Farm Bureau renews link to business

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COLUMBUS – This time of year, most Ohio farmers are thinking about wrapping up the 2004 growing season, not about wrapping up tort reform in the statehouse.
The justice system, state spending, taxes and workers’ compensation may not be on farmers’ front burner, but the issues should be, said Ohio Farm Bureau leaders who joined business leaders Dec. 1 at the farm group’s annual meeting in Columbus to push a “shared agenda.”
In this together. Ohio Farm Bureau’s president Bob Peterson and executive vice president Jack Fisher emphasized links with the state’s small businesses and manufacturers.
“Farmers, small businessmen and manufacturers all face competitive disadvantages caused by state government policies,” Fisher said. “We’ve collectively decided we can do more together.”
“State government must get off the back of the Ohio businessman,” he added.
The unofficial coalition makes sense, said Roger Geiger, regional vice president for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“How the farming operations are doing in most of Ohio will tell you how well the retail, service, transportation and manufacturing segments are doing, and vice versa,” Geiger said.
Tax and spend. The groups are working for lower taxes, reduced state spending, curtailed business regulations and revisions to the state justice system.
An “antiquated and confusing” state and local tax structure, for example, discourages transfers of family farms and penalizes investment, Geiger said.
He also blasted state spending levels. “A 110 percent increase in state spending over the past decade makes no sense to the average small farmer or small business owner.
Membership push. Farm Bureau’s Fisher was unabashed in pushing 500,000 members as an organization goal when he addressed delegates Dec. 2.
“We will grow because of who we are and what we stand for,” Fisher said, touting Farm Bureau as a starting place for political, social and economic deliberations “without rolling in the mud.”
“Ohioans will follow Farm Bureau’s lead,” he declared.
Current Ohio Farm Bureau membership is just over 223,500.
Wider circle. Fisher bluntly admitted, “we certainly are broadening our message” and the issues Farm Bureau tackles, then added that working for Ohio’s farmers remains the group’s core purpose.
“But we can get a lot more done” with an expanded membership base, he said.
Focusing on the business climate is not off target, he emphasized, because of the importance of off-farm income to the state’s farmers.
“Ohio agriculture needs a thriving business community and Ohio’s business community needs a thriving agriculture,” Fisher said.
At the polls. The farm group means business in the voting booth, too. Farm Bureau galvanized its members prior to the 2004 election, creating a Web site and videos, airing radio commercials and shipping out a checklist of Ohio Supreme Court endorsements and an eight-page election guide.
Of the 118 elected officials carrying Farm Bureau’s seal of approval, the Friend of Agriculture, 113 won their races, Fisher said.
White, Pattersons honored. The farm group presented its top honor, the distinguished service award, to three individuals: Ohio Sen. Doug White and Geauga County’s Nancy and Jim Patterson.
Jim Patterson is a fifth-generation family farmer who owns Patterson Fruit Farm near Chesterland.
A Geauga County commissioner from 1969 to 1982, he was president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation from 1985 to 1989. He is also a past president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Society, former chair of the Farm Credit Bank of Louisville’s board of trustees and former chairman of the Ohio State University board of trustees.
Currently he serves on the board of directors for Nationwide Insurance and Nationwide Financial Services.
Nancy Patterson is a longtime advocate for agricultural education. She has served on the Ohio 4-H Foundation board of directors and has been instrumental in developing support for the new Ohio 4-H Center.
She was a member of the Ohio Farmland Preservation Task Force and has provided leadership within the ag community on both the local and state levels.
White, president of the Ohio Senate, represents District 14.
Former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he and his family own and operate an 800-acre crop and livestock farm.
Educator awards. Also during the annual meeting, the farm group presented Ohio State’s Bernie Erven and Craig Fendrick with its Cooperative Educator Award.
Erven served on the faculty of Ohio State University in the department of agricultural economics from 1969 until his retirement in December 2003. He is nationally recognized in the areas of agricultural labor and human resources and has won numerous teaching awards.
Fendrick served as director of the Farm Science Review for 23 years until his retirement this summer. He began with the Review as a student services assistant in 1966 and eventually became manager in 1981.
During his tenure at the Review, he successfully transferred the show to the Molly Caren Agricultural Center.

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