Ohio Agriculture Today
By L. L. RUMMELL*
Ohio, the Gateway State--where the industrial East meets the
agricultural West--is still a giant among the farm states. Although
only thirty-fifth in size, still it ranks usually about eighth or ninth
in income from the sale of the products of its farms. Add to the
farm income the non-farm income of those who farm part time,
and the total income of Ohio farmers would be even higher, surely
above that of those states which do not have the combination of
agriculture and industry found in the Buckeye State.
This is a highly diversified state in its sources of farm income.
Not a great wheat state like Kansas, yet Ohio ends the year with
more than forty million bushels and has only six other states ahead
of her. Likewise, we cannot boast of the tall corn of Iowa, but still
in the last two years Ohio has surpassed the great corn state in acre
yields (sixty-two and sixty bushels, respectively), and one can name
but four other states that grow more corn and raise more hogs.
Weather was unusually favorable in 1954 and again in 1955 in
Ohio, with the result that adequate rainfall, combined with our
modern intelligence in cultivation and the use of hybrids, fertilizers,
crop rotations, and the like, brought the highest yield of corn per
acre in the United States.
Wisconsin boasts of her Holsteins and other dairy cows, and
rightly so. Yet one can name but four other states--New York,
California, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota--with greater dairy income
than Ohio has. This dairy business means twenty-two percent of the
* This article, like the one preceding it, "Ohio Agriculture in History," was read
at a session on "Agriculture in Ohio" during the seventy-first annual meeting of the
Ohio Historical Society on April 28, 1956.
L. L. Rummell is dean of the college of agriculture at Ohio State University and
director of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station at Wooster.
260 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
billion-dollar annual Buckeye income from farm products. Hogs
bring in about twenty-one percent, and poultry about eleven percent.
We admit that Ohio does not take a top position among the
states in the production of any one major farm product. We do
have more greenhouses, and some years we rate at the top in some
minor products like clover seed or honey. Yet run the gamut of the
principal farm crops--corn, wheat, soybeans, hay--the dairy bus-
iness, meat animals, poultry and eggs, and add the specialized
crops--tobacco, canning crops, sugar beets, fruits, vegetables, green-
house vegetables and flowers, nursery stock--and you bring forth
a billion-dollar business, still the greatest single business in Ohio.
Fully half of Ohio's agriculturists are part-time operators, that
is, thirty-seven percent work a hundred days or more off the farm
in some nearby industry, and fifty-two percent do some off-farm
work. This is true particularly in counties where large manufactur-
ing plants are located in urban centers, but each year more farmers
in strictly rural counties find winter employment in cities, often
twenty-five to fifty miles away. It rounds out their year's work by
filling in the slack period on the farm; and it materially boosts the
family exchequer. The family is raised in a rural environment; the
land makes a material contribution to the family living, with foods
like fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and meat; and the double source
of income pays off more quickly the mortgages on farm and chat-
tels. Yet these farms contribute relatively little to the total farm
production. About one half of the farms of Ohio, including the
commercial plants, produce eighty percent of the products, and
fifty-nine percent raise ninety-five percent of the products.
Of the state's population of about nine million people, only ten
percent live on farms. By 1965 there will be more than ten million,
and likely not more than nine percent will be on farms. The land
area in farms constantly gets less, and farms get a little larger;
the proportion of farm workers in the total labor force diminishes,
and the proportion of farm income to the total income declines.
This is the situation of agriculture in the rapidly expanding urban-
industrial economy of Ohio of today and of the foreseeable future.
Ohio is in the center of the geographical area with the largest
population of any area of America, namely, the region from
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 261
western New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on the east
to the Mississippi River on the west, and from the Ohio River on
the south to the Canadian border on the north. The census figures
of recent decades, with a projection into the next twenty years,
indicate that the greatest, though not the fastest, population growth
is and will be about the Great Lakes. Remind yourself of metropol-
itan Pittsburgh, Akron, Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit,
and Chicago in this area, with their tremendous industries, and you
realize why this area has grown so in population. There have been
at hand or easily available for industrial development needed
natural resources: water from lakes and rivers, iron ore from the
Lake Superior region and now from Labrador, coal and limestone,
and other minerals. The steel business, the key industry in the Ohio
River-Great Lakes region, is insured for the foreseeable future in
this "Ruhr" of the U.S.A.
In Ohio, in addition to the steel and allied industries along Lake
Erie and in northeastern Ohio, we have the rubber industry at
Akron, the great manufacturing center of the Miami Valley from
Dayton to Cincinnati, the new industrial plants about Columbus,
the atomic installation in Pike County, the recent and rising factories
along the Ohio River, and others. It is a throbbing, romantic story,
this story of the growth in industry of recent years here in Ohio.
Ohio today is the second state in manufacturing and could well
climb to top rating.
Looking ahead, there is the St. Lawrence Seaway coming, to add
the shore lines of Lake Erie to those of the Atlantic Coast. Seagoing
vessels will bring the ports of the world directly to Cleveland,
Lorain, Toledo, and Ashtabula. Many of the nation's major rail-
roads, airlines, and highways traverse Ohio, linking the state with
North, East, South, and West. The northern Ohio Turnpike is an
important link in transportation from New York to Chicago.
Another turnpike or limited-access highway, running southwest
from Conneaut, will some day likely open new traffic to Cincinnati
and all of Dixie. Other four-lane highways are on the drafting
boards or are under construction. The National Road is one of
these, now almost completed across the state.
What relation does the urban-industrial development have to
262 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
agriculture? Let me point out at least three highly important and
competitive relationships. First, growing cities and industries and
the accompanying construction of highways and other facilities
take farm land out of production. For example, the new turnpike,
by a conservative estimate, took at least 25,000 acres, which poten-
tially was about 2,500,000 bushels of corn a year, and some of it was
among the best farm lands in the state. Industries sprawl out into
the country, and with each new manufacturing plant must come new
housing developments. May we use Columbus as an illustration?
In recent years we have seen General Motors, Westinghouse, and
North American plants come in. To take care of the larger popu-
lation and the increase in business and industrial activity, the air-
port was expanded, another water supply dam had to be built with
a reservoir covering many acres of farm lands, and suburban villages
mushroomed till now the metropolitan area nearly corresponds to
the county lines. Cuyahoga, Lucas, and Hamilton counties have
expanded and expanded till there is scarcely a commercial farm
left. Because of the expansion of cities and the growth of industry
and for other causes, Ohio has lost some 22,285 farms (or eleven
percent) since 1950, and over 1,000,000 acres of farm land. Between
1935 and 1954 the acreage in Ohio farms dropped 3,000,000 acres,
or thirteen percent.
The second important relationship between industry and agricul-
ture is derived from the competition for labor. The demand for
labor in Ohio's gargantuan industries contributes to higher labor
costs for the farmer. The farm worker commands more for his
hire, or he leaves to engage in a trade in a nearby industrial plant.
The farmer must depend more on efficiency in his business to keep
costs per unit of production down. He must make more effective use
of machinery, motor power, electricity, and tractors--in other words,
there must be more "automation" on the farm. Since Pearl Harbor
the increase in production per farm worker has jumped about
seventy-five percent, largely due of course to this increased use of
machinery. Today nearly one hundred percent of our Ohio farms
are electrified, and there is constantly greater dependence on electric
power about the barns and the home. Horses are a rarity, with
many farms today depending solely on tractors, automobiles and
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 263
trucks, and electric or gasoline motors. Only the pleasure horse
retains respectability today, and he is to be seen generally on a
relatively few farms devoted to breeding.
Labor wages on the farm have advanced about three hundred
percent since 1940; fertilizer prices have risen only about fifty
percent; and machinery has advanced less than the average for all
commodities farmers buy. Hence, fertilizer, the tractor and machine,
and electric power have in large degree replaced the hired man.
Greater output per man through mechanization and improvement of
the soil is the answer to skyrocketing labor costs.
Mechanization on the farm has amounted to a revolution in the
means of production. As a boy I loaded hay with a pitchfork, fed
sheaves of grain into a threshing machine, cleaned out dairy gutters,
milked cows, cut corn with a long knife, and husked it with a peg.
I can still recall those blisters of early spring and the chapped
hands of the cold fall days in the corn field. Who would do that
in this age? Who could afford it?
The dairy farm today has a field baler, a chopper in the field
drawn by tractor, a built-on combine or husking machine, a silo
unloader, a milking machine, a bulk tank and milking parlor, an
electric gutter cleaner, and even electric "trainers" for the cows.
Many a farm has automatic feeding of silage and grain to cattle
merely at the push of a button.
A "young farmer of the year" told me recently he would produce
120,000 broilers by himself in a year, with a little time left over
for community activities. He handles 30,000 birds at a time, four
crops a year, with everything in feeding and watering automatic.
He is an expert in engineering, nutrition, pathology--or better we
might say, he has been intelligent to a high degree in putting into
practice the latest inventions and scientific improvements as de-
veloped by the agricultural experiment stations. At the same time
he has had to develop his own local market. His competition is
so keen that he feels fortunate if he makes fifteen cents a bird above
his costs. This is only one example of modern mechanized farming,
and of a combination of good production and marketing procedures,
an example of scientific feeding, power, and mechanization re-
placing hand labor.
264 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Once land was the principal cost to a young farmer starting in
business. Today machinery represents another heavy investment,
and it is gaining in importance each decade. An average farm may
well spend at least $10,000 in machinery, and twice that figure is no
unusual investment. This is a factor that holds back many farm
boys, including our agricultural college graduates, from starting in
farming. Fewer than ten percent of the graduates of Ohio State
University's college of agriculture may be going back directly to the
farm, and they are undoubtedly sons or other relatives of operators
already farming. Some land grant colleges report that fewer than
five percent of the agricultural graduates return to farming in the
first year out of college.
This is one reason for many part-time farmers. Some would-be
farmers try to get money faster by both farming and working in
industry, so they can pay for the heavy machinery investment.
The third significant relationship between industry and agriculture
is the very struggle for survival on the part of agriculture in the
rapidly growing industrial economy of our state. It is conceivable
that industry might expand so greatly and become so profitable in
Ohio, with its advantages for industry, that agriculture might no
longer be a profitable venture. Only by increased efficiency in farm-
ing operations can our farmers hope to derive sufficient profit to
pay them to continue in business. Only by using highly improved
methods can the farmer continue to compete for a position as a
producer in such an economy. This means that the farm operator
must constantly become a more educated individual. And he is. He
reads several farm papers, listens to radio and TV, visits the agri-
cultural experiment station and gets its bulletins, knows his county
agent intimately, takes refresher courses at the university, attends
the annual Farm and Home Week, belongs to several farm organ-
izations, studies market outlets, markets through a cooperative or
other effective marketing agencies, likely has a soil conservation
plan for his farm, belongs to an artificial breeding association, and
visits and observes other farmers that he sees prospering. Never in
any generation before has the Ohio farmer had so many problems
and hurdles, but never before has he been so well equipped
mentally to cope with them. This simply boils down to the fact that
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 265
agriculture is a science today, and that trained, intelligent men can
farm successfully despite the dominant position of industry in our
On the other hand, it is in large part because of our urban-
industrial development that agriculture in Ohio is a big business.
Geography and the growth of cities and industries have combined
to give Ohio farmers a significant advantage in marketing their
The populations of the cities, including the great industrial labor
force, must have the food and other products from the farms. In
Ohio, on the one hand, farmers have their markets in nearby cities
where the factories cast shadows figuratively across the farms, and
on the other hand, the millions of laborers and city folk have much
of their food virtually within sight. By overnight truck any farmer
in Ohio can dispose of his products--his load of livestock, fruits,
or vegetables. Roads past his door bring daily pick-up of his milk
and eggs. Elevators which take his grain dot the landscape. Yet he
cannot supply all the food demands of his city cousins, and carloads
and truck-loads of food must come from other states, much of it
from a great distance and on which the producer must pay freight
costs the Ohio farmer is not acquainted with. Because of the prox-
imity of Ohio farms and their markets Ohio farmers derive a higher
net income from their products than do farmers in Texas, for
example, or in Iowa or in Minnesota, for Ohio farmers don't have
to pay high transportation bills to move their produce.
Yet this is not a one-way street, that is, we must not look upon
this nearness of markets in Ohio as an advantage which the farmer
alone enjoys. His city brethren find in him a good market. The
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in a recent survey found that in
ordinary times the farmer will spend about twelve percent of his
income for capital improvements on his farm, and in more pros-
perous times, say between 1942 and 1950, he will spend nearer
twenty percent of his income for capital expenditures on buildings,
machinery, implements, electrical equipment, trucks, and the like.
He also buys electric appliances, such as radios and TV's, and other
household conveniences, furniture, and clothing just like his urban
266 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
brother; and in addition he is constantly buying or replacing his
automobile. He is one of the best customers of the city merchant.
Another factor in the mutual relationship of city and farm
residents is a closer study on the part of farmers of their local
markets. With the help of the extension service, through the co-
operatives, and by dealing directly with retailers themselves, farmers
have been making greater efforts to supply what local consumers
want and to deliver their produce in the most acceptable manner.
We might cite fruits and vegetables as an illustration. Growers today
choose varieties that are most acceptable to the buyers; fertilize and
cultivate to improve quality; package, often in consumer units, at
the farm; and otherwise improve their product so that it will be
desirable to the city homemaker when she patronizes the super-
In recent years the law has required that twenty percent of all
federal grants for research at agricultural experiment stations must
be used to study marketing. Results of these studies are now ap-
parent in metropolitan food markets in the quality of food, in
packaging, and in display. Economy of distribution and retailing
has also been an object of study.
This picture of agriculture in the urban-industrial economy in
Ohio has brought out some of the relationships between the farms
and industry and the farmer and the city dweller, and has suggested,
at least by implication, the need for cooperation and understanding
by each group. It has emphasized also the essential need for highly
trained, well educated farm families. The college of agriculture
of Ohio State University is second largest in enrollment (next to
that of Iowa) in both boys in agriculture and girls in home eco-
nomics, among all the land grant colleges. Of these agricultural
students we now find that fifty-four percent are coming from city
homes, and half of these never worked on a farm. To our surprise
Cuyahoga County in the last two years sent more boys to the college
of agriculture than did any other county, with Franklin County
second. Why do these city boys want agriculture? Not because it is
a "snap" course, for it is not--its requirements are high among our
Why do they want agriculture when they know how much it costs
to get started in farming? The truth is they never expect to go
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 267
into farming, but rather to go into some related activity. They
may go into agricultural education work, such as extension service,
vocational teaching, soil conservation, or regulatory work. Many
will go into selling products for use on the farm, such as machinery,
feed, fertilizers, and other supplies. The demand for employees is
strong in food processing and distribution, in dairy products for
example. Agricultural college graduates are wanted in food retailing,
particularly by the larger chains which regularly interview our
graduates. An agricultural education opens many avenues for em-
ployment immediately upon graduation, more jobs than we can fill.
This paper has emphasized the diversity of farming in Ohio, the
relationship between urban and rural areas, the highly competitive
business of growing food and other farm products, the necessity
for trained, efficient farm operators, and fundamentally more need
for research and education to keep farmers in the forefront in this
age of automation, mechanization, electronics, and atomic power.
There are 177,000 farms in Ohio with a value of land and
buildings averaging $21,057 per farm. The average size is 113
acres, an increase in size of twenty percent since 1940. Of the total
land area of 26,240,000 acres, there are 19,991,586 acres in farms,
of which 12,799,017 acres are in crop land, or approximately one-
half the total area of the state.
Agriculture in Ohio today (1955) derives twenty-two percent
of its annual income from dairying, twenty-one percent from swine,
eleven percent from poultry, eight percent from beef cattle, two
percent from sheep and lambs--a total of sixty-four percent of the
total income from livestock and livestock products. Fundamentally,
then, Ohio is a livestock state.
Its horticultural products--potatoes, fruits, vegetables, nursery
and greenhouse products--account for about ten percent of the
income. Field crops provide about twenty-five percent of the farm
income, with about nine percent from corn, eight percent from
wheat, and six percent from soybeans.
Now to look in more detail at the agriculture of this state we
must take the map and divide it into geological areas. Rock forma-
tions underlying the soils affect their utilization. The glacier in pre-
historic times completely changed three quarters of the state in
268 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
topography, rerouting the streams and redistributing the topsoil.
Thousands of years before the white man came to Ohio, Lake Erie
had a different boundary, its shore line lying well south of its
The western half of the state has underlying limestone, and
today this is our "corn belt" of Ohio, with a type of farming similar
to that in the states extending west to Iowa. On the other hand, the
eastern half of Ohio has soils derived from sandstone and shale in
large degree, and there lime-loving plants like legumes do not
thrive. These soils lack the natural high productivity that is
characteristic of those found in the western limestone counties.
The east central and southeastern portion of the state never had
the rasping, grinding action of the glaciers to level off its hills, fill
the valleys, churn the soil, and change the direction of streams.
Hence, today it has its original hilly topography, and in agriculture
such land is best adapted to grazing, forestation, and fruit culture.
There soil conservation measures, like contour farming, stripping,
terracing, reforesting, and preparing sod waterways, are imperative.
To this area in recent years has come the strip coal miner, with his
yawning, bulky shovel biting out fifty to eighty tons, uncovering
coal seams below, often to a depth of eighty or ninety feet, and
leaving behind a desolate sawtooth-like succession of ridges. Man
is driven off his acres by the lure of quick money; his strip cropping
is replaced by strip mining. The state is called upon for research
and regulation to heal the scars and restore some worthwhile veg-
etation in trees or grasses. The eyesores are evident in about twenty-
five counties, although if all operations were in one spot they
would not encompass a township.
Northeastern Ohio benefits from a narrow band of lake plain
along Lake Erie, on which besides general farming, orchards, vine-
yards, and vegetable nurseries have become profitable businesses.
Inland the rolling, acid lands support hay and pasture and a thriving
dairy business, with some fruit and vegetable cultivation near the
Northwestern Ohio has its old "black swamp," which once lay
under Lake Erie, where about a dozen counties have rich, level,
black lacustrine soils. Many years ago this was a heavy grain-
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 269
producing area, with elevators standing like sentinels over the land-
scape. Today but a few counties, like Paulding, depend on grain as
the principal farm income product. Livestock feeding is prevalent,
with dairy cattle, beef cattle, and poultry the chief products. Never-
theless, today grain sales will amount to about twenty-three per
cent of the total farm income. Corn is the main grain crop, and
alfalfa and soybeans flourish in the virgin fertility of the soil.
The greatest problem of this northwestern area is drainage, a
problem that has our attention in research on agricultural experiment
substations there. One may not think soil erosion is a factor on those
level lands, yet one need only see the waters of the Maumee flowing
out into Lake Erie to appreciate the carloads of silt going into these
waters. So great is this silt factor that fish life in the lake is affected
adversely, and commercial fishing in Lake Erie has been seriously
In this area are several counties where sugar beets are an im-
portant crop, producing an income of about $2,700,000 annually.
Also canning tomatoes are another specialized crop of the area,
returning approximately $4,300,000 annually.
There are a few highly specialized areas of the state where
particular crops are grown because of unique soil and climate con-
ditions. We have already referred to the sugar beets and tomatoes
raised in the lake plains. Along the divide at various points there
are muck crop areas that grow abundant crops of vegetables, particu-
larly celery, lettuce, radishes, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Another
vegetable area is along the Ohio River, centered about Marietta and
extending west into Meigs County. Here cabbage, cucumbers,
tomatoes, sweet corn, and potatoes have the advantage of an early
spring on quickly drained sandy soil and therefore command higher
market prices. Further down the river, from Gallia County to Cler-
mont County, is the area of burley tobacco, a crop demanding the
alkaline soil conditions which prevail there on small, irregular
tracts along streams or at the foot of hills, where the soil is deeper
The uncultivated farm land of Ohio amounts to about thirty-six
percent of the total land in the farms. Much of this is in woods,
found mainly on the hills of southern and southeastern Ohio, but to
270 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
a certain extent in virtually all counties. There is a sizeable income
from timber, possibly $3,600,000 in a year, and in addition farmers
provide their own timber, posts, and firewood from their woods.
Some of Ohio's trees provide another source of income in maple
syrup. Ohio is the third state in the production of maple syrup, a
business which is centered about Geauga and neighboring counties.
In conclusion, we might devote our attention to the effort through
education to maintain our resources in the soil, because we are
always going to depend upon it for food. There are those who decry
our wanton loss of soil by erosion. Our soil losses in mining opera-
tions, however, and our losses by the expansion of cities and the
construction of airports, highways, and industries take more poten-
tial food-producing lands than we lose by soil erosion.
Some would picture soil as a bank account where checks are con-
stantly drawn without retribution or restoration. One needs only
to take the agricultural statistics of the past century to see that
we are doing a far better job of protecting and of restoring our land
than our grandfathers did on the same land. Otherwise how can
one account for the fact that whereas in the decade at the beginning
of the century wheat averaged about twelve bushels per acre in
Ohio, today it averages twenty-five to twenty-seven bushels and
many farmers get above forty bushels? Or that corn in Ohio in
1900-1910 averaged about thirty-five bushels, and now the average
is closer to fifty-five bushels, with two years recently above the
A good farmer uses fertilizers and crop rotation, not just to get
a good crop in the particular year he is working, but to maintain
or increase the total productivity for future years. So today thousands
of farmers are getting larger yields and at the same time building
or restoring their soils. This is truly a case of eating your cake and
having it too.
Next year we shall celebrate three quarters of a century of
agricultural research in Ohio, mainly at the Ohio Agricultural
Experiment Station at Wooster and the ten outlying substations. For
forty-two years we have had the agricultural extension service,
which makes adult education available to every farm family and to
other citizens, carrying the lessons of research and good farming to
OHIO AGRICULTURE TODAY 271
every corner of the state. Other media of education have been used,
such as the printed bulletin, the farm press and other newspapers,
radio and now TV, along with special schools, demonstrations by
the extension service, the contributions of technicians of the soil
conservation service, and the work of other state and federal
agencies. For every dollar spent on agricultural research by the state
of Ohio, we can prove the farmers got at least a hundred dollars in
return. Hybrid corn alone, or our improved wheat varieties, have
in a single year raised farm income to a degree beyond the total
expenditures for research by the state in the last seventy-five years.
Education is an intangible investment, but it is essential to our
standard of living, to our prosperity, and to our national security.