Farmers have a good understanding of why the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and most state agencies need to trim their budgets because farmers are usually fiscally responsible, says the department’s director.
“Most farmers sit around their kitchen table and look at their income and expenses and they don’t buy a tractor or piece of equipment unless they have income coming in. The government should do the same thing. If we don’t have the income to have a balanced budget, there’s not much to do except balance the budget and accept the cuts,” said ODA Director Jim Zehringer on a recent Town Hall Ohio radio show.
State agencies have been ordered to make cuts in order to fill Ohio’s projected $8 billion budget hole. Under Gov. John Kasich’s proposal, which is currently being discussed by lawmakers, ODA would see almost an 8.8 percent cut in funding. Zehringer, who was the governor’s first cabinet appointment, said the cutbacks would have little impact on the department. Moving ODA’s International Marketing Program to the Ohio Department of Development helped save the agriculture department a lot of money, he said.
“We think food safety is the most important part of our department. When we looked at our budget, we wanted to continue to have the security of safe food, and we’re doing that through some retirements and by doing things more efficiently,” he said.
Food safety is such an integral part of ODA that Zehringer has proposed renaming it the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Food Safety.
“Food safety is the No. 1 issue we’re involved with, and we’re going to keep it our main mission,” he said.
On the radio show, OFBF Executive Vice President Jack Fisher praised Zehringer for his work on the budget. Zehringer is the former owner and operator of the Meiring Poultry and Fish Farm, a former state representative in the 77th House district and former Mercer County commissioner.
Zehringer, who recently finished his 100th day in office, said many people don’t realize that ODA is a regulatory agency. While he is still getting a feel for what his department does, he said it’s clear that changes need to be made with the state’s regulatory process.
“The regulatory climate in Ohio is challenging,” he said, describing some of the regulations as “downright silly.” He said that while regulation is obviously needed, sometimes it is too overreaching. He praised the Common Sense Initiative, which would require regulations to be reviewed every five years.
Bridging the gap between consumers and farmers continues to be a challenge for Ohio’s $100 billion agribusiness industry, he said.
“The problem is that there’s a disconnect. We’re about three generations removed from the farm,” he said. “A lot of people probably don’t know that the animals on the farm get fed before the kids.”
Zehringer said the Livestock Permitting Program is a “very well-run program” and one of the best in the nation. He praised the work by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, saying the members put a lot of thought and detail into every decision.
“The citizens of Ohio should be very proud that we will have humane standards for livestock that is second to none,” he said.