If there was one word that could sum up 2016 at Ohio Farm Bureau it would be transition.
The year saw Frank Burkett III take the reins as board president and Adam Sharp become the new executive vice president. New member benefits such as Member Savings Advantage and the OFBF Health Benefits Plan were rolled out, and Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation’s assets doubled. Investments were made in water quality efforts as conservation practices on the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms continued to be explored and in Young Agricultural Professionals, which experienced a surge in conference attendance in 2016.
Finally, counties continued to do what they do best—shine in local communities. This year counties were recognized by American Farm Bureau with eight County Activities of Excellence awards, the most of any state in the country.
Here’s a look back at even more accomplishments through our Year in Review.
Frank Burkett III OFBF president and Adam Sharp, OFBF executive vice president
Our #1 partner for more than 60 years: Nationwide
The Ohio Farm Bureau Health Benefits Plan was launched to help the agricultural sector and related businesses address the high cost of medical care and promote a healthier Ohio. Participants will see competitive rates, predictable payments, a broad network of doctors and hospitals and flexible benefit plans. The plan is available to sole proprietors who have employees and to other employers with 2-99 employees. Eligible businesses must be headquartered in Ohio and must operate within the “farm-to-fork” agricultural sector.
Active membership increased in 2016 to 61,459. Ohio Farm Bureau remains Ohio’s largest and most inclusive farm and food organization. Seventy-five county Farm Bureaus increased their active membership in the past year. A record eight members received the Murray Lincoln Award for signing a minimum of 50 new members.
This past year marked the 70th anniversary of county presidents taking their annual trip to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress and agency officials (pictured above). In 2016 topics included GMO labeling, trade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, immigration, farm bill, veterinary feed directive and federal regulations. In all, 71 county presidents attended. Ten members of the media were on the trip and reported on the presidents’ activities.
Farm Bureau continued to push for legislative changes to the Current Agricultural Use Value program in 2016. A grassroots call-to-action was issued in the fall in support of House Bill 398 and Senate Bill 246 to reform the flawed CAUV formula. While the bills did not get legislative approval during the lame duck session in November and December, Farm Bureau is determined to keep the groundswell of momentum going in 2017. OFBF’s suggested reforms to date have resulted in an average savings of $10 per acre in counties reappraised in 2015. The organization has been working on CAUV reform legislation in earnest for the past five years.
The agritourism bill that became law in the summer of 2016 was based on model legislation developed by Ohio Farm Bureau and addresses concerns expressed by OFBF members about zoning, liability and how land for agritourism is taxed. To date, 667 agritourism signs created by Farm Bureau to help members follow the new law have been sold.
55 Young Agricultural Professionals and AgriPOWER Class VIII participants traveled to Washington, D.C. in September to meet with members of Congress. The Washington, D.C. trip exposes young leaders in Farm Bureau to the national political scene and motivates them to become more involved in the legislative arena and Farm Bureau. The program includes learning how to lobby and engage politicians to get your point across and then putting that into action in meetings with elected officials.
After an extensive screening process conducted by OFBF’s Agriculture for Good Government political action committee (AGGPAC) and American Farm Bureau, 109 candidates running for public office in the fall were named Friends of Agriculture, including congressional seats, the Ohio Supreme Court seats and Ohio Senate and House of Representative candidates. Of the candidates named a Friend of Agriculture, 96 percent earned their respective seat in the November election.
Ohio Farm Bureau’s legal team filed 16 legal briefs in 2016 on behalf of members regarding property rights, taxes, agritourism and workers’ compensation. Briefs were filed in 10 Supreme Court cases, three appellate court cases and three trial court cases (those represented 30 landowners).
Three farms are participating in the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network, a five-year, $1 million project to study conservation practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Ohio Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service are partners on the project. The farms, in Hancock and Hardin counties, are Kellogg Farms, Forest; Kurt Farms, Dunkirk; and Stateler Farms, McComb. These demonstration farms are serving as models to share new conservation techniques and practices with farmers, land managers, the media and the public.
Through November, 35,663 members registered for Member Savings Advantage. Members are redeeming discounts at retailers such as Bob Evans, Advanced Auto Parts and Redbox through Farm Bureau’s website and the MyDeals app on their mobile devices. Also in September a new online only discount member benefits partnership was launched with Rocky Brands/Lehigh Outfitters. (Editor’s Note: The Bob Evans discount is no longer available.)
Meetings, workshops and countless telephone calls took place with Farm Bureau members on energy issues. Topics included pipeline placement on farm property, mineral rights and royalty payments and the growing interest of solar companies in leasing land from farmers for solar arrays. In all, 85 member information meetings on energy were held reaching 3,300 members in 2016.
Ohio Farm Bureau provided $200,000 for county Farm Bureau-led projects that help improve water quality in local communities. With additional matching funds from partnering organizations, these projects provided more than $460,000 in total resources. In all, 22 counties, some partnering on projects, were awarded water quality grants.
Every year American Farm Bureau recognizes the top county Farm Bureau programs across the country through its County Activities of Excellence awards, and this year one-third of the nation’s top 24 county Farm Bureau programs came from Ohio.
The eight Ohio winners and their award-winning projects were:
• Ashland, Holmes and Wayne counties’ Grain Bin Rescue Tubes
• Delaware County’s Benefit in the Barn
• Hamilton County’s Drones, a County Farm Bureau and Public Policy Effort
• Jackson-Vinton County’s Agriculture Experience Day
• Jefferson County’s Agriculture Merit Badge Day and Cubby Camp
• Lawrence County’s Drive-It-Yourself Ag Tours Galore
• Medina County’s Ag Fact Ads
• Tuscarawas County’s Harvest for Hospice
Young Ag Professionals’ winter leadership conference attendance grew by 187 in 2016 to 707 attendees. The two-day event included sessions on topics ranging from beginning organic farming, brewing beer at home and understanding food safety regulations to advancing your brand on Facebook. The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert T. Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto.
The Our Ohio TV series won two regional Emmy awards in 2016. More than 16,250 households watch the program each week.
American Farm Bureau awarded Ohio Farm Bureau with several communications awards at its annual communications conference in 2016:
• Honorable Mention – news or feature series: Water quality
• Best Column Series: “Up Front” in Our Ohio
• Best Audio News Story: Legal with Leah podcast
• Honorable Mention – best magazine: Our Ohio magazine
• Dave Lane Award for Media Relations Excellence
In addition, the Town Hall Ohio radio program continues to be featured on 12 Ohio radio stations. The show is the top rated program during its time slot on WTVN in Columbus where it reaches an average of 13,800 unique listeners per week. Thousands more hear it on 11 other radio stations and as a podcast available on iTunes
An estimated 300,000 fairgoers visited the Land and Living exhibit at the Ohio State Fair, presented by Ohio Farm Bureau and Nationwide. The exhibit, at the Nationwide Donahey Ag & Hort Building, demonstrates agriculture’s link to everyday life. The exhibit featured a wide variety of agricultural interactive and educational exhibits for kids to enjoy, including the wildly popular Augmented Reality Sandbox.
Ohio Farm Bureau collaborated with Bob Evans Farms, Event Marketing Strategies, Huffman’s Market and Amusements of America to purchase the Grand Champion Market Barrow exhibited by Ashton Frey of Wyandot County. Funds from the Youth Reserve Program, which oversees the Sale of Champions, are distributed among carcass contests, scholarships, outstanding market exhibitor program, outstanding breeding exhibitor program, showmanship, skillathons, 4-H and FFA. The Youth Reserve Program has awarded $3,020,530 to approximately 33,000 youth exhibitors since its inception in 1995.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation set several milestones in 2016. It more than doubled the financial assets it has available to invest in individuals and communities, and it established the Fisher Fund for Lifelong Learning. The Fisher Fund received the single largest donation in foundation history with a $1 million gift from Nationwide. The Fisher Fund also is benefiting from a gift of $300,000 from Ohio Farm Bureau, $25,000 in personal contributions from OFBF’s current board members and $250,000 from Farm Credit Mid-America. The foundation also established two new scholarship programs, one in memory of long-time Farm Bureau employee Kenny Walter and another for sheep industry leader Jack Judy.
Farm Bureau partnered with Bob Evans to raise money for Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, Ohio FFA and Ohio 4-H during Dine to Make a Difference in May.