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Friday, March 8th, 2013

All not rosy in agriculture

Ohio Farm Bureau official speaks about issues worrying farmers

By Nancy Allen
CELINA - The ag industry is being scrutinized more than ever through media attention brought by animal rights groups, those advocating for organic-only food and others, an official with an Ohio farm lobbying group said Thursday.
Mike Bumgarner, vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau's Center for Food and Animal Issues, told those attending Thursday's agriculture breakfast meeting in Celina that this often gives the public a negative perception of conventional agriculture.
"The public sees (record farm market prices and rising farm incomes) and thinks it's nothing but good times, but many livestock producers don't feel good about some of the things that have happened," Bumgarner said.
Media stories and movies unkind to the ag industry also have affected public opinion, he added.
Bumgarner ticked off a list of things currently worrying farmers - partisanship in Washington, sequestration of government funds, health care expenses, the uncertainty surrounding the unfinished farm bill and consumer demands and expectations.
He said the Ohio Farm Bureau and ag industry as a whole has to come up with a better way to react to and deal with consumer demands, expectations and perceptions.
"Everybody is questioning where their food comes from and a lot of people are confused, and when they're confused they err on the side of caution and shy away," he said.
The best thing ag leaders and farmers can do is become engaged and talk about what they do in farming and why they do it, he said. Build alliances with other farmers and join commodity organizations to push for policies that support agriculture and get accurate information to the public. Have discussions with non-farmers and correct misinformation when it's heard, he said.
"We figured out that a farmer feeds 155 people, so you should have conversations with that many people," he said. "Get comfortable having conversations about farming."
Bumgarner said some anti-farm activist groups are relentless in pushing their issues. He encouraged ag officials to be just as relentless pushing back.
Despite a 2009 agreement that stopped an animal cruelty ballot initiative in Ohio, the issue of how farmers care for their livestock is not going away, he said.
The agreement brokered between then Gov. Ted Strickland calls for Ohio, animal rights group the Humane Society of the United States, the Ohio Farm Bureau and its partners to favor tougher laws governing farm animals, including banning certain crates and cages and the use of strangulation as a form of euthanasia. It also calls for setting felony-level penalties for cockfighting, cracking down on puppy mills and promoting a ban on future exotic pet purchases.
The only aspect of the agreement the state has not addressed is banning cockfighting, Bumgarner said. The other issues were addressed by the creation of the Ohio Animal Livestock Care Standards and new legislation.
"We're never off their radar," Bumgarner said. "Could they come back in the morning to start a ballot initiative? Yes, but I don't foresee that happening."
Bumgarner noted infighting between grain and livestock farmers has abated over the years while issues have arisen between organic verses conventional and big verses small farms.
"We do have some work to do there to bring them back together," he said.
The next monthly ag breakfast meeting is 7:30 a.m. April 4 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina, where Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dave Daniels will be the featured speaker.
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