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GRAND RAPIDS, MI --

More than 400 delegates representing 65 county-level Farm Bureaus convened at the 96th Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Annual Meeting to finalize the policy stances and directives that comprise the organization's marching orders for 2016.

Prior to the annual meeting, a 22-member state policy development committee reviewed and deliberated on more than 800 recommendations submitted from across the state and consolidated them into 100 resolutions for delegates to fine-tune and approve.

The annual grass-roots process reliably includes a thorough discussion of legislative and regulatory issues, programs and other topics important to both Farm Bureau members and the agriculture industry.

Highlights of this year's policy slate, including three new state policies, include:

Drones

Delegates approved a new state policy addressing drones. While Farm Bureau's national policy supports drones used for commercial purposes, the membership showed a desire to address several state-level issues including privacy, private property rights, nuisance, reckless endangerment, proprietary data, safety and insurance. The policy also calls for the creation of an action team to develop and promote educational tools related to drones.

Labor and Workforce Development

Several policy amendments underscore agriculture's need for a skilled, reliable workforce.

Updated labor policy language supports MFB's efforts through the Great Lakes Ag Labor Services program, which assists growers in navigating complex H-2A program requirements.

Amendments to the organization's agriscience education policy support expansion of current programs and creation of new programs for junior high and high school students. In addition, delegates added language recognizing the importance of utilizing retired agriscience teachers—without penalizing their retirement benefits—to fill open positions.

Lastly, under educational reform policy, language was added encouraging county Farm Bureaus to work with local school districts to increase Michigan Merit Curriculum flexibility acceptance.

Energy

Amid the Michigan legislature's debate on state energy programs, delegates amended the organization's policy to more clearly emphasize the need for adequate and affordable energy for residents and businesses, agriculture's vulnerability to energy interruptions and price volatility, and concerns about keeping utility companies' land-rental rates in line with fair market value.

The updated policy also calls for preserving the 10 percent cap on the state's electric choice program.

NRCS Programming

Delegates approved new policy regarding the Michigan Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that focuses on strengthening in-state education, outreach and oversight.

Traditionally considered a national issue, the language addresses Michigan-specific facets identified by county Farm Bureaus including more effective communication to increase awareness of available resources, and underscoring the importance of farmer input and representation in NRCS programs.

New language urges MFB to continue informing members about conservation programs including collaborative efforts between NRCS, conservation districts, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the amount of conservation funds coming to producers and landowners of Michigan.

Animal Agriculture

Delegates approved a new policy, titled "Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture (MAAA)," to address the industry's ever-changing production practices and consumer demands.

Accordingly, the policy discusses the need for an updated support system—MAAA—that includes representation from industry stakeholders, academia and government, and works on issues such as research, extension, workforce development and funding sources.

With amendments, the organization's animal health policy now supports coordinating disease testing statewide with the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health located in East Lansing, when geographically feasible. It also calls for increased funding to support the state's animal disease testing needs.

In the same policy, new language encourages implementation of a continuing education program for veterinarians to retain their state licensing; Michigan is the lone state without the requirement.

Other Highlights

Within the Environmental Protection and Authority policy, language was added to support the continued practice of broadcasting nutrients, including manure, in accordance with best practices identified in the Nutrient Utilization GAAMP and flexibility for unlimited on-farm fuel, chemical and fertilizer storage with consistent and adequate standards.

Before approving the organization's waters of the U.S. policy, delegates received an update from Warner, Norcross and Judd attorney John Bursch. Former Michigan solicitor general, Bursch is representing the organization in its lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its overreaching waters of the U.S. rule. Visit the MFB website for details and updates.

Delegates amended the agricultural vocational rehabilitation policy to show support for the Michigan Chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition in their mission to encourage veterans to explore agriculture as a career option after military service.

Next Steps

Adopted state-level policies will guide MFB staff and member activities through the coming year; national-level policies will be submitted for consideration to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 97th Convention and Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 9-13, 2016.

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