

“They can recover their strength and regain their stamina before we go through another winter,” said Tew.

Want to help bees and crops thrive in Ohio? Here are a few recommendations from bee expert James Tew:

  • Be tolerant of bees and try to live with them.
  • Don’t spray more pesticides than necessary.
  • Plant flowering plants and trees so bees have something to eat. Clover and dandelions are popular with bees in the summertime.
  • Provide a home for leafcutter bees, which pollinate but rarely sting. You can make a nest box by drilling about 50 2-to-3-inch deep holes in a hardwood block and hang it in a tree or from a garden shed.
  • Consider keeping bees. There are numerous beekeeping organizations throughout the state that offer classes about beekeeping, including the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Take a class this winter to have your hive up and buzzing for springtime pollination!

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