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LANSING, MI -- Michigan wheat farmers, millers, food processors, brewers and specialty food manufacturers will all benefit from a $76,672 Strategic Growth Initiative (SGI) grant awarded to the Michigan Wheat Program by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD).

The highly competitive grant was awarded from a $2.25 million fund jointly administered by MDARD and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which seeks to further develop agriculture and value-added food processing in Michigan.

"You might think that as wheat farmers we know everything about our crop," said David Milligan, the Cass City-area farmer who chairs the nine-member wheat board. "But with 8,000 wheat farmers spread across almost every county in the state, more than one hundred grain elevators, five large millers and many artisan users of wheat, we actually don't have a full understanding of the specific varieties and quantities being produced, where they are milled, what market segments have growth potential and what new categories have arisen for wheat utilization."

"This study not only establishes a baseline of where the industry is today, but it will also look at our future opportunities as an industry," commented Jody Pollok-Newsom, executive director of the wheat check-off. "We know there are opportunities to grow this industry, but we need to better understand the economic realities of the many options available to the state's wheat farmers."

The SGI grant was the wheat check-off's first competitive grant attempt. The Michigan Wheat Program is using the grant to fund a study by MSU's Product Center Food-Ag-Bio that will provide a report with baseline data and options for growth for the wheat industry.

"The wheat industry is an important part of the Michigan agri-food system that sometimes gets overlooked," said MSU ag economist Bill Knudson. "In addition to providing much needed baseline data, this project has the potential to expand the size and scope of the industry and create more jobs in the state".

The report will include details on current wheat production, current and potential milling capacity in Michigan, preferred wheat varieties in various end-user sectors, and possible areas for future development of Michigan's wheat industry.

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the economic development agency responsible for serving the Lansing metropolitan area, partnered with the Michigan Wheat Program and MSU Product Center to put the grant application together. LEAP has prioritized agricultural processing and is looking to better connect the local wheat supply chain by expanding wheat processing and value-added operations in mid-Michigan. The Lansing area has recently launched several businesses that produce artisan beer and spirits and their associated malts and grains, and wants to leverage other specialty wheat opportunities to complement the growing cluster.

"This important study will help us define the wheat market and identify processing opportunities in the Lansing area and around the state," said Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. "LEAP's Agriculture & Food Business Workgroup was excited to provide the initial concept, and looks forward to working with the Michigan Wheat Program while using the report's findings to maximize value-added growth down the road."

Statewide, having additional information about the market demand for wheat production and processing will help farmers to better understand the potential wheat can play in their farm's profitability. The report will be completed this winter and released at the Michigan Wheat Program's Annual Winter meeting March 9, 2016 in Bath.

The Michigan Wheat Program is funded by nearly 8,000 farmers who grow wheat in 50 of Michigan's 83 counties. The Michigan Wheat Program board seeks to promote the state's wheat industry by funding and supporting the strategic priorities of wheat farmers working with input suppliers, seed producers, millers, end users and consumers. Research on wheat production practices and grower education has been an early priority for the organization.

Information about Michigan's wheat industry is found at www.miwheat.org, or by calling 888-WHEAT01 (888-943-2801).

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