Being a turtle doesn’t help agriculture

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As I sat in the Columbiana County Commissioners’ meeting last week, listening to more than a half dozen farmers express support for the county’s proposed additional .5 percent sales tax on the May ballot, I thought to myself, “They don’t have a clue.”

The commissioners, that is, not the farmers.

They don’t have a clue what it’s like to face the impending environmental regulations with little financial assistance to implement practices that benefit the whole community. They don’t have a clue what it’s like for profit to hinge on the weather, or for your dairy herd’s future to hinge on whether you get more heifer than bull calves. They don’t have a clue that many farmers work off the farm, burning their candle at both ends, to make ends meet or to be able to provide health insurance for their families. And they really don’t have a clue just how vital the agriculture industry – an often invisible segment – is to the state’s economy and how it contributes to the region’s open spaces and quality of life.

To be fair, we really don’t have a clue about the regulations and frustrations facing county governments, either, but that’s fodder for another column.

Agriculture, like many industries, is interwoven into many allied sectors and economies. Policies that affect agriculture affect rural communities, rural economies, rural schools. Just this week I heard on the radio the saying that “as the crushed stone industry goes, so goes the nation,” and I’ve heard local businessmen saying the same thing about agriculture.

Farmers love being independent. They love to set their own hours, chart their own course and do what they want to do. They’ve developed a thick shell like a turtle to ward off distractions of the outside world. Slow and steady wins the race.

I’m not advocating being like the fable’s rabbit, which scampered to a big lead and then faltered. But I do think the seven farmers who took time from their hectic farm schedules to go to a county courthouse last week were coming out of their shells.

This coalition of cattle producers, crop farmers and fruit growers came together because they saw a need: Someone needs to speak out for OSU Extension in Columbiana County. But they also quickly realized that extension depends on the commissioners for local funding, and if the local funding isn’t there, commissioners can’t fund the extension office, period. They were willing to take a stand in support of a tax. Gasp!

No one will grasp the broad economic and social significance of agriculture to your community unless you take the time to tell them.

It’s no time to be a turtle.

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