LANSING — A total of 353 County Farm Bureau members from across the state participated virtually as voting delegates to Michigan Farm Bureau’s 101st Annual Meeting on Dec. 2, discussing and voting on over 100 policies that will set direction on state-level issues for the organization to tackle on their behalf in 2021.
MFB Vice President Andy Hagenow, a Kent County farmer who chairs the state policy development committee, was pleased with the delegate’s work, despite not meeting face-to-face for the first time in the organization’s history.
“The grassroots policy process is so important to our members (that) they weren’t going to let a pandemic get in the way of setting the course for our organization,” Hagenow said, noting that more than 500 county-level policy recommendations had been submitted originally.
“There were a number of issues that garnered discussion and the virtual setting provided a unique and effective opportunity for the delegates to continue their very important work,” he added.
Mycobacterium Bovis Tuberculosis was just one of several policy priorities focused on by delegates, according to Hagenow. Delegates approved policy requiring heads from all deer taken on private and public lands in the Modified Accredited Zone and surrounding TB surveillance counties be submitted for testing.
The amended policy also called for supporting the movement of cattle out of the region to maintain market access, if testing and other requirements are met.
“TB always provides for, at times, some spirited conversation,” Hagenow said. “Our industry has been dealing with this issue for 20 years and our members continue to speak loud and clear that we need to resolve this issue.”
Ag labor housing and zoning also received significant discussion. Noting that adequate housing for workers is critical for Michigan agriculture and should not be negatively affected by local zoning ordinances, delegates approved policy that the “Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) should, in consultation with the ag industry, develop a model zoning ordinance for agricultural labor housing.”
New policy language was approved opposing local zoning rules that are more-restrictive for ag labor housing than residential housing.
Delegates also addressed ag labor housing concerns within MFB’s Right to Farm policy, calling for the development of ag labor housing Generally Accepted Ag Management Practices (GAAMPS) to provide consistent guidelines and regulations.
“Ag labor housing has been an issue for quite some time with our members,” Hagenow said. “After some thoughtful debate today, it was generally agreed that coming up with a GAAMP to set regulations for ag labor housing would be a preferable way to go.”
Three new policies were added dealing with the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, Transportation Improvement, and the Michigan Meat Processing Industry. The latter came from county Farm Bureau’s strong feelings this year about challenges and opportunities for the industry.
Delegates approved The Michigan Meat Processing Industry policy supporting:
- Studying the meat-packing industry’s retail sales, custom-exempt facilities, market access, expansion opportunities and regulatory issues.
- A partnership between MSU, community colleges, career technical schools and the livestock industry to establish a livestock harvest/meat processing certification program.
- Investment in and promotion of more mobile agricultural processing labs.
- Creating a Michigan-based meat inspection and licensing system for in-state processing.
- Limiting regulatory burden for small- and medium-sized meat processors while protecting and enhancing food safety.
- State funding and low-interest loans for small and medium-sized facilities to comply with regulatory requirements.
- Greater utilization of the meats laboratory and professionals at MSU to support the meat industry, educate students and train industry professionals.
Delegates also gave direction for 16 new national policy recommendations, which will be taken up at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual AFBF annual meeting scheduled for Jan. 10-13, 2021.
Two of those recommendations called for proposed study committees dealing with chronic marketing challenges in the dairy and livestock sectors.
Delegates recommended creating a taskforce to consider options to simplify milk pricing in the next farm bill. They also recommended a livestock marketing committee representing the beef, pork, sheep and poultry industries to address market and packer consolidation, price discovery, privatization of federal inspection, plant operations during a crisis, supply chain issues and market disruptions.
Calhoun County Farm Bureau president and delegate, Andrea Boughton, was pleased overall with the virtual process, citing the importance of setting policy even when faced with new challenges.
“With everything our membership has dealt with this year, we found a way to continue our grassroots effort,” Boughton said. “Today, we discussed and set policy as a unified body, providing a unified voice for MFB staff to talk with our legislators about, such as bovine TB, migrant labor, ag zoning.
“Today showed that, even though we weren’t together in person as a delegate body, we were able to come together and show the power of our organization.”
MFB President Carl Bednarski, who was re-elected to lead the state’s largest farmer-member organization for the next two years, acknowledged the dedication and resilience of the voting body after a challenging year for the state’s number two industry.
“After a year like we’ve never seen before in our industry and in our personal lives presented by the pandemic, I can’t thank the 300-plus member delegates enough for taking the time to give thoughtful consideration to the policies that affect their very livelihoods,” Bednarski said.
“I also want to thank those who served on the MFB State Policy Development Committee for their dedication to making sure the policies for 2021 accurately reflect the wishes of their fellow members in setting the course for our staff in the new year.”
— Michigan Farm Bureau
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