The Highland County Chamber of Commerce held the 11th annual Ag is Everyone’s Business event at a packed house Friday at Boeckmann Farms north of Hillsboro.
“We are here to connect, learn and celebrate Highland County’s leading industry, which is agriculture,” said Highland County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jamie Wheeler.
The event exists to bring together local business leaders, farmers and youth who plan to be involved in agriculture.
The featured speakers at this year’s event were Ohio Farm Bureau Senior Director of Communications and Media Relations Ty Higgins and Amanda Radke, a fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, South Dakota and agriculture industry columnist and speaker.
Higgins grew up on a dairy farm in Licking County and started his career as a farm broadcaster while he studied at The Ohio State University. After a decade in country radio, he found his way back to agricultural journalism for another 10 years and has worked at the Ohio Farm Bureau for more than three years.
Radke is a former National FFA extemporaneous speaking champion and national beef ambassador. She has spent 15 years traveling the country to promote agriculture, rural America and the western way of life. She has challenged animal rights activists, environmental extremists, politicians and celebrities who seek to eliminate animal agriculture.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Brian Baldridge spoke as a special guest at the event about agriculture initiatives in Ohio. He said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio program to address serious water issues that have been building in Ohio for decades is “a tremendous initiative.”
“When some of the algae blooms were forming they were really pointing the finger at the ag community,” said Baldridge. “We’re part of this, but there are issues with private septic systems, and there are issues from runoff from municipalities so we, as a society, are in this together.”
He also spoke about $70 million awarded to build a new animal lab for his department and farmland preservation.
After taking the stage, Higgins told the story of how he mowed a Script Ohio in his Michigan fan neighbor’s lawn while the neighbor was on vacation. The incident garnered three million views on Facbook, was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and had Higgins trading barbs with the hosts of a show on an Ann Arbor, Michigan radio station.
Higgins said he views his job at the Ohio Farm Bureau as the next best thing to farming. “I get to work with farmers every single day and advocate on their behalf and communicate with not just our members but also the consumers, media and lawmakers,” said Higgins.
He shared statistics illustrating the importance of the farm and food sectors in society. He said $397 billion is brought in to the U.S. economy through agriculture and that $11 billion of that comes from Ohio.
Higgins also spoke about Ohio programs like the Meat Processing Grant Program, the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit, H2Ohio, and the Ohio Rural Broadband Expansion Grant Program.
He said the H2Ohio program has been an incredibly successful voluntary, science-based program that will continue to expand statewide. “As much as we talk about phosphorous up north, we’re hearing more and more about nitrogen down south,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you and say if H2Ohio doesn’t continue to work as it’s working now, you’re not going to like what’s next on the regulatory front,” said Higgins.
Higgins also stressed the importance of mental health in the agriculture community. “We’ve lost four farmers to suicide in the last eight weeks in Ohio alone,” he said. “You’re worth is not in acres or in bushels or in dollars; you’re worth is in those who depend on you, those who rely on you, those who care for you, those who need you in your life, and those who love you.”
Radke said she was pleased to see a full-capacity crowd in the audience at Boeckmann Farms as she took the stage. “I always know there is hope in the agriculture community when I see young people, when I see families, and when I see a full house of people that are attending because they know what matters,” she said.
Radke shared the experience she had having a vegan animal rights activist as a roommate during her time at college at George Washington University. She said that her roommate eventually decided the cattle industry wasn’t so bad and reverted back to eating beef.
She said taste, nutrition, budget, safety, the environment and the treatment of animals are the things that matter to everyone when it comes to raising cattle for beef. “It’s those six basic things that I don’t care how left or right of the political spectrum you are, we all care about those things because, at the end of the day, we all have to eat,” she said. “Somehow it’s been weaponized to be used against us.”
Wrapping up her presentation, Radke said, “Most of all, I believe the best product that comes out of American agriculture is the people.”
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.