Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Goatherd at the Statehouse

Some days, Sheba looks at me when I get ready to depart the farm and gives me her "sad puppy eyes".  I know that I will be home soon, but at the same time I always wish I was staying on the farm with her.  I am happiest when I simply have a quiet day to work with my animals.  It seems as though those days are more rare, and more treasured.  I sometimes wonder if I like meetings, since I seem to attend so many.  In truth, I do not -- but I believe so strongly in agriculture that I am more than willing to participate in sessions that better our farm community.  Along the way, I've had some amazing experiences and great adventures.  And I hope that these have made me a more fun dog owner for Sheba . . . even if I have had to be away from the farm!

Yesterday, I had the fantastic opportunity to offer testimony to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Senate Bill 281, which expands Ag-Link.  Ag-Link is a linked deposit program which offers low-interest loans for farmers.  It has been in existence for over 25 years, and has helped more than 40,000 farmers.  I was quite honored when I was asked to represent Ohio Farm Bureau to speak out in support of legislation to expand Ag-Link.  One of the greatest attributes of Ohio Farm Bureau -- in my opinion -- is that it is truly a grassroots organization.  Its policies are directly established by its 60,000 farmer members.  Ohio Farm Bureau members support the Ag-Link program and support its expansion.

When I was first asked to offer testimony on behalf of Ohio Farm Bureau, I will admit I was a bit hesitant due to my lack of experience with the program.  I have not been a participant in Ag-Link.  I have, however, known many farmers who have benefited from it.  I also know firsthand the challenges that young farmers face in starting agricultural endeavors . . . and one of the greatest is having access to enough capital.  My friend Beth, the Policy Princess, offered me great support in learning about the proposed legislation to expand Ag-Link, and I found that I personally supported the ideas.  Senate Bill 281 raises the maximum loan amount from $100,000 to $150,000.  While $100,000 might initially seem like a large amount, when it comes to funding land, equipment, livestock, seed, etc, this dollar figure can be exceeded very quickly.  Raising this amount keeps the program useful for farmers.  Senate Bill 281 also directs the State Treasurer to increase annual funding from $125 million to $165 million.  This increase is a reflection of growth in the state's treasury, and allows for the increase in individual loans without decreasing the number of farmers that can participate.  Finally, updates were made in calculations of the lending rates for farmers that keep the program in line with current financial practices.  It is important to keep such a program fiscally responsible.

As usual, I was running around like crazy to be on time for my testimony.  Plus, I needed to make a special delivery after I finished at the Statehouse.  I actually awoke on time, and managed to do what immediately needed to be done in the barn.  (How do you know you're a farm girl?  You find yourself hustling out to the henhouse to let the chickens out while wearing a bathrobe and muck boots!  Apologies to my neighbors . . .)  The Policy Princess was an excellent guide in preparing me for the day.  I had my notes all ready on the technical aspects of the bill so I could answer difficult questions, and I had studied up on each of the committee members so I could tailor my answers to their interests.  I did acceptably for my first time offering testimony, and I sincerely enjoyed it.  Much to my sadness, not a single question was asked to test my knowledge!  It was, however, a great experience and I was so grateful to have the Policy Princess & my Sister-in-Slaughter Angie both there to support me!

As I departed the Statehouse, I called my friend Chef Seth to let him know I was ready to make my delivery.  What had I taken to the Statehouse with me?  Well, Seth is working on a garden and needed some horse manure.  I agreed to a trade in exchange for his delicious Lamb Bacon recipe.  Thus it was that I had a container full of horse manure in the back of the Goatmobile.  While it might be said that some people bring a load of "crap" when they come to lobby at the Statehouse, I literally did!  And I like to think that my animals would be proud that -- no matter what I may be doing -- my heart is never far from the farm!

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