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Agriculture is backbone of Ohio economy

Many businesses and industries have contributed to Ohio’s growth over the past two centuries, but one in particular—agriculture—has stood the test of time and continues to employ thousands of Ohioans and play a critical role in our state’s economy.

There is no doubt that we should be doing everything possible right now to keep and promote job creation in our local communities and get Ohio’s economy moving again, but this effort won’t be successful unless we work to ensure Ohio farmers and all the men and women who work in our agriculture industry have the resources to prosper.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I in the General Assembly passed two important bills this past week designed to help promote farming in Ohio and preserve our state’s strong agricultural heritage.

Last November, nearly 64 percent of Ohio voters and 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties approved State Issue 2, a constitutional amendment which created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a 13-member panel of animal care and food safety experts charged with establishing guidelines for the safe and healthy care of livestock and poultry in Ohio.

On March 24, the House and Senate voted unanimously to pass House Bill 414, legislation that would implement the language from Issue 2, setting in motion a process that will help preserve the availability of affordable, locally-grown crops, while working to ensure that Ohio farmers are operating responsibly, animals are well cared for and the food we are eating is safe.

However, despite Ohioans’ overwhelming support for Issue 2 last fall, the Humane Society of the United States, an extreme animal rights organization based in Washington, D.C., is currently working to get a measure on the ballot this coming November that would impose their agenda for vegetarianism on our state and dramatically raise costs for Ohio farmers.

In recent years, the group has successfully organized campaigns in several states to reform current farming practices, including a proposal in California, which will make it a criminal offense beginning in 2015 if farmers do not follow certain rules for confining pigs, calves and hens.

It is fine if someone chooses to be a vegetarian, but out-of-state interest groups should not make that decision for all Ohioans. The reality is that if we impose burdensome and costly regulations on agricultural production in Ohio, the jobs and investment will go to another state or country.

This would have a devastating effect on our economy and the health and well-being of all Ohioans.

That is why it was important for Democrats and Republicans to come together to support legislation that will appropriately balance the desire to monitor how farm animals are cared for with the need to ensure Ohio’s regulatory environment does not drive agricultural production and jobs out of our state.

The Legislature also voted unanimously this past week to approve Senate Bill 155, which works to support soil and water conservation in Ohio.

During the last state budget process, the House and Senate could not agree on a funding source for Ohio’s local soil and water conservation districts (SWCD).

These districts work with land owners in both urban and rural areas to help prevent soil erosion and promote responsible water management by surveying and designing grassed waterways, erosion control structures, surface and substance drainage, farm ponds, windbreaks and livestock waste management facilities. These efforts are critical to the success of agriculture in our state.

Many of you may have heard about the dust bowls during the Great Depression. I have seen in other countries what happens when you do not take care of the soil.

Therefore, I introduced SB 155 with State Senator Dale Miller (D-Cleveland) to direct a portion of the state’s existing fee on the sale of new tires to provide some funding for SWCDs to continue their important work.

The bill would increase by $10,000 the amount that ODNR can distribute through grants to soil and water districts that currently receive little to no local matching dollars.

According to ODNR, this change could help these cash-strapped districts maintain at least one full-time employee to help the SWCD board perform minimum services for the local community and apply for grants and other sources of revenue.

Separately, there was a provision in SB 155 that will allow smaller state government agencies to be audited every other year, which will help save thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Agriculture is the backbone of Ohio’s economy.

These two bipartisan measures will help plant the seeds for the continued growth of the farming industry in our state, thereby protecting jobs for Ohioans, promoting investment in our local communities and working to protect Ohio’s important agriculture tradition.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.