Ohio governor-elect John Kasich highlighted several of his priorities and introduced the next director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture during Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
Jim Zehringer was tapped to head the agriculture department last month and was Kasich’s first cabinet appointment.
“He’s a farmer, businessman, entrepreneur and he just represents common sense,” Kasich said. “And frankly if there’s anything we need returned to our government, and if there’s anything we need returned to our country, it’s a little bit of common sense.”
Zehringer comes from the state legislature and, until recently, ran a poultry and fish farm in western Ohio. His appointment was met with broad support from the farm community.
Kasich’s plans to support farmers included pursuing development of advanced agricultural products, drawing more agribusinesses to Ohio and helping farmers gain access to new global markets.
“All of this demagoguery out there about trade has got to be stopped before we shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.
He also spoke about the need to show young people that “agriculture’s cool.”
“It’s just really important that we communicate the message of agriculture in our schools,” he said.
Kasich discussed his intention to balance the state budget “without gimmicks,” reform regulations, modernize government and reduce taxes.
“I am absolutely convinced that we have clogged up the state of Ohio with too much regulation,” he said.
Regarding farm nutrient management challenges, Kasich said farmers are obligated to operate their businesses responsibly, but rules shouldn’t be driven by a few bad actors.
“I don’t like the notion that when 99 people are honest and 99 people are responsible that we regulate them because we have one bad apple in the barrel,” he said.
Asked by reporters about an animal care agreement reached earlier this year, Kasich acknowledged that with a proposed ballot initiative “there was really a great fear that there would be a distortion of what farmers do, there would be a lot of money poured in here, and we would have a very bad result.”
The agreement kept the issue off the ballot in 2010 and produced a set of recommendations on animal care practices that were provided to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. As the incoming director of the Department of Agriculture, Zehringer will serve as the chairman of the board, which has been considering the agreement’s recommendations along with separate input from a number of farmers, researchers, veterinarians and others.
“We want to get consensus, but we do not want to get behind the curve again,” Kasich said.
He also asked farmers for their help as the state attempts to fix a projected $8 billion budget shortfall.
“When we go and we reform this budget, we are going to make decisions on the basis of rational, business-like thinking,” he said. He criticized what he described as decisions based on political favors and special interests with their “snouts in the trough.”
He called on farmers to share what frustrates them about Ohio’s business climate and told them to expect to hear “a lot of whining, a lot of complaining” as the process to rethink state government moves forward.
“It’s time to fix this state,” he said.