‘I try to get people to think about the future’

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(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell spoke with Ohio’s new director of agriculture, Ashtabula County’s Robert Boggs, in a one-on-one interview Monday. Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Boggs, who served 24 years in the Ohio General Assembly in both the House and Senate, and was most recently in his 10th year as Ashtabula County commissioner.)

On growing up on a farm

“I was raised on a small dairy farm in Ashtabula County. My father also owned a sawmill so my brothers and I would not only do chores on the dairy farm, but we also got into the woods. … It was a tremendous experience.”
The new director keeps his farm roots honed through his brother Ross, who is also a former state representative. Ross owns a 500-acre farm and milks 150 head. He also sells sweet corn and the new ag director still gets called to help pick the corn by hand during the busiest part of the season.

On running for state representative, at age 24

“I can’t tell you the first time that I knew I wanted to run for public office. … It was so natural. When I was growing up, my dad was a township trustee and my mom and dad would talk at the dinner table about the importance of public policy and getting involved.
“I decided to go to school in Washington D.C. at the American University. … During the 1960s, there was just all sorts of things going on that were exciting and just made me want to try to find a position to run for, which I did at age 24.”
“I just felt at that point in time in Ohio there were so many things that I felt almost personally responsible to get involved with, whether it was some of the social issues, or some of the agricultural issues or some of the economic development issues.”
“I had always been brought up to believe that every person should be trying to get involved, the best they can, in resolving some of these things.”

On his parents’ influence

“The things they [the late Ross Sr. and Ruth Boggs] kept hammering into all of us, is that the future is not something that’s an entitlement. The future of our state, our own personal futures, are not gifts, they’re prizes that you have to work for, you have to earn. And you earn them by determination and by hard work and vision and cooperation.”
“That was drilled into us pretty good!”

On professional influence

“When I was in college, Sen. Robert Kennedy used to come to the university and just challenge us and tell us that we have a responsibility as Americans and as people who have an opportunity to get education, to put that to work for the good things in life, for a better future for us all, for making the world a better place for everyone and not just for yourself.”
“I really taken by Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation. These people lived through the Great Depression, they fought and won WWII and they fought and won the Cold War. What was it about them that allowed them to be so remarkable… they were people who just wanted to leave the world a better place than what they found it.”
“I try to get people to think about the future.”

On Gov. Ted Strickland and agriculture

“We’ve had some great governors in Ohio, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had one that understands agriculture so much. Ted Strickland understands the potential of agriculture. He sincerely believes agriculture will be one of the key tools to turn Ohio around.”

On biofuels and alternative energy

“We’re committed to it and we’re going to do it. We’re a little late on the first wave of bioenergy production, but there’s a new wave coming on right behind it. … We’re going to be there with that second wave; we’re going to be leading that new wave in energy production.”
“We can do it because we have the great research facilities, at Ohio State University and Battelle and other great universities.”
“That will have a tremendous impact on our state economically.”

On bioproducts

[Gov. Strickland] “also understands bioproducts. And that’s one of the great ways of finding more markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers, to make this product out of biomaterials.
“If we can link those two giants of enterprise here in Ohio, the polymer industry and agriculture, we can do something great here in the state.”

On the upcoming biennial budget

“I’m optimistic. I believe there’s a stronger base for bipartisan action on the budget than has occurred in a long, long time.”
“The worst case scenario is we’ll have to make cuts. The food security side is the area I’m most concerned about because we’re stretched very thin right now. …You can increase productivity all you want, but with meat inspections, for example, you actually have to have feet on the ground.”

On ODA

“There’s some really great people at ODA who are doing a fantastic job and I was surprised about how much professionalism and how much energy and pride they have in what they’re doing. They really are on a mission out there and they believe in their work. And that’s been really fun.”

On his work as director

“The main thing I want to do is to provide leadership for our community. To have people understand that there’s really nothing that we can’t do together.”
“Really, we’re the architects of our destiny and if we work together and work smart, we’ll be fine.”
“We have a very solid agricultural base, but we need to understand, that as fast as the world changes today we have to make sure the agriculture of 10 years from now will still be the high quality agriculture that it is today. Or even better if we can make it.”

Related articles:

Robert Boggs takes director’s chair at ODA, January 25, 2007

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