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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran December 12, 2012

John Kasich says agriculture is the "strongest industry in Ohio"

Jobs in manufacturing, especially in the auto industry, drew so much attention in recent political campaigns that one observer speculated every man, woman and child in Ohio must spend their days building cars.

PolitiFact Ohio knew that was a joke, but the focus on factories increased our interest in comments by Gov. John Kasich when he addressed the 2012 meeting of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation on Nov. 29, 2012. The Ohio Capital Blog recorded the event.

Agriculture, Kasich said,  "is the strongest industry in Ohio" and "the bedrock of the state of Ohio."

We've heard similar comments from others: Sen. Sherrod Brown ("the state's No. 1 industry"), the state Department of Agriculture ("Ohio's No. 1 industry") and the Farm Bureau itself ("Ohio's top industry").

It's a bipartisan claim.

But PolitiFact Ohio wondered what measure makes agriculture No. 1. Employment? Dollars generated? Taxes levied? Square footage?

So we called Kasich's office and the state Agriculture Department and asked for sources.

Both referred us to "OHFOOD," for Ohio food, which is an annually updated economic model developed by Thomas L. Sporleder, the much-cited professor of agribusiness at The Ohio State University.

The model, by its own description, is designed "to capture the inter-dependencies and linkages among various sectors and industries composing the complex economy of Ohio" and "specifically to provide estimates of the economic importance of the food and agriculture-related cluster, along with the general manufacturing and service sectors, of the Ohio economy."

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Erica Pitchford Hawkins said the analysis is the most comprehensive study available of Ohio agribusiness, and we could find nothing comparable.

The most recent, from June 2012, uses data from 2010 gathered primarily federal and county level agencies, Sporleder said.

In 2010, the study found, the total food and agricultural cluster contributed 11.7 percent, or $105 billion, of Ohio's total economic output of $898.7 billion. The cluster's share of the gross state product of $477.7 billion was $51 billion, or almost 11 percent.

Ohio's gross state product improved by 1.3 percent from 2008 to 2010, the study said, while the portion attributed to the "agrifood" cluster increased about 30 percent.

The agrifood cluster accounts for 14 percent of Ohio employment, or about 1 of 7 jobs. It gained 1 percent from 2008 to 2010, a period when total employment declined about 3 percent.

There are some points worth noting:

In the OHFOOD study, the "financial, legal and real estate" cluster is listed as a larger private sector of the state economy than the agrifood cluster. Kasich's office, though, pointed out that the grouping of financial services, legal services and real estate activities is particular to the study. That grouping is not used by such agencies as the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sporleder told us the cluster is grouped because "it’s all service related," but "it’s not a supply chain" in the way food and agriculture is.

That leaves food and agriculture the biggest sector of the state economy.

"If you’re only talking about commodities, that’s not the case," Sporleder said, meaning the cluster is more than just farming. "If you’re talking wheat to flour to bread, you get the sector build-up. It’s an interdependent supply chain."

More than just farming, the "agrifood" or "agribusiness" cluster also encompasses processing, wholesaling and retailing, and food services. As a group, it accounts for $3 billion of the gross state product in the OHFOOD mode.

Kasich described agriculture as the strongest industry in Ohio. Data shows that the agrifood sector is the largest sector of the state’s economy.

His statement is accurate. On the Truth-O-Meter, it rates True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Ohio Capital Blog, "Kasich at Farm Bureau," Nov. 29, 2012

Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, Annual Reports

Sen. Sherrod Brown, "Agriculture and Ohio's rural economy"

Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural FAQ

Email with Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols, Dec. 6, 2012

Interview with Erica Pitchford Hawkins, Ohio Agriculture Department communication director, Dec. 7, 2012

The Ohio State University, Thomas L. Sporleder, "OHFOOD: An Ohio Food Industries Input-Output Model," Version 13, June 2012

Interview with Thomas L. Sporleder, Dec. 11, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Feran

John Kasich says agriculture is the "strongest industry in Ohio"

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