Business profile: Ohio Farmers Union

OTTAWA, Ohio — Since 1934 the Ohio Famers Union has been a proponent and defender of Ohio’s family farms. OFU has fought for the economic sustainability and survivability of not only its members but all family farms in Ohio through its advocacy and member benefits, including state and national lobbying efforts, organizing cooperatively and collectively to encourage stronger pricing through “strength in numbers” and a wide array of insurance products for the individual, family and farm business.

Going back

Roger Wise, OFU president, says he remembers the early 1970s and forward as a time when the grassroots organization was extremely active advocating for issues important to farmers.

“We were instrumental in the creation of the Ohio Grain Indemnity Fund. A local grain elevator went bankrupt because the manager sold the grain and absconded with the money,” he said. “Farmers lost their grain and were never paid, that wasn’t right. Ohio Farmers Union, working with other organizations and political leaders, was instrumental in getting the Grain Indemnity Fund established.”

According to Wise, there also were utility issues impacting family farms and the general public in the mid 1970s. OFU supported the legislation establishing the Ohio Consumers’ Council, which today still works on behalf of all Ohio utility rate payers.

“We led the charge and were very involved on the CAUV (current agricultural use valuation) issue,” said Wise. “In large part, what happened was a result of development around and near cities. Farmland property tax values rose inordinately because of its development value, not production value.

Faced with higher taxes, OFU again was a leader in creating the CAUV tax structure, which taxed farmland on its production ability rather than commercial value.”

These successes had OFU poised “to do great things when I was elected president in 2008″, said Wise.

A setback

In 2009 however, it was discovered a trusted employee had been embezzling funds for a lengthy time and instead of actively pursuing a proactive agenda on behalf of their members, the organization was forced to take “drastic measures.”

According to Wise, “We furloughed and eventually laid off all of our employees. It wasn’t their fault, but they paid the highest price. They believed in what we were doing and were loyal and good employees. Advocacy was neglected and our youth educational efforts were curtailed. This situation was thrust on us.

“As we continue to recover, controls are now in place to prevent this from happening again. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Thanks in large part to strong member support, Herculean efforts of a skeletal staff, the dedication of the executive board, county presidents and volunteers, the Ohio Farmers Union in 2011 is poised again to advocate for the family farmers and consumers.

“We are looking forward once again,” Wise said, “to educating our friends in the Statehouse on the key issues facing our farmer-members and agriculture. Key issues that have the attention of OFU include oil and natural gas exploration (fracking) in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Ohio.

“We are not against development of oil and gas in Ohio,” Wise said, but there should be enough regulation in place to protect the landowner and the ground and surface water.

OFU says contracts are currently skewed toward the developer. In some cases there are gag orders prohibiting landowners from talking with one another. They should work with an attorney who has expertise in these matters.

OFU does not support exploration for natural resources on state parks.

“The amount of influence at both the national and state levels that large vertically integrated corporations have in setting public policy is a concern for us. We support farm policy that provides a strong safety net in bad times and allows us to get our income from the market through a system of fair and transparent competition,” Wise said.

Antibiotics

OFU supports the use of antibiotics to treat livestock for disease and illness. However, the organization does not support routine use of antibiotic feeding for the purpose of promoting growth and health in crowded conditions.

Antibiotic resistance in humans has occurred, Wise adds, “and we need to focus on sustainability for agriculture, safe food and the public health of our citizens.”

Other issues include the support of ethanol and soy-biodiesel tax credit extensions, support for ODNR’s Rules for Nutrient Management Plans for livestock and poultry farmers in watersheds deemed to be in distress.

The algae growth at Grand Lake St. Marys is a particular focus.

Other issues include fair trade, maintaining crop insurance at current levels, renewable and alternative energy development, dealing with the dairy issue and implementation of the revised GIPSA rules.

Much work continues to be done for family farmers. After a major bump in the road, OFU says it is on the “road back.”

A new interactive website, www.ohfarmersunion.org, was recenlty unveiled. For policy or member information, contact OFU, 1011 N. Defiance Street, P.O. Box 363, Ottawa, OH 45875. Or call 800-321-3671 or 419-523-5300.

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