Columbus-The Ohio Legislature is mulling a bill that, similar to existing agricultural commodity programs, would market the equine profession to the public.
H.B. 343, sponsored by Rep. Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland), would establish an equine marketing and promotion program headed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). It received its first hearing in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year.
"We already have state check-off programs for boilers, chicken and eggs, the idea is to create a marketing and promotion plan for the equine industry as well," says David White, director of commodity relations for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF).
The equine industry is unique in that it is not a commodity that is being processed; therefore, the program would differ slightly from existing initiatives, according to White.
How it took form The OFBF equine advisory committee recommended to its policy development committee and board that OFBF support efforts to create an equine marketing program. Now, White and other staff are working with organization leaders to develop and implement approved policy and position statements.
"Looking at other states' equine measures, they've taken a very popular equine item, typically an assessment on a bag of horse feed. Then the funds go into a pool that is managed by producers active in the industry," he explains.
The dollars generated would apply toward marketing the equine industry, according to state officials.
White says the proposed legislation is not a standalone bill but an amendment to current Ohio law to allow for the creation of the equine promotion program. Specific to the amended legislation are assessments that would be collected at point-of-sale. To date, state officials have not determined what would be assessed.
For those who don't want to pay the state assessment, the bill would allow for those individuals to request a refund.
"We are not aware of any opposition to the bill. All major horse organizations have testified or submitted letters of support," White says.
Minor glitches? Maybe the vocal support is there, but that's not to say there aren't issues surrounding the bill, according to Dr. Daniel Wilson, practitioner who chairs the ODA equine advisory committee.
"At our last meeting, state officials were talking about how the horse world is so diversified. So, it'd be very difficult to determine how to collect the assessment," Wilson says. "If they follow the cattle plan, then every time a horse is sold it's not usually at public auction.
"No one knows where to assess the fee, whether on a bag of feed or collected elsewhere," he adds. "No one was in agreement on how to spend it. No one knew where to spend those dollars to promote what."
In response, White says the monies generated would be used "to promote the equine industry to the general public, which would create marketing opportunities for all involved with Ohio's equine industry."
As for how much money the program may generate, White says it's too early to guess. "We don't know because we don't know how many horses are in Ohio. This program has potential to generate that type of information. Until now, horses from an economic standpoint have been ignored," White says.
Programs in place Successful equine marketing programs already operate in Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan, according to White, who expects Ohio to follow suit in the passage of its own marketing program in due time.
White says the time was right to introduce such a program in Ohio, thanks to longstanding support. "I don't think the public recognizes how significant horses are. Here's an opportunity for general equine promotion," he says.
While direct veterinary impact is minimal, White notes, "If we have more horse use in the state, and more people buy horses, there's potential to generate more business for equine veterinarians."