Ohio agriculture director Robert Boggs: At the grassroots, telling it like it is

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SALEM, Ohio – Shortly after Robert Boggs of Ashtabula County took over as director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture earlier this year, he got an order from the governor.
“‘There’s no agriculture in Columbus,’ he told me,” Boggs said. “Get out to the counties and get to the grassroots.”
So that’s exactly what Boggs is doing, following a personal mission to attend 30 of the state’s county fairs by the end of the season. During his 24th stop last week at the Canfield Fair, Boggs let farmers pick his mind on important agricultural issues.

On animal cruelty and CAFO lawsuits:
The department of agriculture supports and encourages production of food animals in a safe manner, Boggs said.
“We’ve asked that when there’s a bad actor out there, we don’t defend them. We need to cleanse the [livestock] industry of bad actors; we have to do a good job at that.”
Boggs’ mission, too, is to engage neighbors who complain about odor or flies at large CAFO operations, or even family farms.
“Whenever [ODA] gets a complaint against a CAFO, I offer to visit the farm with [the complainant] and see if we’re doing the right things. So far, I’ve not had anyone take me up on that,” he said.

On spreading the message of agriculture:
“Producers are so great at producing, but bad at telling their stories. We’ve got a big education project ahead of us. We all have to be telling the same story!”
Since his run as agriculture director, Boggs has pushed to form relationships with Ohio State’s ag college dean Bobby Moser and various farm group leaders. And while he admits he knows some of those farm groups have differing opinions on matters, there’s one common ground: “Let’s talk about the things we agree on.”
“Ag has to speak in a united voice. It’s generally an easy sell, but people will believe whatever someone else is telling them if you’re not [telling them your side].”

On biomass and biofuels:
“I feel so good to be director of agriculture right now during this biorevolution, a time that will completely transform agriculture, both for better and for worse.”
Boggs said Ohio is likely to have its first ethanol production plant up and running by the end of the calendar year.
“And if we’re lucky, by the time the 2008 Canfield Fair rolls around, we’ll be looking at six to eight plants in Ohio producing 300 million to 400 million gallons of ethanol every year.”
Boggs also said Ohio’s leaders are “doing all we can to let Ohio base its biofuels on many sources, not putting all our eggs in one basket.”
Boggs said there’s not a county in Ohio that lacks enough biomass to make a local economic impact.

On ethanol use:
“It doesn’t do us any good to produce the stuff if we don’t have a distribution system in place, now does it?”
Boggs said the state is looking at offering several million dollars in inducements to get retailers to switch tanks and allow ethanol’s widespread availability.
That will likely happen on a regional basis, likely beginning in the populated northeastern Ohio region and the Columbus area.
“We’ll definitely not build it overnight.”

On emerald ash borer:
The entire state of Ohio is currently part of a federal quarantine to slow the spread of the devastating emerald ash borer. However, on the state level, not all counties are quarantined.
“We don’t plan to quarantine counties with no evidence of the borer.”
“I’ve got a friend in Lake County, a horticulture operation, and he’s got 75,000 ash trees he can’t move or do anything with. It’s definitely a problem.”

On raw milk:
“It’s the administration’s position we will permit sales of raw milk in a very restricted fashion, but the herds must be inspected to keep consumers protected. We will not support unfettered rights [to sell raw milk.]”

On animal identification:
“Within a decade, I feel we’ll have a national program in place. Voluntary premises registration, nothing more.”

On the future of agriculture in Ohio:
“I get questions: ‘Is there enough room for my son or daughter in agriculture?’ I say absolutely, but it might not be the same type of ag as what mom and dad did.”
Boggs said there’s statistics that show Ohio still doesn’t produce enough eggs or goat meat to fulfill demand, so there’s opportunity there.
“Open your mind. Those who do will be successful.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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