A friend recently reviewed The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History by Erik Durschmied. It chronicles military battles and national events whose outcomes were dictated, not by brilliant strategies or leadership but by egos, ignorance or, in the case of an Austrian-Turkish battle in the late 1700s, a barrel of schnapps.
In the 1400s, outnumbered troops of England’s Henry V defeated the French simply because the British archers goaded the French cavalry into charging their warhorses across a muddy field. The horses could only slog through the muck and mire and the charge turned into a debacle.
In the U.S. Civil War, the Battle of Antietam was lost because a Southern officer had used his orders to wrap three cigars – and then couldn’t find his orders.
In the same battle, the Union’s Gen. George McClellan repelled Robert E. Lee’s attack on Washington, but could have decisively pushed the Confederates back were it not for his own incompetence.
Studying history is grand because you know the outcome and can easily pinpoint a deciding moment, the hinge factor. Living in the middle of a turning point – which is where I feel we are in Ohio agriculture – is not so easy.
A longtime friend of agriculture now sells real estate in central Ohio. He tells me he recently picked up a professional couple to show them a house out in the country.
As he described the home’s merits, the wife didn’t want to hear about number of baths or the great views.
“How close is it to Buckeye Egg?” she demanded.
That’s all she wanted to know, the realtor told me. End of sales pitch.
The dark cloud that continues to hang over Buckeye Egg casts a shadow over every farm in the state, regardless of size. The bad management at that single farm did more to cripple agriculture in Ohio than any combination of other farms’ misdeeds before it.
Everything livestock agriculture does in Ohio – each operation we want to expand, each barn we want to build, each ton of manure we spread – is now scrutinized and assessed by public perceptions colored by that shadow.
Today, March 15, Ohio’s new livestock regulation bill, S.B. 141, takes effect. The law addresses the permitting and inspection of farms with more than 1,000 animal units.
By April 15, Ohio Director of Agriculture Fred Dailey must appoint a 21-member advisory committee to help write the rules to implement this law.
The law is not just about “mega-farms.” The law also gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources greater authority to regulate livestock farms below 1,000 animal units if they’re polluting waters of the state – something that hasn’t caught too many people’s attention.
As an aside, that portion of the law may turn the Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ technical experts into the pollution police in landowners’ minds, because it says it will be the SWCDs that issue emergency orders to clean up pollution and links compliance to cost-share.
I think Ohio is at a pivotal point – residents need to decide if they want agriculture as an industry or as a hobby in the Buckeye State.
If Ohio agriculture cannot break through Buckeye Egg’s dark shadow, we will have lost the battle. And the hinge factor was a fly.