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Hemp, Lake Erie water quality among several policy priorities for 2019

• Feb 12, 2019 at 8:00 AM

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Farmers Union (OFU) added hemp cultivation and specific recommendations for Lake Erie water quality woes in its 2019 statement of public policy proposals.

Adopted at its recent state convention in Lima, OFU’s ‘Special Orders of Business’ outline the organization’s legislative and executive branch priorities on both the state and national level for the year.

Two topics new on OFU’s slate this year are industrial hemp production in Ohio and a call for state political leaders to lessen the tax burden on Ohio’s woodlands.

“For several years OFU led the charge for family farmers on CAUV reform,” OFU President Joe Logan said.

“While we are grateful for the recent changes to the CAUV formula, there still exists issues with some outlandish tax assessments on woodlands around the state. Woodlands provide immense environmental benefits and we’ll be talking to state leaders this year about tweaks to their valuation for tax purposes.”

“With harmful algal blooms and other water quality issues, we need to make sure we don’t negatively incentivize farmers and rural landowners regarding conservation,” Logan said.

Logan is also optimistic about the prospects for industrial hemp production in Ohio. Since the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the federal prohibition on the cultivation of industrial hemp, Logan said he’s been contacted by a growing number of farmers and even a Texas state ag official looking for information on what Ohio’s approach will be to the crop.

“The ball is in the state of Ohio’s court – and I know that officials at the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture are aware that there’s a growing number of farmers who may wish to diversify by adding hemp to their crop rotation,” Logan said.

“The Ohio Farmers Union supports a state hemp program, but only in the event that it’s designed to work and be available to all farmers in all parts of the state.”

Logan said hemp is a unique and versatile crop from its fiber to the oil which can be derived from the plant. He does sound a note of caution however regarding the market outlook.

“There are a few ‘get rich quick’ ideas out there. Farmers need to do their homework and be aware of how the markets work now and have a plan.”

OFU also tweaked its nutrient management and Lake Erie water quality special order. The family farm organization is continuing to support former Gov. John Kasich’s executive order which identified eight watersheds feeding the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie’s western basin. OFU’s lengthy proposal boils down to accepting impaired or distressed status for those watersheds and using funds available through SB 299 (2018) for soil testing in those areas and eventual suspension of manure spreading in ‘hot spots.’

“We believe the state should use federal EPA’s ‘adaptive management’ concept which would allow for constant review of the data and reassessment of any action plans,” Logan said.

“We believe that state agencies working with researchers and the affected farmers can ultimately manage this situation so that any prohibitions or additional regulations would be lifted when the local data reflects a return to acceptable phosphorous loads.”

Also included in OFU’s policy proposals this year:

• A statement that USDA should respect the will of Congress on SNAP work requirements;

• Renewed support for the renewable fuel standard and condemnation of the overuse of so-called ‘hardship waivers’ by the fossil fuel industry;

• Increased accountability for state and federal agricultural commodity check-off programs;

• A slate of healthcare reform proposals that would benefit rural Americans;

• Support for a solar energy project in Highland County;

• A moratorium on monopolistic, anti-competitive corporate mergers in ag industry;

Tax credits for sellers of farmland to beginning farmers in Ohio; and,

• Support for the Buy American Agricultural Act.

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