Regional Summit Highlights Retailers’ Role In Policy, On-farm Advice

ARA Chair John Oster (left) and ARA CEO and President Daren Coppock (second from right) met with Ohio Department of Agriculture officials Tim Derickson and John Schlichter. ( ARA )

Nearly 50 ag retailers, suppliers and affiliate representatives gathered in Maumee, Ohio, at The Andersons headquarters for the 2018 Regional Agricultural Retailers Forum in early September. The forum was focused on Indiana, Michigan and Ohio regional issues, and it included a national issue update from the ARA staff. Although the event focused on water quality and nutrient management strategies, it further emphasized the importance of ag retailers and the trust placed in their staff not only by farmer-customers but also state and federal policymakers.

Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) president Chris Henney recounted recent interactions with the Ohio governor’s office that brought together agricultural industry associations to provide feedback on a potentially devastating executive order regarding watersheds designated in distress.

“This example is a testament to the power of the agriculture industry,” Henney says. “The power of the associations and grassroots network are what win the day for us.”

OABA has been implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program for ag retailers for the past four years. As a part of this program, every certified retailer creates a nutrient management plan with its full-service farmer-customer. Henney and the association are working with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to allow for those plans to be accepted when it comes to an audit, as they are not in the same format as those provided by conservation districts or the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“At the end of the day, we want what is best for our farmer-customers,” Henney says.

Henney also provided background on the issues in 2014 that led to the more than 500,000 Toledo residents losing water for three days. Meeting attendees toured the City of Toledo Department of Public Utilities’ water treatment plant for a firsthand look at the systems in place and capital improvement projects underway to prevent future public water issues.

Agribusiness Council of Indiana president Amy Cornell shared her state’s efforts to work with farmers on adopting best practices for nutrient management via the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance. Much like the Ohio program, the Indiana one focuses on keeping management decisions in farmers’ hands while providing the best, most current data. Based on research, 50% of Indiana farmers don’t know of or see specific water pollutant problems in their areas; they may not even know their farms’ watersheds.
Cornell says their efforts are to change the “not on my farm, not in my watershed” mindset with the utilization of the 4R principles through the Indiana Voluntary Certification Program for Ag Retailers.
Tim Boring, Michigan Agri-Business Association vice president, highlighted the work of his association on engaging the retailer and applicator community for educational opportunities to work with customers on smart practice adoption.

“What does doing it right actually look like?” he asked, underscoring the opportunity that exists for the ag retailer to further engage the farming community in sharing knowledge and best practices.

Additionally, Ohio Department of Agriculture deputy director John Schlichter and assistant director Tim S. Derickson provided lunchtime remarks. They emphasized the importance of collaboration with OABA and other agriculture organizations in the state to engage farmers and agribusinesses and create policies in a transparent manner.