A conversation with…David Daniels, Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
OCJ: First, could you share some of your background and the path that led you to your current position as Director?
Director Daniels: I grew up on my family’s farm in Highland County and knew from the time I was 12 years old I was going to be a farmer for the rest of my life. Later on I felt called to public service and served a total of 18 years in local government and nine years in the Ohio General Assembly. The great thing about this job is that it allows me to continue in public service while getting me back into agriculture and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
OCJ: You have big shoes to fill in your new role and are facing some very challenging situations that required you to hit the ground running. What was the most challenging aspect of shifting from State Senator to Director?
Director Daniels: The transition has been very smooth. ODA has a great group of professionals running and working in our various divisions and they are really the ones that keep the day-to-day operations running. We have veterinarians, chemists, microbiologists, sanitarians, entomologists, engineers and many others who are credentialed experts with incredible depths of knowledge in their respective fields.
OCJ: The ODA has many important roles. What do you see as the most vital roles moving forward in service to Ohioans?
Director Daniels: This department’s primary mission is food safety, animal and plant health and consumer protection. We work to give consumers confidence in their food supply. Additionally, I believe it is our responsibility to promote agriculture as an industry and look for ways to bring more agriculture-related jobs to the state because when food is abundant, wholesome and affordable, the whole state benefits.
OCJ: There are some big issues for Ohio agriculture right now. What are some of these issues?
Director Daniels: I think agriculture as an industry is under the microscope right now. The public and the media are scrutinizing animal care standards, nutrient management methods and food safety precautions. At the same time, the demand for wholesome and affordable food continues to grow. Farmers are faced with figuring out how to meet that need while, more and more often, being asked to justify their production practices.
OCJ: How will you be addressing these problems in the coming months?
Director Daniels: I know that most farmers take good care of their livestock and strive to follow good conservation practices meant to lessen their farm’s impact on surrounding natural resources. I think that by continuing to educate both farmers and the general public about responsible animal care and nutrient management I think we’ll go a long way in closing the gap between the agriculture community and the consumer. I’d like to see every Ohioan understand and support the contributions of agriculture to their lives.
OCJ: What is one interesting thing you have learned since you started in your new role as Director?
Director Daniels: Definitely the depth of what happens at this agency every day. In addition, when it comes to testing Ohio food and dairy samples for harmful pathogens, our Consumer Protection Laboratory is so well respected that it also helps monitor the national food supply by receiving and testing samples from other states. And that’s just one of a dozen examples I could give.
OCJ: What do you see as the most exciting opportunities for Ohio agriculture in the future?
Director Daniels: For me, what’s most exciting is that, despite already being the largest industry in Ohio, the opportunities for continued growth are seemingly endless. Modern transportation and growing foreign populations have opened up new export market opportunities. Additionally, researchers have only scratched the surface on the potential uses of agricultural commodities for non-food purposes such as biopolymers and biofuels. It is an exciting time to be a farmer.
OCJ: What has been the response from back home in Highland County with regard to your new position?
Director Daniels: The folks back home have been incredibly supportive. I got to attend the cattleman’s dinner back home a few weeks back and was humbled by their congratulations and thanks.