Senate Bill 66 which would update the law behind Ohio’s grain indemnity program and fund received its first hearing in the Ohio House this morning.
In fact, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Cliff Hite, the primary sponsor of the legislation which was unanimously passed by his committee and the full Senate, was today’s entire agenda in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Hite provided sponsor testimony for SB 66, the bill’s first step through the House committee process to get the measure to the floor for a final vote.
Hite’s testimony began with off the cuff remarks about the Ohio Farmers Union being instrumental in bringing the issue to him and working with other stakeholders to get a bill that eventually sailed through the Senate. He followed with prepared remarks recounting some of the history behind the law which was first passed in 1983 and last updated in 2004. He focused on the two issues OFU has championed – codifying farmers as primary lien holders and the increases in the indemnity fund’s cap and trigger.
Several House members asked questions. Hite assured Rep. Rex Damschroder that the issue of whether or not to tie the indemnity fund’s cap and trigger to inflation had been discussed and set aside in the Senate. Although such a change might negate the need to come back to the legislature in a few years for authorization to adjust the amounts, stakeholders and senators decided that the proposed $15 million (farmer-funded) cap was the result of much discussion over two years and to open the issue again jeopardizes what is now universal support for the bill.
Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl expressed concern that the revised law would preclude sorghum, spelt and other currently niche market grains from the program. She expressed concern for producers growing sorghum in her district. Hite replied that although the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture had requested these niche grains be excluded for now, a provision was written into the bill to allow the ODA director to bring one or all of them back should markets warrant their coverage.
Attending the hearing on behalf of OFU were Linda Borton, executive director; Ron Sylvester, external relations director; Joe Logan, executive committee member and Mel Borton who has been involved in advocacy for grain indemnity in Ohio since the 1970s. Today, only sponsor testimony was accepted in committee.
The next step in the committee process will be a second hearing on SB 66 next week, Tuesday, May 14th, 10 a.m. in Hearing Room 116 at the Statehouse. It may seem that after two years of hard work by many of us in the organization that this issue is sailing toward a favorable outcome. We cannot rest yet. Both Linda and Ron have been told that the banking lobby has raised some eyebrows about codifying farmers as primary lien holders in the event of grain elevator failures. The more people who testify in favor of this legislation, the less impact bank lobbyists are going to have on an issue that is about protecting family farms and truly small, local business interests. They may not show up at all, but if the last several years of economic and financial history have taught us anything, it’s that the financial services industry has no shame.
OFU President Roger Wise will be giving OFU’s lead testimony next week.
Your in-person testimony would be greatly appreciated. Please contact either Linda Borton (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ron Sylvester (email@example.com) if you plan to testify in person. If you want, we’ll help prepare your testimony. We would also like to ensure that deadlines are met for getting electronic copies of your testimony to the committee prior to the hearing. If you have been involved as a farmer with a grain elevator failure and have a good story to tell about how the Indemnity Fund or ODA staff with the program helped you, that’s important. If you lost money during a failure before 1983 and would like to let legislators know how not having a program hurt your business that’s good testimony as well. Due to term limits creating a revolving door for legislators, we can’t rely on institutional memory in Columbus. Our representatives need to hear from farmers how and why the Grain Indemnity Fund is an important aspect of protecting family farms from financial hardship or ruin due to their local grain elevator failing.
If you are unable to testify in person, you can still have an impact by submitting written testimony. If you would like to go this route, please contact either Ron or Linda to make sure your document gets to the committee on time.
Finally, one point that could be made more clearly to members of the committee who are new to this issue or agriculture in general: Grain indemnity in Ohio – the fund and the ODA program ably managed by David Simmons – is entirely farmer-funded. Farmers are not asking for anything from government that they aren’t willing to pay for through the occasional one-half cent per bushel levy of corn, wheat or soybeans at their local elevator. In fact, on this count, agriculture stands up well when measured against other industries. For instance, the Kasich Administration requested $7 million in taxpayer funds to bolster the regulatory regime for the oil and gas industry in their latest budget submission. We’re paying our own freight as farmers in this regard.
Thanks to everyone who has helped in this effort thus far. OFU has been the leading stakeholder in the state at every meeting and working with Sen. Hite. We’ll have much to be proud of if we can bring this to Gov. Kasich’s desk in the next several weeks.