David Daniels: ‘This gives me a chance to get back to agriculture’

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REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels, who became director Feb. 15, following former Director James Zehringer’s move to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Daniels has been in office a little more than a month now, and shared with us a little about who he is and how the ag department is progressing.

Farm background: Daniels grew up on his family’s Highland County farm, where they raised diversified crops and beef cattle. His family has been farming in the county since the early 1800s.

His first paid job was detasseling corn for a local seed dealer. He also helped neighboring farms with hay and other farm chores. They were laborsome jobs that helped teach him the value of hard work.

The family’s 460-acre farm is called Daniels Farms and is still owned by the family, but is rented to other farmers.

Political background: Daniels was a member of 4-H and FFA and said both programs helped prepare him for leadership roles. Politics were not a goal for him, but as time went on, he wanted to do more to preserve the kind of community where he grew up.

“I was approached to run for Greenfield City Council and really wasn’t interested in politics at all, but felt that I owed my community some of my time to make sure that my kids had an opportunity to grow up in kind of the same environment that I did,” he said.

“Small-town Ohio (Greenfield) was a great way to grow up. You felt safe.”

He served two terms on Greenfield City Council, before being approached to run for mayor, where he also served two terms. He was county commissioner for six years.

His Statehouse career began in 2003 as a Republican representative for Ohio’s 86th District, where he served four terms. He became state senator for the 17th District in 2010.

How do you see your department interacting with other state departments? “Our interaction with other agencies is extremely important and I think we’re seeing some of those play out obviously with the ag nutrients . … We’re going to have to cooperate and work together if we’re going to find a solution because it’s going to affect agriculture, it’s going to affect local governments. It’s not just one industry’s problem, it’s a broad spectrum of problems that everybody’s going to have a piece of to deal with.”

He said it also will be important to work with other state agencies, including Ohio Department of Development.

“We’re looking at $107 billion worth of economic activity in agriculture. We are the number one industry in the state — it’s important that they understand that and the relationship.”

What is a typical day for you? Daniels usually arrives at the ODA between 7 and 7:30, checks his email and begins visiting with other administrative staff, preparing for the new day and future events.

As he becomes more acclimated with the office, he’s planning more visits to farms and farm events.

“I see my role stepping up along those lines. I want to start spending some time getting out and visiting some of the agribusinesses in the state,” as well as agribusinesses just starting, he said.

And, he’s looking forward to county fair season and the visits he will make.

“I am a huge county fair fan. Agriculture gets an opportunity to get showcased at our local fairs. It’s also a great place for the general public to go; it’s great wholesome fun for everybody.”

What are your priorities as director? Water quality management, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, dangerous wild animal legislation, invasive insects, and increased education about agriculture’s importance to Ohio.

“It’s my hope that during my time here that I’ve (had) an opportunity to raise the level of awareness of agriculture to everybody. Ag touches everybody’s life a different way every day and it’s my hope that people understand the importance of it, the importance of what we do here.

“There are opportunities for increased agriculture in the state, increased agribusiness and increased jobs as well,” he said.

How were you appointed? “They called me and asked me if I’d be interested and you could have just knocked me over with a feather. When you’re growing up and working on a farm and working in agriculture, the idea that you’d ever be the director of agriculture is just something that never ever crosses your mind. Certainly it’s not a position that I sought but one that I’m going to say I readily accept.”

Daniels said “it was a difficult decision to leave the legislature,” but this is a chance for him to return to his life passion — which is agriculture.

“When I was 12 or 13 years old, I knew I was going to be a farmer for the rest of my life,” he said. “This (ag director position) gives me a chance to get back to agriculture and continue to fulfill at least that dream of when I was growing up, as to what I wanted to do.”

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