With a strong farm economy and a good relationship to state leadership, Bill Patterson believes Ohio agriculture is well-positioned for the future.
Patterson, of Patterson Fruit Farm, in Chesterland, Ohio, was recently elected as the newest president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. He has been a farm bureau member for 26 years, served on the state board since 2011 and was the organization’s first vice president for the past five years and a treasurer before that, prior to being elected president.
Getting involved in leadership at the organization was a no-brainer. His family has been farming for a long time. Patterson Fruit Farm is a sixth generation, direct to consumer apple farm that does a lot of agritourism activities.
“It’s just sort of an expectation that we find ways to serve agriculture and do what we need to do, as farmers, to help improve agriculture,” Patterson said.
There are certainly challenges for Ohio agriculture. Many, like broadband, tax codes and water quality issues, are connected to strengthening rural communities, Patterson said.
“All those issues continually press us,” he said.
In order to deal with rural and agricultural issues, it’s essential to have a strong organization and a strong community, he said.
“We need to be involved. We need to tell our story. Now, everybody says that, right?” he said. “We need to figure out how to do that in an effective way.”
Some people in rural areas have been talking about broadband for a while, but didn’t see much movement on the issue until the pandemic hit, Patterson said. Then, broadband became more important. Now, he wouldn’t be surprised to see broadband across the state within 10 years.
“But what did it take? It took our story being told. We weren’t doing a good job of telling our story, ’til it got told for us,” he said.
He sees a similar pattern with water quality. Farmers had been concerned about water quality for a while, he said, but once Toledo had major water quality challenges in 2014 from harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, water quality got more attention. So, the question is, how can farmers and rural folks get attention and work done on issues before disasters occur?
Patterson isn’t sure yet. But he thinks looking at how things have played out on these issues so far may be able to offer some insight.
He sees challenges in labor and immigration, too. It’s been clear that there are weak points in that system for a while, but concerns about whether workers would be able to come over during the pandemic emphasized that.
Other focuses for Ohio agriculture in the coming years will be balancing the needs of communities and farmers in areas like tax codes and eminent domain, and facilitating transitions of farmland to the next generation, he said.
Patterson recalled what a previous farm bureau leader, Bill Swank, used to say: “When there’s food at the table, there’s lots of issues. When there’s not food at the table, there’s only one issue.”
Ohio has a lot going for it right now, Patterson said. He believes Gov. Mike DeWine has a good relationship with and appreciates agriculture. Despite prices going up and down and weather situations changing from year to year, farmland values and the farm economy have been strong.
Though many farms are merging, there are more farms overall, he said. That suggests that there are a lot of small farms, which makes it important to ensure that the bureau is supporting farms of all types. That includes not just small and large farms, but also farms in different sectors of the industry.
“Not one individual arm of agriculture can work without the others,” Patterson said. “Unity within ag is another thing that’s so extremely important.”
When there are conflicting issues for different parts of the industry, it’s important to make sure everyone is at the table and working together to make decisions that benefit all of Ohio agriculture. Continuing to advocate for and educate people about agriculture will be critical, he said.
“I don’t see any reason to suggest that we are not well-positioned, particularly over the next five years, for agriculture to be successful,” Patterson said.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!