Farm Bureau president Bill Patterson and executive vice president Adam Sharp present the Distinguished Service Award to Jerry Lahmers.

Ohio Farm Bureau Annual Meeting highlights

Farmland preservation and development pressure were just a few of the important topics discussed by the delegates at Ohio Farm Bureau’s 105th annual meeting this week. In all, 359 delegates representing all county Farm Bureaus participated in the debate and discussion.

“Our state policy development committee is made up of some of our state board members as well as local board members and they set the tone for what we talk about at annual meeting every year. They debate some of those topics in October and then the counties submit their policies and they debate those in November. Those are the policies that are on the floor at Annual Meeting and we’ve had some good discussions about issues affecting agriculture,” said Evan Callicoat, Ohio Farm Bureau director of state policy. “We talked about solar — that is definitely an issue out there in the counties right now. Many places around the state are dealing with those projects so debating that solar policy. There are some livestock things going on too. We’re dealing with high path avian influenza and African swine fever concerns.”

Delegates supported new policy to regulate community solar projects, including issues local governments can consider as they address siting ordinances and rules. Delegates also expressed their support for prioritizing the use of non-agricultural land for wind and solar projects. Policy to combat feral swine was added, which support prohibitions on importing, releasing, maintaining, or recreationally hunting feral swine. Delegates also discussed the issue of livestock shows, and supported the use of Food and Drug Administration and Food Residue Avoidance Databank standards for the enforcement of livestock exhibition rules. Responding to recent disaster events, delegates discussed and supported the importance of local emergency management agencies engaging with the agricultural community to appropriately prepare for emergencies. The organization also supported long-time monitoring and assessment of air, land, plant and water resources in a designated disaster impact area.

Once the dust settles from the policy debates at Annual Meeting, federally relevant issues move on for discussion at the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in January. New federal policy included important considerations for the use of artificial intelligence within the agricultural industry. This included considerations for data privacy, security and ownership, and necessary regulatory parameters for the use and development of AI. 

“The passion of our members is evidenced by the rigorous discussion and thought our delegates dedicate to policy as the core of our grassroots organization,” said Jack Irvin, Ohio Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy. “As the members have set our policy, it is now our job to advocate at the Statehouse and in Washington, D.C., on behalf of them and all of Ohio agriculture.”

Several awards were announced at the 2023 Ohio Farm Bureau Annual Meeting as well, including three people who have left indelible marks on the agriculture industry and Farm Bureau. The 2023 Distinguished Service Award recipients are Bob Gibbs of Holmes County, Jerry Lahmers of Tuscarawas County and Virgil Strickler of Franklin County. Honorees were recognized for lifetime achievements that benefited Ohio’s farming community. 

Bob Gibbs

Bob Gibbs’ career as a farmer, Farm Bureau leader and U.S. Congressman has had an enormous impact on agriculture in the state and throughout the country. During his career, Gibbs has worked to address environmental, property rights and trade issues that impact production agriculture. He helped reform federal water resource policy, funded the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and assisted small communities’ access to affordable clean water utilities.  

Farm Bureau president Bill Patterson and executive vice president Adam Sharp present the Distinguished Service Award to Bob Gibbs.

His career in public service representing northeast Ohio included six years in the Ohio House, two years in the Ohio Senate and 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Gibbs family farm, Hidden Hollow Farms in Holmes County, led to his Farm Bureau involvement, where he served on the state board of trustees from 1985 to 2001 and then as state president. He is the only former Farm Bureau president in the country to be elected to Congress.

Jerry Lahmers

Jerry Lahmers, a lifetime resident of Tuscarawas County, has had nearly 50 years of involvement with Farm Bureau and numerous other county and statewide boards and organizations.  

He served at the county level as Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau president and public policy chairman and as a member of the membership committee. During Lahmers’ county Farm Bureau involvement, the county launched several successful programs. He also served three terms as a trustee on the Ohio Farm Bureau board of trustees, representing the interests of members in Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas counties. The Lahmers family raises cow-calf pairs, operates a feedlot and raises grain, hay and pasture. Lahmers also was a food animal veterinarian for 29 years.  

In addition, Jerry and his wife, Rita Lahmers, were presented the 2023 Yvonne Lesicko Perseverance Prize, known as the Y Prize, for their innovative work on farmer mental health initiatives. The Lahmers, who have been leaders in their community for decades, spearheaded the creation of the Check YourEngine – Mental Health Project, which serves to better connect rural communities when addressing mental health concerns. The program was developed by Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas County Farm Bureaus, in collaboration with local organizations that focus specifically on mental wellness.

“If a check engine light comes on the dash of a tractor or farm vehicle, it’s time to get it to the shop to diagnose the issue, whether it be a common solution that will take minutes to fix, or the machine could be on the brink of a total engine failure,” Jerry said. “Either way, the check engine light lets us know something is wrong and it needs to be addressed.” 

The Check Your Engine – Mental Health Project highlights some of the signs that a farmer needs the same kind of tune-up, how severe the issues might be and how to properly address an individual who needs additional support. The Y Prize is an award created by the Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund. The fund was created in 2020 to honor Yvonne Lesicko, former vice president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. The fund, within the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, was established to support the causes and initiatives that were important to Lesicko. 

Virgil Strickler

A native of Fairfield County, Virgil Strickler began his professional career as an agricultural lender before becoming the livestock and agricultural director of the Ohio State Fair in 1993.

He took the role of Ohio State Fair general manager in 2003 and is retiring in February as the longest serving general manager ever at the Ohio State Fair.

Farm Bureau president Bill Patterson and executive vice president Adam Sharp present the Distinguished Service Award to Virgil Strickler.

One of his greatest accomplishments at the fair was establishing the Youth Reserve Program, which is funded directly from winning bids at the Sale of Champions that exceed the cap for each species. The funds are then distributed among scholarships, the Outstanding Exhibitor Programs, showmanship, skill-a-thons, the state fair band and choir, 4-H, FFA and other youth activities at the fair. Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Expo Commission renamed the program for Strickler earlier this year.

Stickler has been inducted into the Ohio Fair Managers Association Hall of Fame, as well as the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame, among many other industry honors. 

Candidates for Distinguished Service Awards are nominated by Farm Bureau volunteers, county organizations and state leaders.

In addition the Ohio Farm Bureau Innovation Awards highlight county Farm Bureaus for their implementation of new and innovative programs within their communities. Counties that received Innovation Awards were honored at the 2023 Ohio Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.

“From giving exclusive access to local decision-makers, to leadership development, to getting teachers and their students excited about agriculture, these programs encompass many of the goals of Ohio Farm Bureau,” said Paul Lyons, vice president of membership with Ohio Farm Bureau. “This year’s winners are just a few examples of the great programs developed by members at the local level and each one adds value to the communities and to our organization as a whole.”

2023 Innovation Award winners 

Ashtabula: Mental Health Dinner Theater

Ashtabula County Farm Bureau created a three-act play depicting farmer stress that encouraged discussion about mental health issues while motivating attendees to take greater health and safety precautions.

Auglaize, Logan, Mercer and Shelby: Farm Bureau Agriculture Leadership Program 

This program put a specific focus on agriculture issues in the four-county area, while providing participants opportunities for team building, goal setting, networking and sharing the value of Farm Bureau in the community.

Crawford: Planting the Seed for the Future of Agriculture

This was an ag literacy and advocacy event from Crawford County Farm Bureau and Crawford County Cattlemen. A nationally known author and a social media influencer shared agriculture with multiple audiences and showed community members many ways to become advocates themselves.  

Jackson-Vinton: Making Quality Assurance…Fun!

Giving the mandatory Quality Assurance meeting for Junior Fair participants a turn on its head was the goal for Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau. County board members led hands-on activities for 275 youth in attendance, and parents were required to attend, which generated new Farm Bureau memberships for the county.

Lucas: Policy and Pancakes

For the Policy and Pancakes annual meeting, Lucas County hosted a farm to table breakfast at a local greenhouse, giving members and local officials time to build relationships, while showcasing local agriculture and local foods to the guests in attendance. 

Marion: Group Member Retention Activities

Marion County Farm Bureau created new activities that were focused on letting the group membership partners know how much they are appreciated while solidifying and building stronger relationships. Group member employees also learned more about the benefits offered to them through Farm Bureau.

Mercer: Western Ohio Ag in the Classroom Teacher Workshop

This workshop, built by Mercer County Farm Bureau, was completely focused on the needs of K through 4 teachers: What they need for their classrooms, the curriculum they have to work with for their age groups, and how they like to teach concepts and ideas about agriculture.

Ottawa: I Want to Be a Farmer, but I Don’t Have a Tractor

This Ottawa County Farm Bureau program allowed youth to explore unconventional career opportunities in agriculture during a job fair at the county fair. The event reached 100 youth and their families. 

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