(Scroll down to see photos from this year’s Ohio Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.)
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Farm Bureau entered a new era Dec. 1 during its annual Harvest Banquet, attended by more than 800 delegates and industry leaders. It happened when OFBF Executive Vice President Adam Sharp whipped out his smartphone and took a selfie with Jack Fisher, his predecessor.
This is not your grandfather’s Ohio Farm Bureau, Sharp’s selfie said. But it is still rooted in agriculture, as Sharp’s Case IH phone case attests.
Sharp, who took the helm in July following Fisher’s retirement, reminded the 300-plus delegates that he grew up in Farm Bureau, tagging along to his parents’ farm council Saturday night dinner meetings when he was very young.
“I am proud to say I have good friends across this country who are members or staff of Farm Bureau,” Sharp said during his address to annual meeting delegates earlier in the day Dec. 1. “We are family. I believe in us.”
It will be Sharp’s job to steer the farm organization into that new era, and he shared some of his vision during the annual meeting.
New income sources
One challenge will be to develop a diverse revenue stream as the Ohio Farm Bureau figures out what its new business relationship will be with Nationwide. The farm organization is losing a chunk of its revenue — $4.61 million, or nearly 33 percent — that came from Nationwide insurance agents who sold associate memberships, a practice that is no longer being done. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation founded the mutual insurance company that became Nationwide.
Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen assured the Farm Bureau members the partnership may look different in the future, but it’s still a partnership.
“It’s about growing our organizations,” Rasmussen said. “If we’re all going to remain relevant, we’re all going to have to grow.”
Sharp said the board and staff are still sifting through ideas, but are trying to identify services that generate revenue.
Sharp said another challenge the farm group faces is being relevant across generations — keeping its roots in strong values with a modern appeal. To do so, he added, the Farm Bureau needs to work on inclusiveness, so that — regardless of farm size, commodity, age, location, political affiliation or other silos — there’s room at the table.
And it will also require reaching out to nonfarm consumers and rural residents, in order to “grow and protect the food system,” Sharp said. “We must engage with others, who increasingly don’t understand what we do on the farm.”
As the Ohio Farm Bureau nears its century mark in 2019, Sharp asked the delegates this question: “Who do we want to be as an organization when we turn 100? Who will be our members, what will be our priorities, what will be our goals?”
“One thing we do know that is that we will continue to change,” Sharp said. “But change doesn’t mean we abandon who we are, but adapt to the world around us.”
Ohio Farm Bureau members responded positively to Sharp’s high-energy speech.
“Adam put it succinctly that all forms of agriculture are equal partners in Farm Bureau,” said Summit County delegate and former state board member Gale Betterly. “It doesn’t matter if you have a high hoop tunnel greenhouse on two acres, or farm 2,000 acres. We have to accept all.”
But, she added, “learning to walk that walk may be the most difficult thing we do.”
Stark County delegate Andy Wentling said he liked what he heard, but was more excited about “the energy behind it.”
“I love the energy,” he added. “I love the future outlook.”
With the transition away from the Nationwide membership partnership, Ohio Farm Bureau is putting more dollars into its own ranks to staff membership, and is adding more field staff, Sharp said.
The immediate drive is for “staffing and support for active membership in our counties, and then the service that goes along with it,” he added.
The organization is also implementing new technology and database for the membership system, and will increase training for staff and volunteers.
The bulk of the OFBF annual meeting was spent in policy development. Delegates discussed current and proposed policies that direct the group’s advocacy efforts on the state and national levels.
Water quality continues to be a hot topic, and this year, delegates discussed whether Ohio might create some type of farm stewardship certification program for farmers. If so, delegates said, a certification program should build upon existing water quality programs, protect the farmer’s confidentiality and provide legal and regulatory certainty for farmers who choose to participate.
Stark County dairyman Frank Burkett III of Massillon was re-elected president, and will begin his first full term as president. He originally became president during a special election this past April.
He spent two years as the group’s first vice president and previously served as treasurer, and has been on the state board since 2007, representing members from Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties.
“I love dairy farming. I love agriculture. And I love what each and every one of you do for your industry collectively that we can’t do individually,” Burkett said in his speech to the delegates.
James W. (Bill) Patterson of Chesterland was re-elected first vice president, after taking office in a special election this past April. Patterson previously served as the organization’s treasurer. He joined OFBF’s board of trustees in 2011, representing Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties.
Cy Prettyman of New Bloomington was re-elected treasurer of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
Seven trustees were re-elected to the state board, including: Craig Adams of Leesburg, representing Adams, Brown, Clermont and Highland counties; Mike Bensman of Sidney, representing Auglaize, Logan, Mercer and Shelby counties; Paul Harrison of Fostoria, representing Hancock, Hardin, Seneca and Wyandot counties; Jerry Lahmers of Newcomerstown, representing Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas counties; John Mossbarger of Washington Court House, representing Clinton, Fayette, Greene and Warren counties; Michael (Mike) Poling of Delphos, representing Allen, Paulding, Putnam and Van Wert counties; Chris Weaver of Lyons, representing Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Williams counties;
Michael Videkovich of Ashville has been elected to his first full three-year term, representing Fairfield, Hocking, Pickaway and Ross counties. In May, he was elected during a special election by delegates from that four-county area to fill the unexpired term of Steve Hirsch of Chillicothe. Hirsch had stepped down as Ohio Farm Bureau president and trustee and was elected to Nationwide’s board of directors.
Trustees newly elected to the board include Kyle Smith of South Vienna, who was elected Southwest regional trustee representing 20 southwest Ohio counties. Smith farms with his parents in Clark and Champaign counties. Smith also co-owns KC Fencing Company and is the owner of Kyle Smith Crop Insurance.
During the annual meeting, Carroll, Hancock, Harrison and Tuscarawas counties received Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s President’s Award, the top honor for outstanding local programming. The President’s Award recognizes outstanding accomplishments in member strength, member advocacy and member engagement programs.
To be eligible for the President’s Award, in addition to exceptional programming, the county Farm Bureau had to have gain in both active and overall membership. Counties could submit a second program or event in one of the three categories, and some counties won two awards in the same category.
Member Advocacy Excellence Gold Award winners were Carroll, Hancock, Harrison and Licking counties. Silver winners were Fulton, Hancock, Paulding and Tuscarawas counties.
Member Engagement Achievement Gold Award winners were Carroll, Hancock, Paulding and Tuscarawas counties. Silver winners were Carroll, Knox, Licking and Van Wert counties.
Member Strength Achievement Gold Award winners were Carroll, Hancock, Harrison and Tuscarawas counties. Silver winners were Harrison, Knox, Sandusky and Tuscarawas counties.
Three multiple county awards also were presented. The “Collaborative Awards” were presented to groups of counties that worked together on special projects or programs.
Recipients were Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Tuscarawas and Cuyahoga counties for their Farmtastic Agventures Google Hangout; Darke and Mercer counties for their Emerging Agricultural Leaders Conference and Carroll, Harrison and Tuscarawas Counties for the Keep Calm and Stay Safe program.