Ohio Farm Bureau renews farm focus

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COLUMBUS – The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation wants to return to its roots as a farm organization, but is branching out to new partnerships with consumers, government and researchers to do so.

A renewed farm emphasis is the result of a long-term visioning project that polled members and nonmembers on the state Farm Bureau’s core purpose. The project’s highlights were released at the Ohio Farm Bureau annual meeting Nov. 28-30 in Columbus.

“Ohio Farm Bureau is a farm organization that works for farmers and is governed by farmers,” said Executive Vice President Jack Fisher. “That came out loud and clear.”

Delegates discussed changes to the organization’s stated purpose and objectives based on the visioning project. The goal, Fisher said, is to create a stronger relationship between farmers and consumers that meets consumers’ needs while forging greater farm profitability.

How the new objectives will trickle down in terms of programming, policy and budget priorities has not been determined.

Awards. Five individuals were honored with the farm organization’s top awards: William Fulton, Troy; Dewey Kennedy, Thornville; Robert Horton, Columbus; Warren Reed, Convoy; and Eugene Wittmeyer, Columbus.

William Fulton and Dewey Kennedy each received the federation’s distinguished service award.

Fulton, an innovator in the state’s fruit and vegetable industry, operates a 2,000-acre operation. He is a past president of both the Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association and the Ohio Fruit Growers Society and has received honors for his contributions to both associations. Fulton pioneered the use of plastic row covers and center pivot irrigation systems and trickle irrigation systems.

The Farm Bureau honored Dewey Kennedy for volunteer leadership of more than 50 years. Kennedy, who operates a 2,600-acre grain farm with sons Mark and Mike, served as Perry County Farm Bureau president from 1961 to 1967 and served on the state board of trustees from 1967 to 1976. He was elected Perry County commissioner from 1980-1992.

He returned to the Perry County board in 1992 and has served as county president the past six years.

Ohio State professor emeritus Eugene Wittmeyer received the Ohio Farm Bureau’s cooperative educator award. A faculty member at Ohio State since 1950, Wittmeyer was an extension vegetable crops specialist with a focus on potatoes. Although he retired in 1984, he maintains an office on campus and remains an adviser to the Ohio Potato Growers Association and Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association.

Robert Horton, state extension specialist in 4-H, received one of two agricultural educator awards presented. He was honored for his drive to improve agricultural education across the state, particularly through materials and teacher workshops. He works closely with the Ag in the Classroom program and helped develop the agricultural science-based COSI on Wheels program.

The second agricultural educator award went to Warren Reed, a farm business planning and analysis consultant in Van Wert County. Reed, who has been in agricultural education for 51 years, has helped countless young people become farmers and business people and, in his current role, continues to emphasize record keeping and business data analysis for greater farm profitability.

Young farmer awards. Kathy Ayers of Ashland County became the first woman to win the Ohio Farm Bureau’s top young farmer award. A finalist last year, Ayers edged out the Outstanding Young Farm Couple, Robert and Bobbi Vernon of Muskingum County, for the top overall honor and a berth in the national Young Farmer competition at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Reno, Nev., in January.

Ayers manages the young stock at her family’s 430-head Holstein farm near Perrysville, Ayers Farm Inc. She is responsible for raising the calves and heifers, and is also responsible for marketing steers and young bulls and overseeing personnel and managing the facility. The closed herd has a mortality rate of less than 1 percent.

The Miami University graduate has also facilitated several onfarm research projects through Ohio State. She is a past participant in the Leadership Education and Development, or LEAD, program, and is active in the Ashland County Farm Bureau.

The Outstanding Young Farm Couple, Robert and Bobbi Vernon, is proof that you can become a farmer if you’re determined enough.

Robert, 31, bought his first 93-acre farm when he was 20, working in construction and saving 4-H project earnings for the down payment. Today, the Vernons own 420 acres near Adamsville and Norwich in Muskingum County and farm a total of 1,150 acres, raising corn, soybeans and hay. They also have a 60-sow farrow-to-finish hog operation and raise beef cattle and breed Quarter Horses.

The Vernons have a 4-year-old son, Bryce, and Bobbi was due to deliver their second child this week.

Other finalists for the awards were Clark Emmons, Fulton County; Mark Stokes, Clinton County; Nick and Lisa Heitz, Auglaize County; and Mark and Lorie Neal, Gallia County.

Discussion meet. Dusty Sonnenberg of Hamler, Henry County, won the state discussion meet and will also compete in the national Farm Bureau contest in Reno.

Sonnenberg battled finalists Roger Baker of Wayne County, Amanda Miller of Tuscarawas County and Angela Emmons of Fulton County to win the contest.

Trustee election. Tim Williams of Pike County was elected to the state board of trustees, representing Jackson, Pike, Scioto and Vinton counties. Trustees re-elected to the board include: Keith Truckor, Metamora; Terry McClure, Grover Hill; Gary Baldosser, Republic; Steve Zumberge, Celina; John Miller, Dover; Steve Hirsch, Chillicothe; Bob Peterson, Sabina; Eric Wolfer, Fayetteville; and Helen Caplinger, Hillsboro.

Bob Gibbs of Lakeville, Holmes County, resigned his board seat, effective at the close of the annual meeting, following the announcement of his candidacy for the newly created Ohio House District 97. Gibbs, former president of the Farm Bureau state board, has served on the board since 1985.

A special election will be held in early January in Coshocton, Holmes, Knox and Licking counties to fill Gibbs’ trustee position.

Terry McClure remains president of the Ohio Farm Bureau. The trustee executive committee also includes Bob Peterson, first vice president, and Sparky Weilnau, treasurer.

No to dairy compacts. Ohio Farm Bureau members reviewed more than 230 pages of current and proposed policies during the farm group’s annual meeting.

Delegates aligned their national farm program policy more closely with the House version of the proposed farm bill, and added more language for conservation and environmental incentive payments as part of an overall farm program.

The 330 voting delegates tap danced around the issue of dairy compacts, reluctant to embrace language that either specifically supported or opposed dairy compacts.

The Ashtabula County delegation pressed several policy amendments before one was finally approved that supports “a dairy policy that works with other farm groups and co-ops to raise the floor price and reduce price volatility.”

Sunday hunting. An issue watched closely by hunters around the state was whether the farm group would support eliminating the 100-acre requirement for enrollment in the Hunter Access Program for Sunday hunting.

Current law permits hunting on Sundays on public hunting areas. Landowners and their family may hunt on Sunday if they own 20 or more contiguous acres. Landowners can let others hunt on their property on Sunday only if they own a minimum of 100 acres (or adjoining landowners agree to participate to reach the 100-acre minimum) and sign up through the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Hunting proponents are seeking a reduction of the 100-acre minimum to broaden access. Last week, Farm Bureau delegates approved such a reduction, which now gives the division of wildlife greater support to change existing regulations.

In related wildlife damage policy, delegates are seeking greater state efforts on the control of coyote and coydogs, and approved policy requesting a permanent state indemnity fund to reimburse farmers for coyote and coydog livestock kills at replacement value.

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