Ohio Farm Bureau delegates reshape policy

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COLUMBUS – Ohio Farm Bureau delegates got back to basics at the farm organization’s annual meeting last week, approving major changes in their policies toward land and water.

The 85th annual meeting was held Dec. 3-5 in Columbus.

Members revamped the farm group’s line fencing policy, and added new policy regarding water use and drainage.

Looking ahead. Farm Bureau leaders also announced the start of a “Future of Ohio Agriculture” study, hoping to uncover agriculture’s future within the Buckeye State and the role Farm Bureau should play.

“Each of us has the opportunity and obligation to make sure that in the next 10, 20, or 30 years, we still have agriculture in Ohio,” said Jack Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president.

“The cards are stacked against us.”

Fisher said the study will create Ohio’s “ag road map” and added the Farm Bureau is ready to “take the lead in strategic planning for Ohio agriculture.”

Line fences. In one of the more heated exchanges of member opinions, delegates overturned the state Farm Bureau’s long-standing policy regarding line, or partition, fencing.

State law currently requires owners of adjoining lands to equally share the building and maintenance of all line fences between them, unless otherwise agreed.

Saying the current fence law isn’t working, Farm Bureau delegates approved policy that supports a change in Ohio law.

Shift burden of proof. The members’ proposal shifts the fencing responsibility to the landowner requesting the fence, unless he can show that the adjoining landowner has livestock on the adjacent property or would receive another benefit from the fencing.

Township trustees would retain oversight of line fencing, a responsibility many trustees would like see go away.

Call for study. After sleeping on their decision, however, Farm Bureau members returned to the issue before adjourning the next day.

Monroe County delegates requested the state board convene a fencing task force to study the issue before acting on the policy.

Ohio Farm Bureau President Terry McClure agreed to the delegates’ request.

The issue is already moving to the legislative front burner, according to OFBF Director of Local Affairs Larry Gearhardt.

In the last General Assembly, state Rep. Merle G. Kearns introduced a bill that would have repealed the partition fence law altogether.

Drainage. In other debate, delegates amended current policy on Ohio’s drainage law, calling for changes to the Ohio Revised Code to give soil and water conservation districts greater authority in getting easements for drainage.

Gearhardt called the issue “critical” to Ohio landowners, particularly with increased development around the state.

“Drainage improvement is so important that they’re willing to give up rights to get drainage improved,” Gearhardt said.

The Farm Bureau members would like local SWCDs to have the same level of authority as county engineers to get construction and maintenance easements for drainage projects.

Water use. While the Midwest is flush with water, skirmishes over water use are on the horizon. Farm Bureau delegates added new policy protecting Ohio’s water basins from withdrawals to other regions of the country.

Members also opposed diverting water from one major river basin to another, even within the state.

Delegates said they would oppose expanding Ohio’s Water Withdrawal Facility Registration Program into a water use permitting program.

Other issues. The contentious issue of video lottery terminals, or slots, at Ohio racetracks reared its head at several points during policy development.

Proponents said Ohio’s horse industry is suffering along with the state’s racetracks without the option to entice track visitors. Opponents – the majority of Farm Bureau delegates – responded repeatedly the organization won’t sanction anything related to gambling.

The issue puts the farm group in delicate situation. For the past several years, it has been courting horse owners as members. The racetrack lottery terminal issue, which has been raised in the Ohio Statehouse, could benefit from the farm group’s clout, but the conservative group has solidly opposed past gambling issues.

Delegates also turned down a proposal to support the sale of raw milk in Ohio.

Trustee elections. Two new trustees were elected to the state board. Don Ralph of Morral will represent Crawford, Marion, Morrow and Richland counties. He succeeds Lee Oswalt, who retired from the board.

Joe Pittman of New Concord succeeds Andrew Wilson, who did not seek re-election. Pittman will represent Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and Perry counties.

Re-elected to the board were: Edwin Lamalie, Fremont; Charles Lausin, Thompson; Jeff Zellers, Hartville; Brent Porteus, Coshocton; Tim Williams, Piketon; Vickie Powell, Bidwell; Gale Betterly, Richfield; and Ellen Joslin, Sidney.

In the board’s reorganization following the annual meeting, Terry McClure was re-elected president and Bob Peterson, first vice president.

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