COLUMBUS — Ohio farmers can expect a better relationship with state administration when Gov.-elect Mike DeWine’s team takes over in January, according to Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted, who spoke during the Ohio Grain Farmer Symposium Dec. 18.
Husted, who currently serves as Secretary of State, said the new administration wants to work with agriculture as the state tackles the water quality issues.
“We don’t want to have an adversarial relationship — we want to have a collaborative relationship,” Husted said.
He said collaboration will be important, with the goal of “what’s best for everyone,” including those in cities and on farms.
Corn and soybean leaders welcomed his comments, after a year of defending their industry from a plan by Gov. John Kasich that sought to declare eight watersheds in distress, and set new water quality rules that were unpopular among farmers.
The issue won’t go away, but farmers said they feel more confident they’ll be included in new policy and decision making.
Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, said farmers spent most of the past year on defense, protecting themselves from bad policy.
But going forward, he said it will be important for farmers to help lead the charge toward improving water quality.
“We’re going to need to go on offense,” he said. “We need to take ownership of this.”
Kasich’s plan would have required farmers in the proposed areas to have a nutrient management plan, and could have classified commercial fertilizer as a pollutant. Farmers generally support nutrient management plans, but said the requirement, as written, would have been too costly in terms of money and human resources.
“I think when you farm in Ohio, we just have to realize today that we have Lake Erie,” Nicholson said. “We’re going to have to do some things that may be a little bit different than some of our colleagues around the country, and that’s just going to be the way that it is.”
Ohio farmers have a new farm bill with conservation programs intended to help address the Lake Erie water quality issue, and they also have new funding coming from the $36 million
Clean Lake 2020 bill, which Kasich signed this fall.
Aside from environmental issues, grain farmers remain concerned about profitability and market access. Although China and the U.S. have announced a temporary end to the trade war, farmers are concerned how much of the Chinese market they will regain, and for how long.
“I think it’s probably safe to assume it’s never going to be what it was,” said Kirk Merritt, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Association.
He said China imported almost a third of the U.S. soybean crop last year, and almost nothing this year. Even if trade returns, he said China has already made some structural changes with how much soybean ration it uses, and the countries from where it is sourced.
Carl Zulauf, Ohio State University professor emeritus, said the impacts of the trade war could be long-lasting.
“I am very worried about the financial state of U.S. agriculture right now,” Zulauf said. “I am very deeply troubled by the long-term trade impacts and what we’re doing.”
He said it’s dangerous when food is used as a political weapon, using the example of the U.S. grain embargo against the former Soviet Union, in 1980. Zulauf said grain exports have never fully recovered, even though the embargo itself was short-lived.
Nicholson said it’s important for farmers to get better at advocating for trade, as the U.S. considers multi-national trade agreements with other countries. He said farmers did well speaking up for ethanol, and now they need to do the same thing for trade.
“We want to build better advocates around trade,” he said.
Commodity leaders said they were somewhat surprised the farm bill got done this year, but also pleased. According to Zulauf, the bill is not just a continuation of the 2014 farm bill, and makes significant changes to conservation, and also the dairy margin protection program.
Dairy farmers can expect a broader price protection margin, which is being expanded from $8 per hundredweight in the old bill, up to $9.50 in the new bill.
Farmers will also have similar crop protection programs, the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC), with the option of switching between the programs beginning in 2021.
Zulauf said conservation programs are changing in a way that intends to bring productive crop ground back into production, while placing a stronger emphasis of protecting grounds of higher conservation priority.
“Congress is really searching for what works in conservation,” he said.
Although the bill was seen as a major accomplishment, Zulauf said implementation will take time, and there could be a few surprises between what producers think is in the bill, and how it actually gets implemented.
“Implementation does not always work out the way you read it,” he said.
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