Monday, September 26, 2011

In today’s political landscape there are tight budgets, increasing demands and fiscal shortcomings at every level of government. But instead of thoughtful compromise, it still seems that in far too many cases, there are an awful lot of gridlocked black and white extremes and not much gray somewhere in the middle. That is not the case, however, in the current farm bill debate as farmers from Ohio are leading a charge of compromise.

With so many variables (most notably the weather) that farmers can’t control, there is a legitimate need for a federal farm safety net in the farm bill. Without the assurance of something to fall back upon, farmers would be severely hindered in their ability to produce the crops that society needs. The question is, though, with the spending challenges and tight budgets at all levels of government, and the record income levels for agriculture, how much of a safety net is really necessary to keep farmers in business and consumers well fed?

Farmers in Ohio have been working on an answer to this complex and politically loaded question.

“We believe inefficient spending should be eliminated from all sectors of the Federal Government,” said Anthony Bush, a Morrow County farmer and vice president of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA). Before we ask other sectors of government spending to examine their programs, we felt that we should examine our own and offer up policy that fits with our beliefs.”

This sentiment led the Ohio organization to take the idea to the national level, which has resulted in a farmer-driven policy recommendation in the farm bill debate that saves taxpayer dollars.

Working in concert with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the Ohio farmers consulted some of the nation’s top agricultural economists, including Ohio State University’s Carl Zulauf, to improve upon the ACRE program that was a safety net option in the previous farm bill. The result is the Agriculture Disaster Assistance Program (ADAP), which simplifies the current program, eliminates overlapping coverage with personal crop insurance and replaces the current Direct Payment program. Early estimates suggest that the changes could save $15 billion over 10 years, while preserving the vital components required for an effective farm safety net.

The OCWGA has pushed to get ADAP developed in time to be a viable part of the farm bill debate in the U.S. Congress.

“There was a sense of urgency to get our proposal out in front of the Super Committee that includes Ohio’s own Senator Rob Portman. The Ag Committees have been given a mid-October deadline to submit recommendations for consideration,” Bush said. “We realize that the scoring process by the Congressional Budget office takes time, but is critical to what ultimately becomes law.”

It is also important to note that, while the farm bill is politically associated with production agriculture, the vast majority of the cost and programs in the bill are focused on getting proper nutrition to consumers.

The political realities of any farm bill are that it is really a nutrition bill,” Bush said. “These provisions have been put into the farm bill over the years to help garner urban support as our population gets further removed from the farm. The actual ‘farm’ part of the farm bill is less than one half of one percent of the federal budget.”

The bottom line is that this nation cannot continue to sustain such debt levels and it must reign in spending. And, while reducing the spending on one half of one percent of the federal budget will not solve the problem, the philosophy being demonstrated by the farmer members of the OCWGA sets a unique and important precedent in today’s political battles where neither side is willing to give any ground.

“Everyone had the same goal in mind that we needed to send a message to our members of Congress that we wanted to be part of the solution not the problem,” Bush said. “We can no longer just kick the can down the road. Currently, about 40 cents of every dollar our government spends is borrowed. The ADAP program that NCGA has proposed is not a lucrative program; it is a true safety net that would be there when producers need it most.”

Sometimes, in a black and white world, it is nice to see a refreshing shade of gray.

For more from Bush about the details of ADAP, visit

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This summer Kile “Andy” Hayden was in a terrible car accident with his younger brothers, Jeffery and Michael. Andy was killed and his younger brothers were seriously injured. Prior to the tragedy, they were on their way to care for their 4-H hogs in preparation for the upcoming Scioto County Fair.

Andy was a promising young man who was well known in the hog barn at the county fair for helping out whenever he could and taking the time to help younger 4-Hers with their projects.

“It was the same day as the county skillathon at the fairgrounds. There were a couple hundred people there and word got around pretty quickly,” said Jo Williams, the Scioto County 4-H educator. “People were already talking about how they could help the family that day.”

While dealing with the devastating loss of one son, Carl and Susie Hayden were also facing the stress and medical expenses with two other sons in the hospital as they battled their serious injuries. It was suggested that Andy’s 4-H pig be auctioned to raise money for the family.

“The Senior Fair Board approved of auctioning off pig at the end of the livestock sale to raise money for the Hayden family’s medical bills,” she said. “Another 4-Her stepped up to show the pigs for the boys who could not due to their injuries. And, even though Jeffrey and Michael couldn’t show their pigs, they were still there and even stayed overnight at the fair one night. It was a really neat thing to see everyone come together and support the family.”

Even before the sale at the fair, fellow 4-Hers took up a collection in the barn and coordinated efforts with local businesses to raise money for the family. No one was quite sure what to expect when the sale finally arrived.

“The starting bid for the Hayden hog was $10,000 that had been raised before the sale even started,” Williams said. “Then we had 172 kids who donated a portion of their livestock sales to raise another $3,360 – that was just from the kids out of their checks.”

Whether they had been planning to bid or not, local businesses began collectively adding to the total at the emotional event on Aug. 13. Rather than bidding against each other, bidders just upped the total amount by what they wanted to contribute. Part way through the auction of the pig, the total got another boost.

“A little boy brought in a baseball hat filled with crumpled bills he’d collected and gave it to the auctioneer,” she said. “There were 73 local businesses or groups listed as buyers, but there are more cash donations that are not listed.”

In total, the final bid for the hog was a whopping $34,370, which will go a long way to help the struggling family. The family plans to start a memorial swine herdsman award program for 4-H to help the community remember Andy.

“The family handled it remarkably well. It was very emotional for them and for everyone watching. It was sad, but it was neat to see the support for the family through 4-H,” Williams said. “We teach a lot of lessons that we hope help kids learn to be good citizens who give back to their community. This really shows that they are learning it. More than half of the kids showing livestock donated some money.”

Susie Haden said the family was overwhelmed and amazed at the community’s response in terms of the funds raised and in the kind comments about Andy. Williams said the amount of money that was donated may have been a surprise, but the generosity and community outreach was not.

“We have counties that are struggling with budgets and funding for 4- H and Extension, but examples like this give you hope to see the good things that can come from it,” she said. “We are really lucky to have great support for 4-H from the community and the commissioners. They understand that 4-H is a family program, it is not just the kid taking the project most of the time. It is something they do together as a family. There is also a larger 4-H family, and a situation like this shows how lucky we are and how much we have to be proud of. These kids are learning life lessons that are larger than learning how to feed a pig.”