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Produce growers use conference call to help shape national policy
“I have a notebook two inches thick with all the guidelines. Back then you would wash your hands before you handled produce and now it’s so much more. It’s endless. I need one person just to keep track of all the paperwork, even at our size” said Finney, former Ohio Farm Bureau president and a Wayne County produce grower who has about a dozen employees.
Finney and six other vegetable and produce growers spent two hours recently on a conference call with OFBF public policy staff and Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for American Farm Bureau. The purpose of the call was to collect information from the Farm Bureau members about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) will affect their operation. The WPS is a regulation addressing the risk reduction of pesticides for agricultural workers and applicators. The revisions to this rule call for increased and more frequent training, new record keeping, increased signage, new minimum age requirements, personal protective equipment changes and additional no entry buffer requirements.
“It’s hard to absorb,” Franklin County produce grower Lisa Schacht said of the more than 80-page rule. “They’ve been writing such cumbersome pieces of documents that we can’t process them all. Several EPA pieces are just outlandish.”The OFBF members on the call were a true representation of Ohio agriculture, ranging from small growers focusing on niche markets to large scale producers to an Amish grower.
“Ohio was the first state to come to me and say they wanted to do (a conference call) on this. This is a very substantive rule and the conference call was very helpful,” said Schlegel, who is gathering input for AFBF’s comments to EPA on the proposed rule.
OFBF staff will also file comments focused more on the unique challenges of produce farmers in Ohio. However, staff thought it was important to connect farmer members with an expert like Schlegel who has a long history with these rules and can provide a national perspective.
Schlegel prepared for the conference call, giving OFBF members background information on the issue and a breakdown of specific areas of the rule that AFBF does not have policy on. The outline had specific questions for the Ohio Farm Bureau members, which they discussed during the call.
“I felt (Schlegel) guided us in the direction we needed to go. He prepared us on what specifics to share and gave us good material to look at before the call. It was very productive,” Schacht said. “I truly appreciate not having to travel and to do this quickly.”
Finney said the conference call was an efficient and economical way to provide input to an expert on the national level.
“It’s an interesting way to get the opinions of a wide variety of people from different regions of the state or country,” he said. “To fly Schlegel in to Columbus and have us drive down there to meet him face to face is a waste of a lot of membership money when we can deal with him just as directly on a call.”
No matter what type of method they use, farmers need to speak up about how legislative changes can affect their operations, Finney said.
“Sometimes folks who make the rules don’t have or know about the issues that real farmers have. Farmers, whether they realize it or not, have more information beneficial to shaping things than they realize,” he said. “I know a lot of farmers who say they don’t have the time or their opinion doesn’t really count.
“Your opinion does count because you may bring up something that nobody thought about and you could wind up shaping the whole thing.”