After being elected in their counties to finalize Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s (OFBF) policies, 343 family-farmers served as delegates to the group’s annual meeting.
“We’re the only place where agriculture’s special interests can come together to act in the entire industry’s best interests,” said OFBF President Brent Porteus. “No matter what we produce, how we produce it or where, when and why, it is through Farm Bureau that we can tear down the silos that exist in our industry, where we can talk with each other, where we can build understanding and confidence in each other, where we can build consensus.”
Much of the policy session centered on the upcoming effort to balance the state budget in the face of a potential $8 billion shortfall.
Farm Bureau members expressed support for incentivizing savings, performance audits and privatization of some government assets and functions as options to cut the cost of government while maintaining essential services.
Delegates also focused on preserving functions of state government that are important to Farm Bureau’s core values in areas such as food safety and personal property rights.
“If we go to the Statehouse and say ‘Cut everybody’s funding except ours,’ we’ll be excluded from the discussion,” Porteus said. “Conversely, agriculture’s line items are too important for us to just roll over and say ‘Do whatever you like.’”
In light of a tight budget, the future of Ohio State University Extension received a great deal of delegate attention. Farm Bureau encourages Extension to define its purpose and increase its emphasis on agriculture, natural resources, nutrition and 4-H youth development.
Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) tax law was high on delegates’ agenda. The group wants to assure that the program is not abused, and it sees the need to communicate the program’s importance to landowners.
Ohio’s referendum and initiative law making system was also debated. Farm Bureau wants citizens to have adequate opportunity to engage their government, but questions whether the petition system allows small, well-funded special interests to exert undue influence over the state. OFBF will be working with other organizations that share its concerns to encourage a comprehensive public discussion.
Additional policy discussions focused on nutrient management, animal care, consumer relationships, water use, the farm bill, dairy policy and many other issues.
Delegates also agreed on including “captive cervidae,” namely farm-raised deer, in the organization’s definition of agriculture.
Porteus said the annual meeting represents an important part of Farm Bureau’s formal policy process, but much of what gives the organization direction and purpose is the informal communication that occurs on a daily basis.
“As president, I hear from a lot of you. My fellow members on the board of trustees do, too. And certainly our organization directors and Columbus staff hear regularly from many of our members,” he said.
According to Porteus, Farm Bureau’s elected leaders are asked to make a lot of decisions, and the policy book offers goals, but doesn’t tell exactly how to get there.
“It’s hard to draw a map with every turn precisely scripted, until you know the starting point or the available roads,” he said. “That’s why your input is crucial.”
Circumstances change and new situations develop, Porteus said.
“Farm Bureau leaders can only include your input and ideas when they know your input and ideas. So never discount the importance of sharing what you think and why,” he said. “It’s a grassroots system that works. It’s a system to use and a system to be proud of. It’s the power of Farm Bureau.”
Speaking to farmers at the annual meeting, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee said the land-grant university tradition is more important today than it ever was and that there has been nothing more significant in changing the country.
“We have to rededicate ourselves to the educational vitality of this nation,” he said.
Acknowledging the challenges facing Ohio State University Extension, Gee said “we’re going to have to reinvent it in certain ways” and doing so would require embracing the tradition of change.
“This time of change and challenge is also a time of opportunity,” he said.
- Listen to an extended conversation with OSU Presiden E. Gordon Gee about these and other issues on a recent Town Hall Ohio podcast.