A conversation with…
Jim Zehringer, the future director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
OCJ: First, could you share a little about your background in agriculture and your legislative career that has helped prepare you for this position?
Jim: I grew up in town, but in the 70s I started working with my father in-law operating Meiring Poultry farm. My wife and I took ownership of the farm in 1983 and we raised chickens and fish and grew corn and soybeans up until 1 year ago. In 2002 I was elected as a Mercer County Commissioner. Mercer County is one of the largest Ag producing counties in the State and working with farmers in the county prepared me to work with agriculture issues at the state level. I was appointed to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2007 and I have been actively working on the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee as a member of the House.
OCJ: At the top of the list of concerns for the Ohio government is the huge budget deficit. How will this shape the next few years at the Department of Agriculture?
Jim: Governor-elect Kasich has asked me to make Ohio Agriculture a part of our economic recovery program. I will meet with universities and development directors to increase agriculture production in Ohio through new technologies and sound business practices. In the department we will operate efficiently and be sure that work is done with the lowest cost possible.
OCJ: You have spoken against the efforts of the Humane Society of the United States in Ohio. Will this continue to be important moving forward and how do propose handling this out-of-state activist group?
Jim: I have been a supporter of the Livestock Care Standards Board and I believe the LCSB will be a positive aspect of maintaining and improving livestock care on Ohio farms. I will meet with the parties that established the agreement with HSUS. I want to hear from the commodities groups and the farmers impacted by the agreement. The future of Ohio Agriculture is at stake no matter the outcome of any decisions made around the agreement and I believe it is important that the situation be handled with care. I will not allow Washington D.C. activists to dictate what happens with Ohio Agriculture.
OCJ: Do you anticipate any significant changes with the role or implementation of the rules for the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board in the future? Why or why not?
Jim: The Livestock Care Standards Board is fairly new but what they have accomplished to-date has been successful. I look forward to chairing the Board as the Director of agriculture. I am prepared to address any challenges the Board may encounter and I will work to be sure the Board is successful and productive. My number one goal as Director of Agriculture is to be sure safe, high quality food gets to the tables of Ohioans.
OCJ: What other goals do you have for the ODA?
Jim: Promoting the agriculture opportunities Ohio has to offer. Working with schools to help bridge the gap between consumers and agriculture, I want to see a more widespread understanding of modern farming practices.
OCJ: Do you foresee the role of ODA changing in the future in any way?
Jim: As I mentioned before, Governor-elect Kasich has asked me to work with the universities and development directors to spur growth in the agricultural economic sector. Ohio Agriculture is the State’s number one industry and I am pleased that Governor Kasich sees the industry as crucial to our economic growth.
OCJ: Will you miss your current role as a state representative? How will your new role differ?
Jim: I will miss a lot about being a State Representative. I enjoyed working with my colleagues to find a common solution for our state’s biggest problems. I also enjoyed being able to meet the people of Mercer, Darke and Preble County on a regular basis. I will miss witnessing the successes of the people, listening and responding to the struggles of the people, and addressing the concerns of the people. The people from my district are the ones I grew up with and I will be bringing part of that with me as Director of Agriculture but I will miss that interaction on a daily basis. As Director of Agriculture I will spend more time in Columbus and I will be responsible for addressing and listening to the concerns of everyone involved in agriculture throughout the State.
OCJ: What do you think are the key factors for maintaining a viable and vibrant agricultural industry in Ohio?
Jim: Growth, innovation, and investment; most of all we need to find a way to keep our families in the farming business and provide young people a future on the farm. We must work to build up rural Ohio and continue to make that part of Ohio a significant part of our economic success.
OCJ: What challenges need to be addressed to keep Ohio agriculture strong?
Jim: We must make Ohio an attractive place for agriculture to do business. We have to show a future for Ohio Agriculture and make sure it is a friendly place that welcomes agriculture rather than scolding practices and keeping the industry from succeeding.
OCJ: What do you most look forward to as the ODA director?
Jim: Working with Governor-elect Kasich to bring the Ohio economy back. I look forward to promoting jobs, and building an Ohio with promise for our young people where universities are spurring the growth of technology that will allow for employment of young people in Ohio and stop the exodus of talent, ambition and future.