Farmer leads organization representing Ohio farms.
Adam Sharp has spent all of his life working on his family's Fairfield County.
farm. Except, that is, for the decade he spent in Washington, DC, working for the US Environmental Protection Agency and the American Farm Bureau. With a sower's sense and a mind for making policy, Sharp is the ideal executive to lead the Ohio Farm Bureau into its second century advocating for Ohio farmers.
“I went to the EPA to work on bridging the gap between environmental issues and agriculture policy. We found a lot of good solutions that were creative,” Sharp says. “That's what I wanted to bring to Ohio and this organization.”
Ohio is among the top 20 commodities-exporting states. In 2015, Ohio's agricultural products comprised more than $3.6 billion of the nation's $133 billion agricultural exports, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
“It's a $100 billion industry annually—the state's largest industry—and it's incredibly diverse,” Sharp says. “Our organization reflects that, no doubt.”
Sharp's goal is to ensure the Farm Bureau represents the wide range of Ohio agricultural producers. That diversity is represented on the Farm Bureau board, he says.
“We've got Christmas tree growers. We've got fruit and vegetable producers, dairy farmers ... greenhouse (owners), beekeepers, horse breeders. We've got everything. That is very indicative of Ohio agriculture now.”
Maintaining unity among those various agricultural constituents puts power behind the bureau's mission.
“In the work that we do, government has an immense ability to help and to hurt people,” Sharp adds. “That's why we as an organization have to be engaged in working with government to make sure government has good policy.”
Farm Bureau members across the state weigh in on policy priorities. In the new session of the Ohio General Assembly, the bureau will advocate for lower property taxes on farmers and will join the debate over energy prices, water quality regulations and the opiate epidemic in rural Ohio.
But the state's elected officials aren't the only people the bureau works with on behalf of farmers. As Sharp knows from growing up with parents who were members of the Farm Bureau, its work is also about “How can we help build bridges with our farmers and our communities, with consumers and our neighbors?
“That's what our job is all about: Looking out for the farmers while they're in the field,” says Sharp.
One example of this engagement beyond the ag sector is the Farm Bureau's partnership with the Ohio State University CollegeofFood, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“The Farm Bureau is an indispensable partner to the college's work and an integral partner in Ohio State's land-grant heritageofsharing research outcomes to improve the well-beingofour citizens,” says Bruce McPheron, executive vice president and provost at OSU. McPheron has worked with Ohio Farm Bureau leaders and members since his tenure as dean of the agricultural college began in 2012.
“OFBmembership is comprised ofpeople from across the food system–from producers to processors to distributors to consumers,” McPheron says. “With their fingers on the current pulse and trends in the agricultural sector, they keep the university and the legislature apprisedofchallenges and opportunities.”
That engagement means the bureau must keep partners, policymakers and the public informed about farming techniques, the treatment of farm animals and the environmental impact of farming operations.
“We need to be engaged with consumers talking about how we farm and operate our farms in Ohio. How do we stay economically viable for farmers but also affordable for consumers?” Sharp says.
None of this is empty policy talk for Sharp. He and two of his three brothers partner to run their family's farm in Amanda, 35 miles southeast of Columbus. The Sharp farm is of “average size,” he says. They grow row crops and hay, raise livestock and run a dairy operation.
The Sharp brothers represent the fourth generation of their family on the farm. It's common for farmers' first wish to be that their children carry on the business, Sharp says.
“The average age of farmers now is 60 years old. What you're seeing is a lot of transfer, a lot of new younger farmers coming in,” he says. Ohio farmers today are part-timers, full-timers, niche farmers, urban and rural growers. Sharp is excited to boost engagement among young members, as well as nontraditional recruits to farm life.
“We want to give youth from the cities and suburban area opportunities in agriculture. ... We know we're a huge part of the Ohio economy,” he says.
Kitty McConnell French is afreelance writer.