Steve Hirsch is Ohio Farm Bureau's president and a Ross County farmer.

Like farmers, Farm Bureau must be innovative

Buckeye Farm News

by Steve Hirsch, Ohio Farm Bureau President

As farmers, we’re not averse to finding new, better ways to do things. Auto steer, high tunnels, stacked traits – the list is long. To stay competitive, to continue to farm, we adopt new technologies, adjust our practices or add something new to our farming operation Over the years, Farm Bureau has changed and adapted as well, and that is why we continue to be the organization to get things done at the statehouse, at the Capitol and in the courthouse.

A series of trustee-district meetings around the state has just concluded, during which the discussion centered on a new model for membership. Before I get into what that new model might look like, I want to share a few thoughts on why it needs to be considered.

It will come as no surprise when I say our current way of building membership isn’t working as well as it used to. Associate membership is declining. It’s hard to get volunteers to work membership campaigns. Younger folks want something different out of their membership. And our valued partners who help us build membership — Nationwide, Medical Mutual, Comp Management — all are contemplating significant changes in their businesses, which impact our organization.

All of this comes at a time when agriculture is facing a tremendous challenge: preserving our social license. Farmers have to work harder than ever to earn the public’s permission to farm.

So, we’re looking at a new membership model that will sustain our organization, support the partners who support us and position agriculture to thrive for generations to come.

It’s a heavy lift, but there’s an old saying, “many hands make light work.” The question is, whose hands?

Consider this: 1 out of 7 Ohio workers have jobs related to our farms. That’s more than 900,000 folks in the farm and food community who have a vested interest in a prosperous agriculture. Additionally, we’ve identified somewhere around 200,000 Ohioans who don’t farm but share farmers’ values on things like property rights, the appropriate role of government and other meaningful issues.

Should we more fully welcome these folks into Farm Bureau? Should they be at the table when we’re discussing challenges and formulating solutions?

These are the kinds of questions we started considering 12 years ago with our Envisioned Future project. Since then there have been task forces and focus groups and countless debates and discussions. And now, in meetings throughout the state, we’re getting closer to arriving at some answers.

For those of you who attended the trustee meetings, thank you. For those who didn’t, feel free to reach out to your county Farm Bureau leaders; learn more about the discussion and share your thoughts. Your input, and that from the meetings, will be included in the state board’s process of finalizing a plan to be considered by delegates at this year’s annual meeting.

Ultimately, our goal is simple : A strong, sustainable Farm Bureau at the county, state and national level that enhances our farm and food system and empowers people to improve their lives.

Please invest some time in learning more and weighing in.

Photo by Dave Liggett.