Ag week: These organizations speak up for farmers

By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER

Who speaks up for farmers and represents their interests?  In this region, two organizations do.  The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and the Ohio Farmers Union both date to the early 1900s.  Each works to educate farmers and consumers about the importance of growing a safe food supply, and each group deals with a variety of issues on the local, state and federal levels.  Each group also provides a variety of services to its members, who include both farmers and non-farmers.

Two issues each group is dealing with today: Lake Erie water quality, and the current agricultural use valuation, known as CAUV.

Ohio Farm Bureau
The larger of the two organizations, with more than 200,000 members statewide, the Farm Bureau was founded in 1919 to improve farm families’ income and standard of living “through organized action.”

Its website is ofbf.org.

In its early years, the Farm Bureau worked to improve economic conditions and the quality of rural life through rural electrification, and through group purchasing of farm supplies and marketing of farm commodities and insurance, according to the website.

In 1926, Farm Bureau Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. was formed with a $10,000 loan from the Farm Bureau. It eventually became Nationwide Insurance Co. in 1955 and is now a separate company.

The organization also developed an advisory council program to provide an opportunity to discuss and resolve problems at the grass-roots level.

Its policy development process takes suggestions from the individual member to the county level, through the state, and eventually to the national level.

The Farm Bureau said its mission today is “to forge a partnership between farmers and consumers that meets consumer needs and ensures agricultural prosperity in a global marketplace.”

Gary Wilson, retired Ohio State University Extension educator, is president of the Hancock County Farm Bureau.
Jessica Swihart is organizational director for Allen, Hancock, Hardin, Putnam and Van Wert counties.

Allen County had 1,217 Farm Bureau members in 2014; Hancock, 1,369 members; Hardin, 1,079 members; and Putnam, 993 members.

While these counties share office space, each county has a board to handle its own operations.

The office is at 1206 E. Second St., Suite 1, Ottawa. The phone number is 419-523-5874, or toll-free at 1-800-260-3499.
In Hancock County, membership costs $70 per year for a family, according to the Farm Bureau. The annual fee is $65 in Allen and Putnam counties, $69 in Hardin County, and $75 in Van Wert County.

There are 86 county Farm Bureaus statewide. Jackson and Vinton counties, and Athens and Meigs counties have joint county bureaus.

High prices for crops in recent years and good yields caused agricultural land tax rates to soar, but crop prices are down now, which may reduce the tax rates in future years.

The property tax valuation system, known as current agricultural use valuation, is a method to determine real estate taxes on agricultural land use, rather than on land market value.

It is based on a multi-year average of crop prices, soil type, and non-land production costs such as seed, fertilizer, fuel oil, grease, repairs, drying fuel and electricity costs, fuel for trucking, labor charges, and machinery and equipment charges.
The program was approved by Ohio voters in 1973.

The state Department of Taxation recently approved administrative changes to the current agricultural use value formula as proposed by the Farm Bureau.

The updated formula will more closely tie tax values to agricultural economic conditions, and more accurately value woodlands, to lower valuations in counties being reassessed in 2015 for taxes payable next year.

Projected reductions apply only to the valuation and not to the overall tax amount, which is affected by millage rates and other factors. While total tax bills likely will be higher, the formula change will reduce the increase.

In a related matter, the Farm Bureau has begun discussions on further adjustments to the valuation formula with the tax department and its Agricultural Advisory Committee.

Meanwhile, Lake Erie’s water quality problems have been linked to algae blooms in the lake, and farm field runoff has been blamed for contributing to the algae blooms.

A variety of legislative remedies have been proposed, including a prohibition on application of liquid manure to frozen or snow-covered fields.

Separately, a Hancock County flood-control project being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers concerns farmers, Wilson said, because of its impact on farmland — a possible increase in agricultural flood damage, and removal of land from crop production.

Issues the Farm Bureau has promoted over the years include a state personal property tax repeal for farmers in 1967; voter defeat of chemical labeling in 1992; creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board in 2009; and legislation to eliminate the state estate tax in 2012.

Ohio Farmers Union
Much smaller, but also dedicated to assisting farmers, the National Farmers Union was established in 1902 and the Ohio Farmers Union was chartered in 1934.

The Ohio Farmers Union is headquartered at 1011 N. Defiance St., Ottawa. The phone number is 419-523-5300.
A two-year membership costs $95 and a one-year membership costs $55, according to the Farmers Union website, ohfarmersunion.org.

Linda Jones Borton is executive director, while Joe Logan is president. Logan is a farmer in Kinsman, Trumbull County, on the northeastern side of the state.

The original purpose of the organization was “to market crops cooperatively, in order to balance the growing market power of increasingly large commodity buyers, who often dominated large regions in the countryside,” Logan said via email.
The organization was founded on three principles:

• Education — about the nature and function of agricultural markets, and society.
• Cooperation — outlining the potential benefits of having farmers work together to more effectively market their products and purchase needed supplies.
• Legislation — to engage in the legislative process in order to assure agriculture and rural community interests are appropriately represented.

“Those principles remain today,” Logan said, “although the market circumstances are more challenging than ever, as markets have consolidated, integrated and globalized.”

The organization has about 4,000 farm family members in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties, except in the extreme southeastern counties. There are 35 county or multi-county organizations affiliated with the Ohio Farmers Union.

The county or multi-county organizational presidents are the state board of directors, who meet four times annually.
The organization works on a wide variety of issues to assist rural families.

Currently, the focus is similar to the Farm Bureau’s: agricultural nutrient management and regulations being considered to improve water quality; and agricultural property tax valuations, or current agricultural use valuation tax rates, which have increased 200 to 300 percent in recent years.

“This is an unequitable and unsustainable trend,” Logan said of the tax rates.

The organization also provides health insurance, savings on workers’ compensation costs for members with employees, and discounts on car rentals, among other benefits.

Maurer: 419-427-8420
Send an E-mail to Jim Maurer


Originally published at: http://thecourier.com/local-news/2015/03/16/ag-week-these-organizations-speak-up-for-farmers/

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