I recently told a friend that my job requires me to be an expert in something new each day. I was half-joking, but in truth, that’s also half right.

The past few weeks, especially, I’ve been juggling so many new topics and learning so many new things. It started with a feature story I wrote in September on giant miscanthus — the biomass crop being grown for ethanol and fiber production. I had heard a little about miscanthus, but visiting a farm where it as actually grown, and seeing it surpass 10 feet tall, was all new to me.

I had to ask a whole new set of questions, like how do you plant it, how do you care for it and how is it harvested. With corn and soybeans, and some of the other more common field crops, I already know the answer. But with this new crop, I needed to start at an elementary level.

The same was true the following week, when I visited a hops field test plot at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Hops, if you don’t know, are grown for use in craft beer making.

Researchers and farmers alike believe they can bring this crop back to Ohio, and that it will be a significant boost to the local foods and now local “drinks” market.

That’s exciting, but I honestly knew next to nothing about hops before I visited the test plot. I had to remind myself to ask simple, basic questions, once again, and I spent a couple hours afterward researching various scholarly websites and fact sheets, trying to familiarize myself with the science of growing hops.

The same thing was true just a couple weeks ago, when I visited OARDC’s Mellinger Farm to learn about oilseed crop production. The researchers had grown several major types of oilseed crops, including flax and sunflower seeds.

Learning experience

What do I know about flax and sunflowers? Definitely not as much as I would like to. I have grown sunflowers myself, but only for beauty. And I did get to see some linseed oil being boiled at the Farm Science Review, to be used as a wood preservative on an 1800s-era wooden wheel wagon. So I knew something, I suppose.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to this, but I like to be honest. I’ve done a lot of learning the past few weeks, and some extra studying. It seems that If I’m going to write and tell someone how something works, I should first try and figure it out myself. I do this the best I can.

Advanced science

We also just ran a feature story about a waste digester plant in Morrow County that turns hog manure into usable electric. Talk about a process and something to learn! And we visited an ethanol plant last week in Coshocton, where they’re getting ready to turn corn into fuel.

So often, I feel like I’m back in science class. One day, it’s biology, the next it might be physics or chemistry. In some ways, I think that’s just the way agriculture is — a very, very diverse science. That is a good thing, but it sure has given me a lesson!

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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