COLUMBUS — Ohio Farm Bureau Federation could lead the way in changing how the national organization defines a family, if a proposal passed at the state level makes it through the vetting process and voting at the upcoming national convention.
The proposal — approved at the Ohio Farm Bureau annual meeting, in Columbus, Dec. 5 — could be brought before the national convention for a vote as early as January 2020. It must be vetted at a meeting of the state presidents this month, make it through national policy committee discussions and, then, be approved by a vote at the national convention.
The winding process follows how the farm bureau is structured, said Cole Staudt, a spokesman for American Farm Bureau Federation. “All of the changes get voted on from the bottom up, not the top down,” he told Farm and Dairy.
Currently, American Farm Bureau policy, in section 152, titled “Family and Moral Responsibility,” reads: “A family should be defined as persons who are related by blood, marriage between male and female or legal adoption.”
Ohio’s proposal, approved after much discussion, recommends deleting “male and female,” so the policy would read: “A family should be defined as persons who are related by blood, marriage or legal adoption.”
The policy change was the only one approved of three brought forward by Jacob Hoelscher, a Darke County delegate. He proposed the changes in succession. The first dealt with American Farm Bureau’s civil rights policy, in section 101.
Currently, it states: “We strongly oppose discrimination against persons on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin or handicapped status.” Hoelscher’s amendment recommended adding “sexual orientation.” The amendment was defeated 165-135.
Then, Hoelscher presented his second recommended change, this time to the definition of family. The discussion around this policy change became heated. Comments shot back and forth between delegates, about their beliefs and whether or not it was time to change policy. After securing a two-thirds vote to end discussion, the delegates voted. It passed, by a narrow margin, 162-151.
The third change dealt with another part of section 152 — 152.5. The American Farm Bureau policy reads: “We oppose: 5.1. Granting special privileges to those that participate in alternative lifestyles, and 5.2. Human cloning.” Hoelscher proposed deleting 5.1, entirely. That measure was also defeated.
When the 50 farm bureau presidents meet to discuss the policy suggestions, it’s “a weeding-out process,” said Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman. They ensure that the suggestions are not addressed elsewhere.
One state does not have more influence than another, he added. “I think all issues from all states are weighed on an equal ballot,” he said. “I think that there will always be a fair representation at the national level.”
He declined to speculate on the proposal’s chance to reach a national vote. “It’s really too early in the process,” he said.
Hoelscher told Farm and Dairy after the vote that he had hoped his first proposal would be approved, but was optimistic that the vote was close. “Whenever I lost that one, I essentially assumed that I was going to lose the next two,” he said.
Hoelscher farms with his family, raising dairy heifers for dairies and running a small hog and custom farming business. He worked in insurance, previously, and was in the 2018 AgriPower class. In AgriPower, he said he took time to read all of the policy. “Whenever I read that part, I was like, wow, this makes our industry look very backward,” he said.
He proposed the changes first during his class and felt it was time. Then, he talked with his county farm bureau officers and other delegates, prior to introducing the proposals.
“It’s just something that needs to come to light,” he said, adding that if it makes it to national voting, “I’d like to hear it come from Ohio, if it gets to that point.”
The American Farm Bureau did not respond prior to press time with information on when the family and moral responsibility section was added to national policy.
Ohio delegates also discussed water quality efforts, transportation and infrastructure and wildlife management on the state level. The approved state policies set the direction for the organization’s activities in the coming year. A record 381 delegates representing all county farm bureaus participated in the debate and discussion.
Efficient transportation was a debated topic. Delegates discussed finding a balance between the need to deliver farm products while maintaining roadways and bridges. Protections on the farm from wildlife and predators, particularly coyotes, were considered as well. Other policy votes addressed property rights, education and permanent Daylight Saving Time.
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