COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine told Ohio farmers last week that a big focus in his administration will be water quality, especially that of Lake Erie.

“We’re still working out the numbers, but when you see our budget, you will see a real commitment to the Great Lakes, to water quality,” DeWine said during the Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual Ag Day at the Capitol held at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square.

“It’s going to cost money. It’s not going to be done cheaply, and our budget will reflect that.”

The governor’s budget is to be released March 15.

DeWine did not discuss specific proposals to improve water quality.

His predecessor, John Kasich, tried to purge Lake Erie of algae blooms. Kasich issued an executive order in July asking that eight Ohio watersheds that drain into western Lake Erie be declared distressed to allow tougher limits on farmers’ use of fertilizers, which ultimately drain into the lake and fuel blooms.

In October, Kasich fired Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels, who said the reason was his reservations about the executive order. Farmers also expressed concern. Agriculture Department Deputy Director Janelle Mead and Chief Legal Counsel Dustin Calhoun submitted their resignations shortly after Daniels was fired.

DeWine said his initiative “is going to be a priority, but we also have to be willing to put money behind it.”

Adam Sharp, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, led last week’s conversation in which DeWine reminisced about growing up around agriculture in Greene County, where his family owned a seed business.

“Agriculture is something that’s very, very close to us,” DeWine said. “Any governor needs to realize the importance of agriculture to Ohio.”

DeWine also talked about a series of other topics that included education, the Ohio State Fair, JobsOhio and health care.

“Rural health care certainly is a challenge,” he said. “We also sometimes have challenges in the inner cities, so we’ve got to do things that we need to do to push that forward.”

One of the ways to work against those difficulties is giving incentives to doctors, nurses and health-care providers to work in under-served rural and urban areas, he said.

DeWine also touched on the opioid epidemic, calling it “a huge problem in Ohio.”

“I believe the most important thing we can do is to focus on prevention and education,” DeWine said.

He wants to start teaching children age-appropriate facts about drugs, starting as early as kindergarten.

“We do that for 13 straight years, we’re not going to get rid of the drug problem, but we’re going to arm kids with what the educators call social-emotional learning,” DeWine said.

 

mhenry@dispatch.com. @megankenry