COLUMBUS — A budget proposal unveiled by Gov. Mike DeWine for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 shows continued support for his H2Ohio water quality initiative, rural broadband expansion, as well as strong support for the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio State University Extension and OARDC.

“Despite the challenges our state faced in 2020, we have a very positive budget proposal from Governor DeWine,” said Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president. “We applaud the governor for highlighting some of the most important issues facing rural Ohio in his budget proposal.”

Up to $250 million has been proposed for H2Ohio over the next two years in hopes of expanding opportunities to even more farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin to become involved in water quality programs through ODA, Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“I think it is insightful of the governor to continue to want to invest in H2Ohio and be solution-based because it would be easy to say farmers just need to do A, B and C and bang them over the head with whatever regulatory hurdle he can,”said Jack Irvin, vice president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. “He recognizes that using public-private partnerships and having resources and tools for farmers to use right there on their farm instead of broad sweeping, one-size-fits-all approaches is the best way to tackle such complex issues when it comes to nutrient management and clean water.”

Rural broadband

The budget proposal also allocates $290 million to rural broadband and the creation of the Ohio Residential Broadband Grant Program. This program is designed to expand access to broadband across the state.

“The need for reliable internet access to rural Ohio has been something that Farm Bureau has been stressing for years, and the pandemic has shown what a huge issue this is,” Irvin said. “To see that type of investment in this proposal is a very positive sign of major progress in our efforts.”

Water quality

Ohio Farm Bureau continues to lobby for several programs that help provide needed research and technical assistance in the area of water quality. The organization has asked for adequate funding to Ohio State University Extension, OARDC, ATI and Sea Grant programs.

Ohio Department of Agriculture

Ohio Farm Bureau also requested greater funding for ODA in the new biennial budget for services like meat inspection, the dairy division, and fairs. The proposed funding for ODA came in at $55 million for fiscal year 2022 and $48 million for fiscal year 2023.

“We can’t stress enough the importance of the regulatory programs and how much they impact our members’ ability to do business,” Irvin said. “If you want to move your milk product or have your meat or poultry processed, a regulatory inspection must be done in order for those products to be safely moved into the marketplace. If ODA doesn’t have the funding for the appropriate number of inspectors across the state, it can have a huge negative impact on businesses in the farm sector.”

Next steps

This is the first step in the budget process. The work will continue through the House and the Senate until this summer. The budget must be balanced and finalized by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

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