Ohio History Journal

Ohio Agriculture Today

Ohio Agriculture Today






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.




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



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




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




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.




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




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




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

undergraduate colleges.

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




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




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

present banks.

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-



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

and richer.

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




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

sixty-bushel mark?

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




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.