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Ohio Ag director steps down

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:45 PM

COLUMBUS (AP) The state's longest-serving agriculture director made great strides in raising the department's profile but has a mixed record in keeping farms from harming the environment, supporters and critics say.

Fred Dailey, 61, is leaving the Agriculture Department after 16 years when Democrat Ted Strickland takes over as governor on Jan. 8. Gov. George Voinovich, a Republican, hired him in 1991.

He had served as Indiana's agriculture director and worked for the Ohio Beef Council and the Ohio Cattleman's Association. Voinovich's successor, Republican Bob Taft, signed him up for another eight years in 1998.

During Dailey's tenure, agriculture has changed in Ohio with smaller, family-owned farms giving way to larger corporate-owned farms and livestock operations.

The department's takeover of the regulation of large livestock and poultry farms gave Dailey his highest profile. In 2002, at the urging of corporate farm groups, a new law switched oversight to the department from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The number of livestock megafarms _ farming operations with more than 100,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 hogs, 1,000 beef cattle or 700 dairy cows _ have more than tripled in the last decade in Ohio.

The most notorious case involved the 14-million-hen Buckeye Egg Farm, which had sites in three central and northwest Ohio counties. Buckeye Egg had been cited repeatedly for environmental violations from neighbor complaints of foul air and water that attracted swarms of flies and rodents feeding on the manure the farms produced.

Dailey yanked its license to operate, but the farm reopened under new ownership in 2004 as Ohio Fresh Eggs. However, the department found that the new owners had not disclosed one of its financial backers and the agency is once again trying to shut it down.

He said the megafarm operators know they are notice to operate cleanly and forthrightly.

"They know we can stop them from operating. They don't take that lightly and neither do I," Dailey said. "I don't want to promote an industry that isn't well-regulated."

Jack Shaner, a lobbyist for the Ohio Environmental Council, has seen his group often at odds with Dailey, especially over the operation of megafarms.

"We are critical of his administration's stewardship of factory farms," Shaner said. "His goal wasn't to shut them down but to rehabilitate them. ... To his credit, he eventually went after Buckeye Egg."

Deputy agency director Fred Shimp, who has worked with Dailey all of his 16 years, said he's left a lasting mark on agriculture in Ohio.

"When it comes to advocating for this industry, he's an absolute bulldog."

Dailey won't say what he'll do next.

"Somebody said the other day that I was retiring. I'm not retiring. It's more of a forced separation," he said.

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