The economic recession has forced cuts to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, but they continue to focus on their No. 1 priority, the top agriculturalist in the state says.
Former Mercer County farmer and ODA Director Jim Zehringer said the ODA, similar to all governmental agencies, is looking at cuts to help with the down economy, but that they are maintaining their top priority — keeping food safe.
“Food safety is still our No. 1 issue,” Zehringer said Tuesday during an Ohio State University Extension Office agricultural breakfast. “We want to make sure all the food is safe. “The governor (John Kasich) is making sure we have what we need to make sure food is safe.”
Zehringer said it makes his job easier with the state having one of the best series of laboratories for testing in the world.
“Recently we very quickly found some listeria that was on lettuce at a Kroger store,” Zehringer said. “We were able to recall the lettuce right away and there were no problems. We have great scientists and great labs.”
The former state representative said he could not say enough about the governor, who has made it a goal to cut the budget while still leaving needed services in place.
“Everyone is saying we need to cut the budget except for theirs,” Zehringer said. “That makes it tough, but this governor doesn’t care about getting re-elected. He has done things that have not made him popular but they were things that needed to be done.”
Zehringer said Kasich also realizes the importance of agriculture on the state economy in a time of crisis.
“The governor realizes how important agriculture is,” Zehringer said. “Mercer County is No. 1 in the state in agriculture and it is also No. 1 with the lowest unemployment of all 88 counties. That has something to say about the effect of agriculture on the economy. The agricultural industry is offering a lot of industry-related opportunities right now.”
Zehringer said that the first task assigned to him when appointed was to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys and for the most part farmers have been cooperative and supportive of that work.