(Scroll down to see additional photos from the Ohio Farm Bureau 2015 annual meeting.)
COLUMBUS — At a time when agriculture is facing numerous major changes and challenges, so is the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The farm organization will be losing three-quarters of the revenue that came from Nationwide insurance agents who sold associate memberships.
“Our greatest source of memberships and revenue is going away,” said OFBF President Steve Hirsch in his Dec. 3 address to the annual meeting delegates. “You and I and every other member of this organization are going to have to become responsible for building membership,” Hirsch added. “If we don’t, Farm Bureau will be very, very different.”
Total earned dues income in the group’s first three quarters of 2015 was $8.2 million.
To try and stem the membership erosion, at last year’s annual meeting, delegates approved changes in the membership structure, adding a new Our Ohio “supporter” class, designed for nonfarm individuals who are interested in supporting Ohio agriculture. Delegates also approved changing the current “associate member” status to “community member.” A “young farmer” member option was also approved, for individuals 18-24.
The “active” member classification was officially broadened to include individuals whose livelihood is affected by agriculture, meaning those who work in ag-related industries, but not direct production agriculture.
Hirsch rattled off a list of returns that members receive for their dues investment, from policy experts keeping abreast of issues and lobbying on the farmers’ behalf, to the ongoing work on water quality, or to revise Current Agricultural Use Valuation, and responding to public criticism on agriculture. “What’s the cost if somebody doesn’t do these things?” Hirsch said.
Hirsch said the new membership model makes Farm Bureau more inclusive. “And to be blunt,” he added, “we’re going to need all of them.”
That change in Farm Bureau to become more inclusive is one of the things that Jack Fisher points to as a major accomplishment of his 20 years as executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Fisher announced earlier this fall he would be retiring in 2016, and the organization has hired an executive search firm with the goal of naming his successor next spring.
He said during last week’s annual meeting that he was proud of helping move the farm group from a farmer-centric focus to a partnership between farmers and consumers.
“We’re going lots of good things and doing it well,” he said. But today’s consumers want to “tell us things,” Fisher added. “It’s not about conversation, it’s about listening.”
It’s about, as he calls it, earning “permission to farm.” For many consumers, it’s not about simply having food to eat, but they want to know how it’s produced and who produced it. “We’re going to allow more people to participate in our industry.”
“There’s a lot of change coming here,” Fisher told delegates. “We need to see it, to try to envision it, to prepare for it.” Farm Bureau needs resources, he added, and the biggest resource is people.
- Hirsch, Burkett, Patterson re-elected Ohio Farm Bureau leaders
- Irv and Jean Bell honored for lifetime contributions
- Ohio Farm Bureau Federation hopes to raise $15 million
During the annual meeting, delegates focused on water quality, property taxes, energy and illegal drug use.
Among the approved proposals, the delegates supported the concept of a voter-approved bond measure to fund water improvement initiatives. They also continued to stress the importance of ensuring that the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program provide an accurate valuation of farmland based on the land’s agricultural use only. Members also adopted new policy to support reform of the Ohio Forest Tax Law to better support woodland owners.
Additional new policy opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana and provides principles and considerations that Farm Bureau believes must be addressed in any future discussion of legalization in Ohio.
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