Gov. Mike DeWine was the keynote speaker at this year’s Ag is Everyone’s Business event, held Monday morning at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center in Hillsboro.
The presentation by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce was designed to showcase the vital role agriculture plays not only in Highland County but statewide as well, with DeWine speaking on his administration’s efforts to help Ohio farmers.
“The people closest to the problem have the answers,” he told the nearly 400 who were in attendance. “We recognize that farmers want the help, but they also have to make a living.”
DeWine shared with the audience in an informal, “fireside chat” style that the first time he visited with Highland County farmers was when working at a family-owned seed store in Yellow Springs.
“Highland County at that time was one of the leading counties in the production of Timothy seeds,” DeWine said. “We would come down for a few weeks every fall and go farm to farm and buy Timothy seeds.”
He said things have come a long way since those days, and the promotional video created by the Highland County OSU Extension Office revealed that agriculture generated more than $155 million for the Highland County economy last year.
Dr. Brooke Beam of the Highland County OSU Extension Office said the complete video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/fQ82fODinhc.
DeWine spoke extensively about H2Ohio, a water quality plan designed to not only reduce harmful algal blooms in Ohio lakes, rivers and streams, but to also improve wastewater infrastructure and prevent lead contamination.
He said that soil and water conservation offices in each county will lead local efforts to help farmers enroll in the H2Ohio program and to help them implement the program.
Acknowledging the importance of agriculture and the family farm to Highland County, DeWine also commented on the farmland preservation program, which he said would permanently preserve Ohio farms for future agricultural production.
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, Greenfield farmers William and Glenna Rowe, through a resolution passed by the Highland County commissioners, were enabled to place their nearly 350 acres of farmland into the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP) through the Milford-based Cardinal Land Conservancy.
The organization said that an agricultural or conservation easement is a voluntary legally binding agreement between a private landowner and a qualified conservation organization, with the sole purpose of restricting or eliminating development to protect scenic, natural or agricultural resources, thereby protecting it for future generations.
He said the recent passage of the United States/Mexico/Canada trade agreement will be a tremendous boon for farmers, saying that it will open up greater trade into foreign and overseas markets.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) was on hand for the agriculture conference, and was in the White House to witness the signing of the historical agreement in January.
He had high praise for the measure which was crafted to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
“I think that it’s going to have a tremendous impact on Ohio,” he said. “Not just for agriculture, but for manufacturing as well, and I agree with the governor that it will herald a bright future for Ohio.”
Insuring the profitability for the future of farming wasn’t lost on state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), who said it was important to groom the next generation of farmers.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher as we see our small family farms disappear to corporate-type farming,” he said. “It’s important to support agriculture in not only my district, but throughout the state of Ohio.”
DeWine concluded his comments by touching on increasing funding for mental health services for those in the rural areas of the state, enhancing broadband internet service in underserved regions and the importance of participation in the upcoming census.
Following a presentation to the governor of a professionally framed 1955 vintage seed bag from the old DeWine & Hamma Seed Company of Yellow Springs by ag committee member Rick Williams, attendees were welcome to take part in one of three educational breakout sessions.
One of the sessions dealt with solar energy and the economic impact of the Willowbrook solar panel farm scheduled for construction this year, and projected to be generating electrical power near the end of 2021.
Willowbrook is one of a pair of utility-scale solar power generating facilities slated to be built, the other being the 350-megawatt Hecate facility near Mowrystown.
RWE Renewables America LLC recently acquired the Willowbrook project from Open Road Renewables, and will be the company that will build, own and operate the southern Highland County facility.
Both Mike Volpe of Open Road Renewables and Will Eberle of RWE Renewables America were on hand to answer questions about the 150-megawatt project, which will occupy almost 1,500 acres, paralleling U.S. Route 62 from the Old Y Restaurant southward to just north of Hansen Aggregates’ Eagle Stone Quarry in northern Brown County.
The second workshop specialized in beef production, with Dr. Lyda Garcia of the OSU Department of Animal Sciences demonstrating beef cuts and taste in a culinary setting.
Monday’s third breakout session was a discussion on hemp production in the Buckeye State including rules and regulations, licensing information and growing practices.
Highland County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Destiny Bryson said that Jim Belt of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Andy Culbertson of Acela Biomedical would attempt to clarify common misconceptions regarding hemp.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.