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Progress: Merger of farmers’ cooperatives looms

By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER
The merger of two farmers’ cooperatives, and approval by Congress of a federal farm bill are among the top developments for regional farmers this year.
The merger of Blanchard Valley Farmers Cooperative and Deshler Farmers Elevator Co. was approved by members’ vote in July.
The new company, Legacy Farmers Cooperative, will begin operations on Saturday.
About 79 percent of Blanchard Valley Farmers votes favored the merger, while about 69 percent of the Deshler Farmers members approved the plan. The merger required 60 percent approval by each cooperative’s members who cast ballots.
The new company will be directed by a 15-member board of directors, with nine from Blanchard Valley Farmers and six from Deshler Farmers. In 2016, the board will downsize to 12 members and in 2017 to nine members.
Mark Sunderman, president and chief executive officer of Deshler Farmers, will have the same post with the merged cooperative.
Mike Tobe, assistant general manager and agronomy division manager at Blanchard Valley Farmers, will be vice president and agronomy manager.
Jerry Silveus, general manager of Blanchard Valley Farmers, retired at year-end 2013. He had been with the cooperative since 1990.
Merger talks began in 2012 after talks between Blanchard Valley Farmers and Luckey Farmers, Woodville, were discontinued without a vote.
Blanchard Valley Farmers has 12 branches operating in Hancock, Putnam and Seneca counties. It is based in Findlay.
It has 134 employees and had sales of more than $335 million in 2012.
Deshler Farmers has three Henry County branches. It has 31 employees and had sales of more than $76 million in 2012.
The new cooperative will be based in Findlay.
Farm bill
After years of setbacks, Congress this month approved legislation commonly referred to as the “farm bill,” although a majority of the bill funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “food stamps” program.
The nearly $100 billion-a-year bill was signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7 during a ceremony in Michigan, the home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.
The bill will provide a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions, according to information from the Associated Press.
It also will provide subsidies for rural communities and environmentally-sensitive land.
But the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program, which aids one in seven Americans. The bill would cut food stamp spending by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent of the $80 billion annual program.
The $800 million savings in the food stamp program would come from cracking down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don’t need. That heating assistance, sometimes as low as $1 per person, triggers higher food stamp benefits, and some critics see that practice as circumventing the law. The compromise bill will require states to give individual recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.
Partisan disagreements stalled the farm bill for more than two years, but conservatives were eventually outnumbered as the Democratic Senate, the White House and a still-powerful bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers pushed to get the bill done.
Obama praised the bill for getting rid of controversial subsidies known as direct payments, which were paid to landowners whether they farm or not. Most of that program’s $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically-defensible subsidies that will kick in when a farmer has losses, according to Associated Press reports.
In place of the direct payments, farmers of major row crops — mostly corn, soybeans, wheat and rice — will now be able to choose between subsidies that pay out when revenue drops or when prices drop. Cotton and dairy supports were overhauled to similarly pay out when farmers have losses.
Those programs may kick in sooner than expected as some crop prices have started to drop in recent months.
The bill is projected to save around $1.65 billion annually overall. But critics said that under the new insurance-style programs, those savings could disappear if the weather or the market doesn’t cooperate.
The bill places a stricter cap on the overall amount of money an individual farmer can receive — $125,000 in a year. Some programs were previously unrestricted.
The bill also would provide assistance for rural Internet services and boost organic agriculture.
The Farm Service Agency is responsible handling provisions of the legislation.
Crops
Farmers saw a variety of results last year with the region’s three major crops — corn, soybeans and wheat.
Ed Lentz, Hancock County’s Ohio State University Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources, said there were reports of corn yields exceeding 200 bushels an acre last fall.
He “cautiously” estimated the average Hancock County yield at about 170 bushels per acre.
Ideal spring planting conditions, dry but with sufficient moisture, allowed the corn plants’ root systems to develop well. During the pollination period, temperatures were not too high, he said.
The developed root system allowed the corn plants to survive the August heat, Lentz said, and there were no significant disease or insect problems.
But, two weather events did cause some problems for last year’s crop, he said.
In mid-June, high winds left some corn stalks leaning, mainly in northwestern Hancock County. Most stalks were able to recover, he said, although some broke near the ear.
Then in early July, repeated rains came. Even without flooding conditions, standing water was a problem in some fields because roots need oxygen to thrive, he said.
Lentz said it has been hard to determine a county yield average, or a range of yields, because officials are not hearing from farmers with lower corn yields.
His estimate of about 170 bushels per acre would not quite match the Hancock County record of more than 170 bushels an acre recorded in 2011.
Farmers were not as happy about the soybean yields last year, Lentz said, because of the July rains and little August moisture, when beans need water to develop.
The repeated rains in July saturated the ground, he said, and soybeans do not like standing water, as nitrogen cannot develop in the plant. It was especially a problem in fields with poor drainage, he said.
Average soybean yields were in the mid-40s in terms of bushels per acre.
Aphids in soybeans were not severe last year, Lentz said. Asian beetles in the soybean fields ate the aphids, which left a large Asian beetle population seeking a place to winter.
The July rains delayed the winter wheat harvest, but the average Hancock County yield of 65 bushels per acre matched the 2012 figure, according to Lentz.
A windstorm in July, which downed trees and power lines, caused some “shattering” of wheat heads. That left grain on the ground, which is considered a pre-harvest loss.
The late wheat harvest drastically reduced the number of farmers who “double-crop” soybeans, planting late soybeans in the harvested wheat fields.
Farm Bureau
Gary Wilson, retired Ohio State University Extension agent, was elected president of the Hancock County Farm Bureau last year. He replaced Kenny Smith.
2014 Hall of Fame
The ninth year of inductions into the Hancock County Agricultural Hall of Fame will be done in March.
There will be up to four inductees, or couples, in the class. Recipients will be named at the 27th annual Farmer’s Share Breakfast on March 13 in Brugeman Lodge at Riverbend Recreation Area.
Awards will be presented in two categories: production/breeder and agricultural-related.
The program was developed by the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance’s Agri-business Committee to “recognize and honor outstanding contributions to agriculture by Hancock County people,” according to the application letter.
Recipients will be pictured on a plaque displayed at the Hancock County Agricultural Service Center on Hancock County 140. The awards may also be displayed during special county events such as the county fair.
The eighth class in 2013 included: Keith Jackson of Blanchard Township; Harold E. and Deloros M. VonStein of Eagle Township; and posthumously, Lehr J. Reese and Lynn B. Stacy.
Maurer: 419-427-8420
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