Ohio Farm Bureau Federation sets policy at annual meeting

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Yvonne Lesicko’s siblings presented the Y Prize to the Lahmers. Pictured from left: Janene Kehl, Lawrence Houck, Dr. Jerry and Rita Lahmers and Annette Houck. (David Wilson Liggett photo)

COLUMBUS — More than 350 delegates from all 88 Ohio counties gathered Dec. 7-8, in Columbus, to establish the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s policy goals for the coming year, recognize county Farm Bureau and individual achievements and honor industry leaders.

Policy

New federal policy included considerations for the use of artificial intelligence within the agricultural industry, such as data privacy, security and ownership and regulatory parameters.

Delegates also supported new policy supporting regulation of community solar projects, including issues local governments can consider as they address siting ordinances and rules. Delegates expressed their support for prioritizing the use of non-agricultural land for wind and solar projects.

Policy to combat feral swine was added, which supports prohibitions on importing, releasing, maintaining or recreationally hunting feral swine.

Leadership

Bill Patterson, of Chesterland, was re-elected president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Patterson has been on the state board since 2011 as District 4 trustee representing Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties.

Cy Prettyman, of New Bloomington, was re-elected first vice president of the organization. He joined OFBF’s board of trustees in 2012. He will continue as the District 7 representative covering Crawford, Marion, Morrow and Richland counties.

Chris Weaver, of Lyons, has been elected treasurer of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Weaver has been a member of OFBF’s board of trustees for 10 years and represents members in his district that encompasses Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Williams counties.

Service awards

Three people who have left indelible marks on the agriculture industry and Farm Bureau were honored with the 2023 Distinguished Service Award. Candidates for the service awards were nominated by Farm Bureau volunteers, county organizations and state leaders.

This year’s recipients are: Bob Gibbs, of Holmes County; Virgil Strickler, of Franklin County; and Jerry Lahmers, of Tuscarawas County.

Gibbs has had a long career as a farmer, Farm Bureau leader and U.S. Congressman. His career in public service representing northeast Ohio included six years in the Ohio House, two years in the Ohio Senate and 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Gibbs family farm, Hidden Hollow Farms in Holmes County, led to his Farm Bureau involvement, where he served on the state board of trustees from 1985 to 2001 and then as state president. He is the only former Farm Bureau president in the country to be elected to Congress.

Strickler began his professional career as an agricultural lender before becoming the livestock and agricultural director of the Ohio State Fair in 1993. He took the role of Ohio State Fair general manager in 2004 and is retiring in February as the longest-serving general manager ever at the Ohio State Fair.

Strickler established the Youth Reserve Program, which is funded directly from winning bids at the Sale of Champions that exceed the cap for each species. The fund is used to reward junior fair exhibitors through scholarships and other programs. Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Expo Commission renamed the program for Strickler earlier this year. Stickler has been inducted into the Ohio Fair Managers Association Hall of Fame, as well as the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame, among many other industry honors. He was also recently inducted into the International Association of Fairs and Expositions Hall of Fame, in November.

Lahmers, a lifetime resident of Tuscarawas County, has had nearly 50 years of involvement with Farm Bureau and numerous other county and statewide boards and organizations.

He served at the county level as Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau president and public policy chairman and as a member of the membership committee. He also served three terms as a trustee on the Ohio Farm Bureau board of trustees, representing the interests of members in Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas counties.

The Lahmers family raises cow-calf pairs, operates a feedlot and raises grain, hay and pasture. Lahmers also was a veterinarian for 29 years.

Y Prize

Lahmers and his wife, Rita, also received the 2023 Yvonne Lesicko Perseverance Prize, known as the Y Prize, for their innovative work on farmer mental health initiatives.

The Lahmers spearheaded the creation of the Check Your Engine – Mental Health Project, which serves to better connect rural communities when addressing mental health concerns. The program was developed by Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas County Farm Bureaus, in collaboration with local organizations that focus specifically on mental wellness.

Lahmers spent his career serving farmers as a large animal veterinarian in Tuscarawas and surrounding counties and has been involved in Ohio Farm Bureau at all levels, including as a state trustee for the organization until 2022. Rita Lahmers is a retired teacher, who saw the impacts of stress through her students and was instrumental in getting various businesses and members of the community involved in the Check Your Engine project.

“If a check engine light comes on the dash of a tractor or farm vehicle, it’s time to get it to the shop to diagnose the issue, whether it be a common solution that will take minutes to fix, or the machine could be on the brink of a total engine failure,” Jerry Lahmer said. “Either way, the check engine light lets us know something is wrong and it needs to be addressed.”

The Y Prize is an award created by the Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund. The fund was created in 2020 to honor Yvonne Lesicko, former vice president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. The fund, within the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, was established to support the causes and initiatives that were important to Lesicko.

Innovation Awards

Counties that received Innovation Awards were also honored at the annual meeting. The Ohio Farm Bureau Innovation Awards highlight county Farm Bureaus for their implementation of new and innovative programs within their communities.

Ashtabula — Mental Health Dinner Theater: Ashtabula County Farm Bureau created a three-act play depicting farmer stress that encouraged discussion about mental health issues while motivating attendees to take greater health and safety precautions.

Auglaize, Logan, Mercer and Shelby — Farm Bureau Agriculture Leadership Program: This program put a specific focus on agriculture issues in the four-county area, while providing participants opportunities for team building, goal setting, networking and sharing the value of Farm Bureau in the community.

Crawford —Planting the Seed for the Future of Agriculture: This was an ag literacy and advocacy event from Crawford County Farm Bureau and Crawford County Cattlemen. A nationally known author and a social media influencer shared agriculture with multiple audiences and showed community members many ways to become advocates themselves.

Jackson-Vinton — Making Quality Assurance…Fun!: Giving the mandatory Quality Assurance meeting for Junior Fair participants a turn on its head was the goal for Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau. County board members led hands-on activities for 275 youth in attendance, and parents were required to attend, which generated new Farm Bureau memberships for the county.

Lucas — Policy and Pancakes. Lucas County hosted a farm-to-table breakfast at a local greenhouse, giving members and local officials time to build relationships while showcasing local agriculture and local foods to the guests in attendance.

Marion — Group Member Retention Activities: Marion County Farm Bureau created new activities that were focused on letting the group membership partners know how much they are appreciated while solidifying and building stronger relationships. Group member employees also learned more about the benefits offered to them through Farm Bureau.

Mercer — Western Ohio Ag in the Classroom Teacher Workshop: This workshop, built by Mercer County Farm Bureau, was completely focused on the needs of K through 4 teachers: What they need for their classrooms, the curriculum they have to work with for their age groups, and how they like to teach concepts and ideas about agriculture.

Ottawa — I Want to Be a Farmer, but I Don’t Have a Tractor. This Ottawa County Farm Bureau program allowed youth to explore unconventional career opportunities in agriculture during a job fair at the county fair. The event reached 100 youth and their families.

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